Bolly-Punk: The Dharian Affairs

After I read (or perhaps misread) a review of Susan Kaye Quinn’s Third Daughter which used the intriguing descriptive “Bolly-punk,” I bought the book expecting a romance set in an alternate Victorian India. It didn’t take Third Daughterme long, however, to realize that Dharia was not an alternate India, but an alternate world. The twin full moons on the second page were my first clue.

Mind you, I was delighted by the discovery that Third Daughter is in fact a science fiction novel (with a solid helping of romance that does not go beyond kisses), and a perfectly wonderful example of world building (there’s a map of Dharia and its neighbors on Quinn’s website). And then there were the pack animals that sounded rather like elephants—with six legs. And the matriarchal society, in which Dharia is always referred to as the Queendom.

The heroine, Aniri, is the Third Daughter of the Queen of Dharia, a few days away from her eighteenth birthday. Her sisters, the First and Second Daughters, have done their duty and married appropriately, freeing Aniri to follow her heart. That is, until the Queen asks her to consider a marriage, or at least an engagement, of convenience to Prince Ashora Malik, the heir to the barbarous northern country of Jungali, taking her on a mission to discover the truth behind rumors of a flying machine/weapon that might threaten the political status quo.

That’s right, a flying machine. Plus sword fighting automatons, long distance communicators, steam trains and ladies in corsets, tiny mechanisms, sabers, all sorts of steampunk technology. Aniri is a tough, self-reliant heroine. Ash and Jungali are not quite what Aniri has been led to expect, and old family secrets rise to the surface as she searches for the truth behind the rumors. And, by then end of the book, Aniri and Ash have discovered one more secret than they expected. The last line of the novel is a doozy!

Second DaughterI enjoyed Third Daughter immensely, and downloaded Second Daughter when it was released. I just pre-ordered First Daughter, which is scheduled to release on September 29.  More reviews to come.

Writing Faster

A couple of weeks ago when I posted my lament about not finishing my work in progress any time soon at the rate of one hundred (or even three hundred) words a day, several friends recommended that I download an ebook by Rachel Aaron called 2,000 to 10,000. As it happened, I found the book waiting on my own Kindle, where it had been sitting unread for over a year. I have a lot of books on my Kindle.

2K to 10KAaron includes a number of excellent suggestions in her short (65 pages or so) book (long essay?) based on blog posts and articles. Quite a bit of what she says rings bells for me, but perhaps the most important was If you want to write faster, the first step is to know what you’re writing before you write it. When she sits down to write, she spends at least the first five minutes planning what she’s going to write that day, sketching it out on paper or computer, phrases, lists, bits of dialog, whatever helps her formulate the day’s writing in her mind.

I, on the other hand, usually sit at my computer and squeeze out one sentence at a time. My road map of late has been very limited, and I’ve been leaning too heavily on the one hundred words a day mantra. Clearly I need headlights with a longer reach if I’m going to stay on the road. So I thought I would adopt Aaron’s practice and see if it helps.

I think it will, but what really helped this month—and numerous times in the past—was a deadline.

A contest I did not enter because I did not have a synopsis at the end of August extended its deadline to September 15. I had used the same contest back in 2011 to kick myself into plotting the second half of Bathtub Jinn and writing a synopsis. The manuscript was not only a finalist in that contest, but the plotting and synopsis enabled me to finish the book in time (barely) for the Golden Heart deadline, and it was a finalist there, too.

So I adopted the contest deadline to plot the second half of the story I’m working on, and it worked. I wrote the synopsis yesterday and sent the entry off this morning. Whether or not the manuscript makes the cut in this contest, I now have a seven-page road map for the rest of the story, and whatever publishing path I decide to follow, I should have this tale finished by the end of the year. Three months or so doesn’t seem unreasonable now that I know where the story is going. I hate to say how long it has taken me to write the first half—I’m not sure I even know.

I still don’t think I could sit down and plot an entire book before I write it. It takes me quite a bit of writing to discover my characters and see where they want to go. Maybe that will come some day. Right now I’m balancing somewhere around the middle of the panster/plotter continuum. If I’m ever going to write more than one book a year, I may have to drag myself, kicking and screaming, further toward the plotter end of the scale.

The subtitle of 2,000 to 10,000 is How to write faster, write better, and write more of what you love. Sounds good to me, especially the “what you love” part. If you’ve really having trouble writing, Aaron suggests, you may be writing the wrong story.

The Adventures of Chet and Bernie

Spencer Quinn’s Paw and Order is the seventh installment in the Chet and Bernie mystery series. I’ve been a fan since the first book (Dog On It, 2009), and I read them as soon as I get my hands on them—no time on the To Be Read shelf for Chet and Bernie.

