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So, my next book is coming out next month

Loose Id usually books out about 18 months on their schedule, but my stuff always seems to plug up holes in their catalogue due to missed deadlines. So while I sold Rabbit, the sequel to Changeling in August, the edits weren’t really going to start until the fall.

It’s not that I haven’t been writing over the past couple years, it’s that I haven’t been finishing. My style has been doing a lot of rapid change over the past three years so that every time I finish something, instead of editing it I started to rewrite it. I have about five semi-finished books and countless more stories that are 30-70k in that I started until the flash of a well-turned story heel caught my attention and had me following it.

But I’m going to be continuing the Middlehill series, finishing the Tempest trilogy, hopefully getting the vampire series TNG’ed and then I have Shark Punching that just needs a few more tweaks. Plus I’ve been getting pretty regular editing jobs this whole time on top of my English as a Second Language instructor and all the painting I’ve been doing. I’m really busy these days, but in a good way.

Making a Post Answering a Reddit Writing Question #1: How do I write more?

I’ve been getting tired of writing Reddit responses of late. I type what I want to type in the little box, think about how users will respond, then delete it. I should be responding here. So buckle up, this is MaPAaRWQ #1: How do I write more.

The question was how the original poster can increase their stamina. They could only write for 1000-1500 words and then hit the wall. But it’s the wrong question. He’s already doing what I think is the ideal writing session, but then if you want to be prolific, have multiple sessions.

A scene is the smallest unit of story. In that one setting, they should be thinking about writing a single short story in which something changes in the plot. There could be longer scenes or shorter scenes of course, but the length of the scene should be a deliberate choice and not just where the author stopped writing.

One of the biggest problems I see in the books I critique (and to be honest, most of my problems are my biggest problems. I have a lot of biggest problems, but regardless…) is the climax of the scene arrives but instead of quitting there and going to the next scene, the author continues, filling the following pages with details about matters that are not important. Dining and sleeping and parts of the story in which nothing happens but instead of writing a few sentences bridging the time between the last scene and the new scene, the scene goes on and on.

I found when I sat down for four hours, I wrote a 4000-word scene with one high climatic moment. When I sat down for three or four sessions on a good writing day, I managed 3-4 scenes, all with their own climatic moments. There are times when that long heavy scene works for the story, but if it’s stuffed with bits that just doesn’t matter, it slows the entire pace to a crawl. Scrivener is great for this. When you get to the point you’re trying to make in the notes, you stop the scene and move on.

After the 45 minutes of writing, it’s best to get up, stretch, and do some puttering around as you think of the ramifications of how what just went down will affect the rest of the story. No matter how sure I am of what exactly I’m going to write when I’m really in the zone the story goes 10% further than I planned. And that new, spontaneous bit may change everything. It may make a throwaway line in chapter three the most important line in the book. If you don’t give the bit in your brain that puts two and two together and gets a llama time to ruminate on what just happened, the story has to work extra hard to get that spark that will keep you going in the rewrites and will grab the reader by the throat in its finished state.

Besides, getting up and stretching is something you should be doing anyways. Like everything else, there’s an app for that.

 

Your favorite coffee pudding

A cup of coffee with fancy latte art swirls in the foam

A Warm Mug by Sea Turtle on Flickr, CC-BY-2.0.

Coffee shops are wonderful places to get hot, steamed milk products. If there’s one thing a lot of desserts required, it’s hot steamed milk products.

Order your favourite coffee drink. Ask for it as a breve, which means with cream. It should be around 18% milk fat. Those desserts that make pudding often ask for as much milk as cream and 18% is pretty close to half way between whole milk and heavy cream. 10% would work. If any coffee shop makes it in whipping cream, ask them to cut it with milk.

Ask for it double sweet and no foam. For 12 ounces, use 2 yolks, 16 ounce three yolks and 20 ounce, use four yolks. Separate your yolks and beat them up. Put your egg whites in the fridge and tell yourself you’re going to make something out of them. Tell yourself they’re even better if you let them sit around for a few days and then come to terms with the fact that you’re just going to throw them out in a week.

Add the hopefully still hot milk in a slow stream while you’re beating your yolks the whole time Ask your wife to mix up a tablespoon or so of cornstarch in a quarter cup of milk and make a note that 2 – 2 1/2 tablespoons of cornstarch would have made a thicker pudding for the next time.

