Saturday, January 9, 2016

A few words from the lovely Rose Drake

Gather round, children! It's time to play 'Know Your Dracoforms'.

No, I didn't draw this.  I'm busy. - Rose
I'm not sure what the 'drake' is supposed to be. An aspirational monitor lizard, perhaps? I suppose it could be a hatchling with...say, tightly-folded wings? No matter... In proper society, "Drake" is used as a general term for any true Dragon. Back home, it refers to a male Dragon. The feminine term is 'Drakess'. 'Drakessa' is the plural.

Wyverns have more in common with geese than they do with true Dragons. They are generally bestial and lack speech and refinement. They can be useful in warfare, however, assuming you can keep them from eating your infantry.

Wyrm is an Anglo-Saxon word which properly refers to any ancient true Dragon. In the eastern regions of Earth, the type of Dragon pictured has been referred to as a 'Lung', 'Ryu', 'Naga', and 'Tatsu', among other names. They are true Dragons, and tend to be somewhat contemplative and scholarly. There are exceptions, of course...

Behold me!
Well, sort of...  Fine, I picked it because the scale color was the closest I could find.
Lastly, we have the true Dragon as we appear in the western part of Earth. A true Dragon has the following characteristics: Intelligence, the capacity for speech, four legs, and the power of flight. Wings are the primary physical trait differentiating eastern and western true Dragons from one another; they do not determine what is and is not a true Dragon.

One more detail: if you are unsure if your new neighbor is a pathetic wyvern or a noble true Dragon, take a few moments and look around the lair mouth for 'fewmets'; that is, er, droppings. A true Dragon does not defile his or her home by defecating around it; a wyvern will. In short, if you see poop, shoot to kill. If not, bring a large meal, some tribute items, and your best manners to request a parlay. The lives you save could be your entire village's.

Farewell for now, children. The donation chest is on the left as you leave.

Rose Drake
Rose Drake is a Dragoness living in Boulder Colorado.  She is the Chief Financial Officer of Curious Diversions game studio, makers of 'Ecophage', and writes a financial discussion blog.  She enjoys sunbathing, treasure baths, and using her Middle Eastern dancing skills to charm tribute from the wallets of horny men who have forgotten both their wives and their roasted lamb platters.

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Friday, September 11, 2015

Humor, gamer culture, sex, violence, exploding bluebirds...more, please!

Forging Day by Noelle Alladania Meade

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

'Forging Day' doesn't lend itself to to easy categorization. It's not a romance, lesbian or otherwise. It's not pure erotica. Ti's not post-apocalyptic. That said, it does include elements of all three genres. When we meet Olivia, the narrator, she is unemployed, living off the kindness of her friends and the generosity of her sister, and scraping the bottom of the barrel for boyfriends. She's not a bad person, but she is broken. Over the course of the book, she, like the Shards of Narsil, is reforged into strength and purpose.

There's a bit of dialog that captures the flavor of Olivia's transformation:

“Oh my god, Berto. We’re noobs. We’re not even first level adventurers. We’re those idiots trying to figure out the tutorial— and I always skip the tutorial. . . . when I dreamed about becoming a fantasy adventurer, I was always a max-level character with epic gear. Look at me. I’m wearing vendor trash.”

Thankfully, Olivia, like countless other low-level adventurers, has a party backing her up. Her friends have abilities of their own and are learning to use them as well. As with any ensemble cast, most get only the screen time and storyline they need to have, not what they ideally should have. Developing the secondary characters would have added a lot to the story, but I think it would have lessened the urgency and tension the plot needs.
Less of a flying rat and more of a flying hand grenade.

Olivia's romantic relationships are a significant part of the story, especially in the first chapter. In online gaming terms, Chapter One is a gear check for the reader. Make it through to the end (and I mean the entirety of the chapter) and you're in good shape for the rest of the story. The author handles a rough scene with great skill, and the reader becomes invested in Olivia almost at once. The other sex scenes in the book are nicely fun and sweaty. Olivia doesn't get magic items as she levels up but she does get magic moments.

Obviously this is the first book of a planned series, and I can't wait to pick up the next one.

View all my reviews

Monday, June 22, 2015

If the idea works, it isn't dumb..

I didn't feel up to posting anything yesterday for Father's Day, and I still rather don't. That said, we did have one issue this weekend that brought to mind Noelle's father, Carl, and his approach to problem-solving.