Paw and Order QuinnBernie Little is the head (and sole proprietor) of the Little Detective Agency, but the books are narrated by Chet, a one-hundred-pound-plus black and white dog of indeterminate breed, who came into Bernie’s world after flunking out of K9 training on the very last day (“There was a cat involved,” Chet remembers). Chet has a wonderful personality, alert, perceptive, and devoted to Bernie (the best human in the world), but he is also Everydog, prone to naps and impulsive barking, and easily distracted by a stray piece of bacon or a forgotten French fry (Squirrel!).

Through the first few books, the reader knows only that Chet and Bernie operate in The Valley, an unidentified area in the Southwest, where they run into a wide variety of perps (many of them, according to Chet, now wearing an orange jumpsuit or breaking rocks in the hot sun). They deal with missing teens (Dog On It), a pampered show dog (Thereby Hangs a Tail), a traveling circus (To Fetch a Thief), another missing child (The Dog Who Knew Too Much), and a visiting movie company (A Fistful of Collars). In last year’s installment, The Sound and the Furry, Chet and Bernie visit the Louisiana bayou country, where Chet meets an alligator and we learn that The Valley is in Arizona.

In Paw and Order, Bernie decides to make a detour to Washington DC to visit his girlfriend, Suzie Sanchez, a newspaper reporter. When one of Suzie’s sources is murdered and Bernie is framed for the crime, Chet is on the case. Along the way they meet government agents, foreign spies, a possible presidential candidate, Washington insiders, a strange bird with no feathers, and a guinea pig named Barnum.

Quinn has also written short stories to fill in a few of the incidents that Chet refers to now and then. In A Cat Was Involved, we finally learn exactly what happened on that fateful day when Chet somehow failed his final K9 Tail of Vengeanceleaping test (despite leaping being one of his best things) but met Bernie as a result. In The Iggy Chronicles, Volume 1, Chet and Bernie search for Chet’s missing BFF (best furry friend) Iggy, the dog next door. This year’s story, Tail of Vengeance, is waiting on my Kindle (how did I forget that? Was there possibly a cat involved?). It’s raining this morning—I think I’ll stretch out and read about the Teitelbaum case, one of those “stories for another time” that Chet so often mentions.

And then, alas, I’ll have to wait another year for a Chet and Bernie story. Or maybe I’ll just reread the whole series. Meanwhile, catch Chet’s doggy musings at Chet The Dog.

The Hundred-Word Crutch

For several years now, I’ve belonged to a one hundred words/one hundred days group, and in fact I’ve written two and a half novels and finished a third while falling off the hundred-word wagon and climbing back on again. The object is to write at least one hundred words (and/or spend a certain amount of time editing) on one’s work-in-progress (journals, emails, and grocery lists don’t count) for at least one hundred consecutive days, but there’s no penalty for dropping a day (or a month) and starting up again.

I made fifty days earlier this summer, took a break for the RWA conference, and started again on August 1. So today is Day 34, and I wrote a couple of hundred words before I went to work this morning. So now, my lazy brain tells me, I don’t have to work on it tonight. I stopped in the middle of a scene, I know what comes next, and I can leave it for tomorrow. After all, by word count, I’m about halfway through the book.

Well that sounds good, halfway through the book. Unfortunately, although I’m not real sure when I started this project, I know it was a long time ago. Too long. One hundred (or even two or three hundred) words a day isn’t getting it done.

Being a Writer

One of the workshops I attended at the conference, given by very successful hybrid author Courtney Milan, was called “The Slow Writer’s Guide to Making a Living.” A slow writer, for the purposes of Courtney’s presentation, writes fewer than three or four books a year. I’ll have to listen to that again on the conference recordings—my notes are a little sketchy. Three or four books a year—in my dreams.

I’m a pantser. I start with characters and a situation, maybe a loose idea of what they need to accomplish, and—after all, I’m writing romance—I know that the star-crossed lovers will solve their interpersonal conflicts and wind up together. How they’re going to get there, though, that’s not so clear, at least not when I’m getting started. Or even when I’m halfway through.

But I’d like to enter a couple of contests with deadlines coming up, and maybe take another shot at the Golden Heart. One of the contests only requires a few thousand words. Hey, a little editing, ready to go. The other contest takes up to 55 pages—including a synopsis. That means I’d have to plot the rest of the book, thirty or forty thousand words. Over the next two weekends. And the Golden Heart? That requires a completed novel. First draft, maybe, but complete. Deadline on that is in January.

Time to get this project moving a little faster. Not gonna get there on one hundred words a day.

Recent Reading

Half Price Books is having a holiday weekend sale, and so far I’ve managed to not set foot in the place, although I did download two books to my Kindle this morning. Meanwhile, I’m trying to catch up on reading and reviewing books. Here are a few I’ve liked recently: nonfiction, science fiction, mystery and, of course, romance.