Strain your eggy mixture into a pot that you telepathically knew you were supposed to put on the stove as you got back from the coffee shop. Turn it to 2, realize you don’t have all day, and turn it up to four and a half. Do not stop stirring the bottom. Add vanilla in whatever form you have it in. Strain the milk through the strainer you strained your egg through if someone adds the cornstarch to the liquid instead of the other way around, but don’t name names. At this point, you can throw in a handful (read: 1/2 a cup) of chocolate chips if the flavour of your coffee works with it. Don’t forget about white chocolate chips. White chocolate and pumpkin are amazing together.

Stir until it coats the back of a spoon and you can draw a line over the back of it with your kryptonite¬†fingers. Pour into the bowl. If you kept stirring the bottom, it should all come away. If your technique leaves something to be desired, pour what will pour from the pot and leave the burned stuff stuck to the bottom. You can stir in a pat of butter at this point. I did for the first time ever and since it was salted butter, it was amazing. If you don’t add butter or if the butter you add isn’t salted, go back in time and add a pinch of salt to the strained eggs. But who literally cooks and reads at the same time?

Cover with plastic wrap on the surface of the skin if you don’t want a skin to form. The skin isn’t terrible, it’s just chewier. If you want chewier pudding, leave it off. Put it in the fridge and let it set up.

 

Best burger techniques

Picture of a plated, charbroilled burger with the bun top askew, topped with parsley

Burger by Ian Turk on Flickr, CC-BY-2.0.

This is a recipe that calls for Ron Swanson’s recipe for hamburger, cooked to Canadian squeamishness about not wanting to eat rare ground meat. It calls for beef and salt. When it comes to toppings, I strongly suggest mayo, good mustard and grilled sweet onions only.

Buy lean meat, not extra lean. It should be 80/20 meat to fat. One pound of meat should make three good sized patties, 5-6 ounces each. Don’t overwork the meat. Just separate the beef, form it into loose patties with a slight dimple in the middle and salt both sides with kosher salt. When I used to make burgers before, they would always fall apart when I cooked just beef burgers, so there’s a couple tricks to keep them together. The first is after you’ve loosely formed them and salted them, put them back in the fridge for 30-60 minutes. This lets the meat glue inherent in the protein a chance to knit the fibres together. Don’t cook them on the BBQ grill. If your BBQ has a side element, cook them in a ¬†cast iron frying pan. Get the oven/bbq proper up to 350 degrees while you’re preheating your pan to medium high.

Put your burgers in a hot pan. Without oil on the bottom, you should be able to lick your finger and have the spit boil off before you burn yourself. Oil will cook your finger instead, so don’t do that. If you’re not cooking for family, a couple drops on the pan should dance and boil off.

Put the burgers down and set your timer for five minutes. Flip and add the tiniest sliver of butter on top if you’re not worried about boiling in the milk of the mother. Cook for another five minutes and put the pan into the oven/bbq for 5-10 minutes, or until an internal temp of 155-160 is reached.

Let burgers rest while toasting your bun.

More Middle Muddle (aka What’s this? A writing post?)

You would think this was a cooking channel for how little writing I’ve been doing, but I actually finished a major rewrite to a book that I’m sending off to Loose Id and I have writerly thoughts again.

In one of my subreddits I like, middles were discussed. It’s impossible to talk about everything, but I think he missed a major point. Middles fail not because the character isn’t allowed to fail, though that is a common beginner’s mistake. I think in all the books I’ve critiqued, middles fail far more often because the character arrives into the world with the plot having already happened, and all that changes from the beginning to the end is their completed knowledge of the problem.

This leads to the walking and talking plot, where all the characters do is walk (fly, swim, drive) from point to point, talking to people who have just survived the thing they’re chasing, and then go off in that direction. There may be a couple scenes where the character lands in the thick of it and some scenes where the antagonist shows up and stops them, temporarily from getting the info, but for the most part it’s walking and talking.

And if you ask the writer, they’ll tell you the book is about what the character’s talk about not what actually is happening on the page. And for some writers, that can really work. Illegal Alien by Robert J. Sawyer is predominately about two “people” talking (until the car chase scene). But what Rob can pull off in the middle of his stellar career is at a completely different plane than what most people starting out can pull off. It doesn’t prove it can be done, it sets the bar as to what has to happen for someone else to do the same.