We bought Alissa a Mylar balloon for her birthday last month. Against all odds, it still had plenty of helium in it Saturday night, and it proved this by floating out of Alissa's room, bopping across thirty feet of ceiling, and fetching up against the intake slats for the attic fan. Thankfully, the string had come off the balloon, so there was no danger of that being sucked into the fan and getting tangled up with the blades.

The intake is twenty feet above our front door, right next to a 6'x6' window. The intake slats are weighted to stay closed and only open when there's enough air moving to force them open. They're too narrow for the balloon to fit through, but it got pulled in far enough to get pinned when the fan shut off.

That's what we woke up to Sunday morning.

One option was moving Alissa's bed so we could climb up into the attic and scoot gracefully through the rafters to the fan. Carl was up there when we first moved in, and he talked about what a pain it was, even as skinny and agile as he was at the time. I was fairly sure if I tried, I'd either get stuck like Winnie-the-Pooh and have to be rescued with a crane and a Saws-All. or the rafters would give way and I'd fall through the ceiling, the first floor, the basement floor, and be buried in the crawlspace under a pile of rubble. Then naked mole rats would go through my pockets for loose change.

A ladder might have worked, if not for the window. We'd have to put it at an angle that would leave us with a good ten feet between the ladder and the balloon. We could maybe reach it with a rake, but there's the window again.

We ruled out putting a line on a broadhead-tipped arrow and shooting it through the balloon. Ditto for breaking out the desktop-scale Civil War cannon my dad made and pounding a volley of BBs through it. No good backstop. That aside, we didn't have any black powder, BBs, wadding, or cannon fuse.

Tying a cord to a small object and wrapping it in tape sounded promising. Except that, if we missed, said object was usually falling straight down on us. We missed a lot. The dog was not helpful; every time she looked at us, the "WTF people???" was writ plain on her furry little face.

Then we remembered Alissa's little western fort play tent.

The poles for the tent are plastic, about five feet long. We lashed three of them together with packing tape and wrapped one end in more tape, sticky side out.

Noelle was now standing on a stepladder, playing 'hit the pinata' with a fifteen-foot fishing pole that had all the rigidity of a warm Twizzlers stick. She finally managed to swing the tape-wrapped end enough to hit the balloon - and the slats were too tight for her to pull it loose. I hit the fan on 'low', and the balloon was free to float again.

Right up to the point where it fell down on the the scissors. Several times.

I can't say that was how Carl would have solved this issue; I suspect he would have gone to his tool chest and built a 20' robotic claw made of wire coat hangers and used shock absorbers. However, I can say I'm very tempted to look to my father when it comes to keeping future Mylar balloons safely grounded.

I just need to find someone who sells cannon fuse.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Review: 'Silver Shackles' by Fiona Skye
I came in to Silver Shackles not having read the first book, but it is a good stand-alone and I had no issues understanding the world or getting into the story. The story does tend to follow the general, common conventions of the paranormal genre, but it avoids 'cookie cutter' characters and themes, for which I was thankful. I just do not see why every city in the paranormal genre has a court ruled by vampires. Why can't we have a were-Tyrannosaus Rex with adamantite claws running things once in a while? Anyway....

Riley and her boyfriend David were both easy to relate to, and all the major characters were developed enough to move out of the "generic background extra" category. I'd kvetch about Riley and David not communicating (one of my big pet peeves), but in this case the major communication failures are due to professional and ethical constraints rather than literary convenience.

For me, one of the strongest points of enjoyment was the sheer malevolence of the dark Fae. It was nice to see villains who didn't remind me of Snidely Whiplash.

My biggest criticism is that the story moves very fast. Some folks have said the same thing about my own books, so I can't complain too much about that. :-)

Rating 4 of 5

Friday, April 17, 2015

Steampunk + India = Tasty

While I was doing the background research for 'Hearts Before Diamonds', I wanted to find a Victorian-era breakfast dish that would have been popular with Westerners visiting India. A British friend told me about kedgeree, but the flavor profile (and the flaked haddock) were too British. A little looking turned up more recipes than I can count for khichuri, the root dish kedgeree is derived from.

So, presented here is the recipe I used for Edward Wallace's breakfast. It's appropriate for any Steampunk adventure, and if you see something you don't like, by all means replace it. Khichuri is as malleable as the cheeseburger or the omelet. Case in point: this recipe calls for red lentils, but I think yellow ones are more tender. Also, I hate cauliflower. 