I brought Queen of Your Own Life, by Kathy Kinney and Cindy Ratzlaff, home from the recent RWA conference in San Antonio. Ratzlaff was one of the featured speakers at the conference, speaking on author platforms and online resources, but this book is not about that. The subtitle is The Grown-Up Woman’s Guide to Claiming Happiness and Getting the Life You Deserve. It’s a short, easy read, but it includes some thought-provoking insights from its two authors on problems most women will identify with: self esteem, defending boundaries, and female friendship. Definitely worth reading.

Sharon Lynn Fisher’s first novel, Ghost Planet, was a colony planet story with a twist. The Ophelia Prophecy is The Ophelia Prophecycompletely different, set on Earth after humanity has nearly been destroyed by the results of genetic engineering gone wildly out of control. The world is now controlled by the Manti, the largely (but not always) humanoid results of those experiments. The heroine, Asha, is a member of the isolated human community of Sanctuary, until the day she wakes up along the lake shore near a Manti male called Pax. Neither of them remembers how they came to be there, and both of them have to protect and to unravel. Their travels in Pax’s sentient scout ship, complicated by Pax’s much more mantis-like sister Iris, lead them first to another pocket of humanity and then to the Manti capital in Granada, torn by factions within the Manti. The Ophelia Prophecy is an exciting story as well as a complicated look at uncontrolled biological experimentation run amok, with a romance for good measure.

Double Whammy, by Gretchen Archer, is a very funny and very entertaining mystery, first in a series featuring Davis Way, ex-cop from Pine Apple, Alabama (where her dad is the police Double Whammychief and her twice-ex husband’s family lives). In serious need of a new job, Davis signs on with a Biloxi casino, little suspecting why she’s really been hired. Assigned to seemingly random jobs (and disguises) around the casino, Davis eventually figures out what the real problem is, with the aid of a seemingly disinterested cab driver. In the meantime, Davis falls in love with the absentee owner of her sub-let condo while avoiding another entanglement with her worthless twice-ex husband. Davis, who just might be Stephanie Plum’s distant cousin, returns in Double Dip and Double Strike, and I plan to add those to my Kindle. (I was offered a copy of Double Whammy to review—which was extremely flattering—but I already had it on my Kindle. So far I have enjoyed all the Henery Press cozy mysteries I’ve read.)

For pure romance, I recommend Terri Osburn’s Meant To Be, the first in in her Anchor Island series. When Beth Chandler, on her way to visit her fiance’s family on Anchor Island, has a Meant To Bepanic attack on the ferry (she has a serious water phobia), she has no idea the man who comes to her rescue is her fiance’s brother. Or that first impressions will lead to deep attraction. But how can a self-respecting girl like Beth switch brothers? Even worse, on a small island where everyone knows each other? The story is full of wonderful characters and a charming setting, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The next Anchor Island romance, Up to the Challenge, is waiting on the ever-expanding invisible To Be Read shelf on my Kindle, and I just downloaded the third, Home To Stay.

 

I Am Not a Foodie, But . . .

No one would call me a foodie. I live out of my microwave oven, and when my six-year-old oven cratered last Saturday night, forty-five seconds into nuking a baking potato, I kicked it to the curb (well, actually the garage, and one of these days I will take it to the electronics recycling place), ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for supper, and went to Target for a new one the next day. My wine-conscious friends think I’m hopeless because I’m perfectly happy with grocery store whites (bottled, not boxed).

But this week I had a rare opportunity to enjoy a carefully planned six course dinner, with appropriate wines, at a wonderful restaurant, and I can’t express how amazing and wonderful it was.

My friend Jo Anne had given her brother, Ed Banker, and sister-in-law, Anne Newtown, a Chef’s Day at Brennan’s of Houston for Christmas last year, and they finally scheduled their day for August 22. Ed and Anne, who are both devoted foodies and excellent cooks, spent the day in Brennan’s kitchen, dressed in their new chef’s jackets (with their embroidered names), learning about the management of a fine restaurant kitchen and choosing their own special interests (sauces and stocks, I believe). Here they are about to eat the lunch they prepared, a giant Louisiana crab cake.

Ed & Anne at Brennan's

The package included dinner for six, and Ed and Anne were kind enough to include me, along with Jo Anne and two of their close friends, Chris and Judy. None of us knew what to expect (although all of us knew that one can always expect the very best at Brennan’s), but Ed and Anne had been told it would be a six course dinner. Jo Anne and I joined them at seven o’clock, in time for the first glass of Sauvignon Blanc. I pretty much lost track of the wines, although the sommelier came out with each bottle to tell us about it. I know there was a second Sauvignon Blanc, a Chardonnay from South Africa (delicious, and I don’t usually care for Chardonnay) at least two bottles of Petite Sirah (a favorite of Ed and Anne’s), and one of a blended white from the Willamette Valley (my favorite). Fortunately the waitstaff was adept at removing just the right glasses at the right time, but each of us had three glasses (one water and two wines) in front of us for most of the evening.