Show don’t tell is one of those rules that writers somehow know or understand early on. Shifting what is being told from the author’s voice to dialogue doesn’t fundamentally change the fact that the information is being told to the reader. Thinking about the story as the first half establishing the plot as the characters hard-win or have an impact on every bit of knowledge that they would have just been told and the second half as tying up all the loose strings of the first half.

In debate, there’s a point at which you are not allowed to introduce any new information. I think book endings are basically the same thing. I say basically because the end is where you introduce the strings that will tie the sequel together to the first book, but for the most part, everything in the second half of the story should be introduced, no matter how fleetingly, in the first half. The reader shouldn’t have to depend on the author to tell them how bad the consequences are going to be. By the time the character and the reader get to the second half things-fall-apart, at least the reader should know why everything is terrible.

Middles are usually the worst part to any book, but they don’t have to be. Your character should be introduced to the plot at a point in which they think that they can change the outcome. If the entire plot is out of the story in the first chapter, a sane character will look at the enormous problem and think this is the job for gods and kings. The plot could be just as huge, but by the time the reader realizes that, they should be at a position where they can’t quit, even if they want to. Any rule can be broken, but it is hard enough to show a story as it is happening on the page in an engaging fashion. Trying to tell a story that has already happened and the only change the character has is how much they know about it is multiple times harder.

I used to be a firm believer that what happened in the story has happened and is immutable. Even if the book isn’t written yet, I can’t change the story as it occurred. And that’s utter nonsense. Timelines can be condensed. Deadlines can be given. Anything that is important to the story should happen on the page. And if you look at the middle with that in mind, getting everything that has to happen in within the 100k deadline is far more work than just filling up the pages between the pre-planned beginning and end.

Best Steak. Ever

It’s been a while since we got the immersion cooker, and all we’ve done with it to this point was cook onsen eggs. But before school quit for the year we went out to a local farm that sells organic beef from their small herd. We got two kansas steaks (Like NY strips, but with the bone still in them). We finally had time to cook them. Since Elisabeth likes her medium well and I like mine barely warm and the beef can sit in the hot water for hours before it mattering, I cooked hers at 66 degrees for an hour before lowering the temperature and cooking mine at 49 for the same, with Elisabeth’s still in the pot. Then I grilled them in a screaming hot cast iron pan to give them a crust. The bone and the fat meant a lot of trimming, but what was left was melt in the mouth delicious as well as extra flavourful for having cooked with the bone in.

 

Smoked hamburgers

Two-sided charcoal and propane bbq, wet with rain

The Chill Grill by ArchelaMuriel on Flickr, CC-BY-2.0.

Last year Rona had a BBQ for sale that was half charcoal grill, half propane. The grill can get up to 1000 degrees, but the charcoal side when the air is choked can maintain 300 degrees for hours. Last year we didn’t do much cooking outside, but this year I hope to make up for it.

When my dad came down last weekend for my birthday and we went to one of my favourite local restaurants, The Smokehouse. The waitress there talked about smoking a burger for customers, so I wanted to try it. I made large patties 8 ounces pre-cooked. I made up four patties to make the effort worth it.

I don’t do much to my burgers; just shape them roughly like a red blood cell and salt and pepper them. They stayed out at room temperature while the chimney of hardwood charcoal caught and the wood chips soaked. Everything was ready to go in 15 minutes.

You put the charcoal on one side and the burgers on the other and the smoke box full of wet chips on the coals. I closed the chimney and the air intake, which kept the grill at 300 degrees like an oven. The smoke box lasted for about 45 minutes so I threw on a handful of chips and a couple more lumps of charcoal at the 1/2 way point.

When the smoke box stopped producing smoke, I let it cook the rest of the way, having been smoked for more than an hour at that point. It took about 2 hours to get the internal temp up to 155 and it coasted the rest of the way. I like my steaks blue rare and my burgers cooked all the way, but the indirect method is such a gentle heat there would have been plenty of time to take it off at the right temperature for someone who likes their burgers medium rare.

While the meat was resting, Elisabeth chopped up a sweet onion fairly thickly, which got a drizzle of olive oil and some salt to use the residual heat after I toasted our buns over it. The meat was cooked through, still juicy and there wasn’t a smoke ring; the meat was so loosely packed the whole thing was the pink of a smoke ring.