Recipe originally posted on Zesterdaily and shamelessly copied here.  You don't want to know how much time I've wasted browsing recipes there...

Allez cuisine!

Bengali Red Lentil Risotto (Khichuri)
(Recipe adapted from “The Bengali Five Spice Chronicles”)

1 cup dried red split lentils (masoor dal)
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 cup short-grained rice (such as Arborio or kala jeera)
1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 medium-sized tomato, finely chopped
1 medium-sized potato, peeled and cubed
1/2 small cauliflower head, cut into small florets
3 to 4 green chilies, slit halfway lengthwise
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup frozen peas
2 tablespoons oil
1 medium-sized onion, finely chopped
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
1 1/2 teaspoons ghee (clarified butter)
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 to 2 bay leaves

1. In a large, heavy-bottomed pan put the red lentils and about 4 cups water and bring to a simmer over medium heat.
2. Add the turmeric and simmer for about 10 minutes. The lentils should be partially cooked but not mushy at this point.
3. Add the rice, 3 more cups water, ginger, ground cumin and coriander, tomato, potato, cauliflower, green chilies, sugar and salt. Simmer for about 25 minutes on medium heat, stirring occasionally. The rice and lentil mixture should be a porridge-like consistency (add more water if too thick). The texture is important. You do not want the rice to completely lose its integrity, however it should be softer than a regular well-made bowl of rice. Add in the greens peas and stir well.
4. While this is cooking, heat the oil in a wok or skillet and add the onion and cook on medium heat until soft and pale golden. It is important to cook the onions low and slow to let them caramelize.
5. Stir the onions into the rice and lentil mixture and cook for about 2 minutes.
6. Turn off the heat and stir in the cilantro.
7. Heat the ghee in a small skillet and add the cumin seeds and the bay leaves. Cook for about 40 seconds until the cumin seeds darken and turn fragrant.
8. Pour the spice mixture over the rice and lentils.
9. Stir lightly and serve the mixture hot.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Every picture tells a story...

A friend of mine, Rowan Moonstone, took this picture up near Estes Park a few years back.  She posted it in one of the Charles de Lint groups on Facebook a few days ago, commenting that she thought there was a story there, but she couldn't find it. She threw the gates open for folks to give it a shot, so here's my submission.

The Business of Winter
by Bryan Fields

Fall in the Rockies is a time of great industry for the creatures living there.  They look around themselves, seeing this sign and that, and watch the days grow shorter, and each sign they see stirs them to be about the business of winter.

As happens sometimes, a bluebird gave heed to an excess of distractions, and, for a time, forgot to give account to the doing of needful things.  It was not until the first flecks of snow intruded on her that she realized she was unprepared for winter.  The thought terrified her, and she gave a great wail of despair.

Her cries startled a young bull elk, who was full of dry grasses and thoughts of lady elk, and of things done with lady elk in large meadows of soft, dry grass…  He sounded a challenge and turned to face his attacker—but it was only a foolish bluebird weeping over….well, something.

He snorted at her, and assumed his proudest stance.  “What did you say to me?  I warn you, I’m not to be trifled with.”

“My troubles are my own,” said the bluebird.  “I have been foolish, and winter is here, and I am not ready.  I must spend my time well, and be fierce, but I will endure.”

“HMMPH,” snorted the elk.  “Well, your fate is not my concern, but winter is unkind, and I am noble and true of heart, not to mention virile and powerful.  I will aid you.”  So saying, he lifted his hoof, and struck it on the ground, again and again. His blows tore the grasses and the earth asunder, exposing grubs, and seeds, and berries dried and forgotten, and the crunchy things burrowing for their life. 

The bluebird ate, and ate well, listening to the elk, who had quite forgotten her.  When she could eat no more, she took to wing.  All the land was before her, and so also its secrets.  Soon, she returned to the young elk.

The bluebird spoke to the elk, asking, “Is this what you seek, my friend?”, and she cast a tuft of fur on the ground before him.   

The elk sniffed and cried, “Yes!  Tell me, what…er, how, I mean, where?” 

The bluebird spoke of where, and of things seen from the sky that may be touched on the ground, and of how a trail had been left into the thick forest, guiding one who knew how to look to the resting place of the lady elk who had given her fur to the bluebird.

“But, what of the herd bull?” the elk asked.  “He sees all, he knows all-“

“Go,” said the bluebird.  “I will fight the herd bull for you.  Go!”

This, the elk did, and found his way to the lady elk, and they did what elk do in thick forests.

The bluebird flew to the meadow where the herd bull held his court, and watched his rivals with wary eyes.  The bluebird flew past him, and alighted on the rump of the strongest rival bull.  She took a twig in her beak, and gave the rival a good poke in the place where a small twig must seem a cruel branch.

The rival broke onto the meadow, snorting and bellowing.  The herd bull was upon him at once, for a challenge must be answered. 

Another rival charged forth, and another, and soon a great tumult engulfed the bulls, and no calm returned until all the bulls were exhausted.

The bluebird found her friend, who was well accounted of himself, and the two went forth, one aiding the other, and so they attended to the business of winter.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Spooky Doings in Middle School: an interview with Iva Valentino

I never had any weird teachers at East Arvada Junior High.  The closest to 'interesting' I got was the one guy with a giant poster for the movie 'Rollerball' over his desk.  I had to wait until high school to meet anyoen seriously strange - starting with the science teacher who wandered the halls with chips of dry ice in his mouth, blowing smoke rings at people.  Iva Valentina's Middleton Middle School sounds like it would be a fun place to go.  I wonder if we could get Mrs Pruitt to sponsor a D&D club...

Welcome, Iva!  Please
tell us about yourself. What do you do for a living? How long have you been writing?

I’ve always had a big love of science. When I started my Biology degree at the University of Arizona, I wasn’t quite sure what I was going to do with it. Five years later, after participating in a few marine biology workshops with kids, I knew I found my calling in education. I soon obtained a Master’s degree in teaching, and began my eight-year adventure teaching middle school. 

Even though I really enjoy working with kids, something I love just about equally is books. So, I decided to combine the best of both worlds. Now, I work as a science editor at an educational publishing house. I help create beautiful nonfiction books for kids, and I write some as well. When I’m not working this amazing day job, I write humorous tween chapter books.

In my spare time, I enjoy yoga, photography, and cooking. I live in Tucson, Arizona, with my husband and our dog, Lupo. My week is not complete unless I’ve taken at least one Zumba dance class!

How did you start writing? Was there any specific event that sparked your interest?

I’ve been writing fiction since I was a kid. At first, it was short stories. I loved creating fun characters and then sending them on silly adventures. I never imagined myself having a career as a writer. I took a long break from writing during college due to my hectic schedule. Once I started working as a teacher, my love of writing came back full force. Being around kids and talking with them about the books they were reading really made me realize how much I missed the writing process. This is when I started pursuing writing fiction books.

Do you have a schedule when you write or do you write whenever there’s some peace and quiet? If you have a set schedule, share it with us.

I work best when I make a schedule for myself ahead of time. I set aside blocks of time in which I make an appointment with myself to write. This means NO internet surfing or email!  The schedule will vary a bit from week to week, depending on what I have going on. For the most part I am able to carve out several hours a day. The time when I’m most productive is in the morning, so I always set time to write first thing before I do any other kind of work.

Any odd rituals that get you in the mood to write?

I recently started a daily meditation practice. I meditate right after I get up in the morning, before I write. I feel that it’s really improved so many aspects of my life!

What’s on your desk?

Usually my desk is pretty organized. I’m one of those people that normally can’t function with clutter of any sort. I just have my laptop, desk calendar, inbox (where I admit, I do sometimes toss in stuff I don’t know what to do with), and some pens/highlighters/whatnot. I also have a little figurine of a dragon that my husband recently gave me for inspiration! Oh, yes, and I can’t forget to mention all the little sticky notes I post all over my desk as I’m working and need to remind myself of other things I need to do later. I love sticky notes.

How have your family and friends reacted to your writing?

My husband thinks it’s great that I write. My dog, Lupo, spends his time sleeping under my desk while I work. All around support from friends and family!

Tell us about your new book.

Black Cats and Ballet Slippers is a humorous tween chapter book. Gemma Mayfield, the main character, is a ballerina and middle school student. She is convinced her teacher is a witch. After her crush, Trevor, has a spell cast upon him, Gemma embarks on a mission to save Middleton Middle School from witchcraft!

Where did the idea for this book come from?

The idea for Black Cats came about during my last year of teaching middle school. In the book, Gemma’s science teacher, Ms. Pruett, has a really creepy classroom. The classroom has a preproom with lots of “witchy” things, such as powdered unicorn horn and other ingredients for spells. In my classroom, I also had a big preproom. My classroom was actually very nice and not creepy at all, but over time my imagination took over. I started to envision this preproom as being Ms. Pruett’s. From there on, the rest of the storyline for Black Cats started to brew!

How hard is it to step away from characters you’ve spent time with and finally pen THE END? Do you have an impulse to continue their story?

I definitely have a hard time stepping away from my characters in Black Cats and Ballet Slippers! I’ve always envisioned this book as being the first in a series. Gemma, Izzie, and the rest of the Middleton Middle School gang will be back with more adventures!

If you were making a movie, who would you cast to play your characters?

Most of the characters in this book are middle school age. I am imagining some spunky, smart, funny young actors and actresses!

What advice would you offer to new writers?

Keep writing every day! Even if you don’t feel like it.

What’s in the workings for your next novel?
I’m currently working on a sequel for Black Cats. This next book doesn’t involve a mystery, but the entire gang will be back for some more fun at Middleton Middle School. I’m looking forward to introducing some new characters!

Where can we buy a copy of your book?

Please include links to your author page, blog, etc.


Okay, so something REALLY strange is going on. Boys are from a different planet, but right now a few of them at Middleton are acting like they’re from a different universe. (Wait. Does this make sense? Is there more than one universe? Ugh. Maybe I should have paid more attention last year in Astronomy.)
So, by the time I got to Ms. Pruett’s class, I had already worked myself into a super version of “I Don’t Wanna Go To Class Because I’m Creeped Out!” mode. I walked into the Science Laboratory, and I swear I felt the cold of Building 400 smack me right in the face. I’m not kidding.
Of course Ms. Pruett was at the door, acting like her sweet old lady self (ha ha, I know better), and was welcoming all the kids into the classroom. I just kept my head down and muttered a hello as I passed. Staying below the radar was the goal. Then I sat down at my lab table and shivered a bit.
Joey sat down at the table just a second later. Normally he is really loud and obnoxious, cracking jokes, and calling to the other Soccer Jocks across the room. Today he was quiet.
“Hey,” I said, trying to be friendly. I thought maybe we could commiserate on us both having spells cast on us. Joey responded with a “hey” but didn’t say much else. Hello? Was this the Joey I knew?
“So, Joey, are you feeling okay?” I asked. “You know, after yesterday…”
Joey didn’t say anything, but began writing on a piece of paper. He folded up the piece of paper and passed it to me. I gave him a questioning look. He gave me a weird look back that I couldn’t decipher. The note was as follows:
     Hey Gemma,
     Sorry I gave you a hard time yesterday about the “Cute Boy” list. It was kind of rude of me.
That’s when it hit me that Joey hadn’t recovered from Ms. Pruett’s spell. For me it was just temporary, like a few minutes. But Joey was acting weird. It had to be the spell.
“Um, thanks,” I said. “Don’t worry about it.” I then started taking out all my school stuff so that I could look busy and not have any more awkward moments with Joey until he felt better. He was taking longer to recuperate.
After class I headed straight down toward the lunchroom. On the way there, I saw Trevor going in the opposite direction past me. Our conversation went like this:
            Me: “Hi Trevor!” (with a big smile and enthusiasm)
            Trevor: “Oh, hi Gemma.” (with zombie-like attitude)
            Me: “Okay, have a good lunch!”
            Trevor: “Okay, thanks. Bye.”
            I wondered where he was going, in the opposite direction from the lunch room when it was lunchtime. It took me another couple of moments to realize that the ONLY classroom in that part of campus was Ms. Pruett’s room. He was headed back toward Building 400!
            Yikes! I turned myself around in mid-stride and turned back the way I came. I knew there was no way possible that Trevor would be going to Ms. Pruett’s. Why would anyone in their right mind be going there by themselves?
            I didn’t want Trevor to think I was stalking him, because of course I would never do that. But just in case that’s what it appeared to be, I used as much stealth as possible. I walked in the shadows and stopped to peek out behind bushes and building walls. I saw him up ahead…just before he ENTERED MS. PRUETT’S CLASSROOM.
            My mouth fell open, and I just sort of stared at the door for a while.
            Weird things are going on here at Middleton. And I think Ms. Pruett’s behind it all!