The food was even more amazing, and one or another of the chefs came out with each course to tell us about it. I wish I could remember the details of the sauces and seasonings (I hope Ed and Anne caught them all, because I get invited to their house for dinner now and then), but the menu was so overwhelming I can’t repeat it all. But here goes:

First Course: Crab salad on a thick slice of beefsteak tomato (locally sourced, as is much of Brennan’s food), with bits of watermelon and cantaloupe and a dollop of caviar on top. The tomato was the kind we all say we remember from childhood but haven’t seen in the grocery store for forty years, the kind that reminds us that a tomato is technically a fruit.

Second Course: One large, whole (with head) barbecued shrimp and two smaller shrimp (I think they were sauteed; they certainly weren’t boiled or fried), over Texas grits made with goat cheese, all with a marvelous sauce that I can’t even describe.

Third Course: Half a quail, roasted, with cornbread dressing, served on a wedge of waffle and topped with a quail egg, sunny side up (one perfect mouthful—I don’t remember ever eating quail before, and I know I’ve never had a quail egg), and another amazing sauce.

Fourth Course: (And here I really tipped into dining paradise) One lamb chop, cooked as rare as lamb should be, served over rice and mushrooms, with asparagus. (Lamb may be my favorite meat, but it’s not particularly popular, or readily available, here in Texas.) Oh, how I wish I could describe the sauce!

Fifth Course: Three perfect pieces of cheese. One of the chefs came out and told us what order to eat them in. The first two were cheeses I’m not familiar with, and I wish I’d caught the names (maybe someone else remembers), but the third was a small, and very strong, square of bleu cheese. I wouldn’t/couldn’t eat that one in quantity, but the size on the plate (beautifully embellished with berries, nuts, and a small piece of bread) was perfect.

Sixth Course: And then came dessert. Instead of identical plates for all, as in the first five courses, a stream of waiters delivered what seemed like an endless stream of dessert plates to the table. As Catherine the Pastry Chef described each one (the word sugar was particularly frequent), our eyes expanded like children’s in a candy store. Five minutes earlier, we’d all been too full to eat again all weekend, but now we managed to pass the desserts around the table and sample every one, leading to a lively discussion of their merits (no two of us arrived at the same ranking). We tasted pecan pie with vanilla bean ice cream, peach cobbler with cream cheese ice cream (made on site), lemon meringue pie (about four inches high), white chocolate bread pudding (my personal favorite), Grand Marnier creme brulee, Mississippi Mud Pie (a towering stack of chocolate delight), dark chocolate bread pudding, strawberry shortcake, and Brennan’s classic Bananas Foster.

We were far too happy eating, drinking, and talking to take picture of the food, but Anne did take this one of Jo Anne and me (behind all those wine glasses) before we left, about three and a half hours after we sat down to dinner. Definitely one of the most remarkable meals I have ever enjoyed.

Kay & Jo Anne at Brennan's

Watching Plants Grow

A few weeks ago I found myself wandering through the garden section at my local Lowe’s, looking at plants.  I’m pretty good with outdoor plants.  I put them out where they’ll get some sun and some rain, and once in a while I trim them, and generally they do all right for themselves.

Indoor plants are not so easy.  My house was built in the 1950s, and it was designed to stay cool in the Texas summer:  windows shaded by porches and vines, and a roof shaded by lots of trees (a magnet for guys with a pickup truck, a chain saw, and a limited command of the English language, but that’s another story ).  So I don’t have a lot of big sunny windows.  Actually, I don’t have any big sunny windows.

But in the house plant ward at Lowe’s, I found a handsome dark green plant with a tag that read “Plants of Steel.”  “Wants minimal attention,” the tag said.  “I can do that,” I said.

The plant, called Zamioculcas zamiifoli, didn’t have a common name on its tag, but I like ZZ Plant.  (I’m not the first to think of that, as I found when I looked it up on Wikipedia.)  It comes from eastern Africa and was introduced to commercial production by Dutch nurseries about twenty years ago.

Apparently ZZ Plant is happy in its new home, because not long after I brought it home, I noticed a new, light green shoot springing up through its established branches.

August 3

August 3

A few days later, the new shoot was a good bit taller and beginning to unfurl.

August 12

August 12

And this morning, taller and more open.

August 20

August 20

And if you look right in the middle of the plant, you’ll see the tip of a smaller new shoot.  According to Wikipedia, ZZ Plant may even flower in due time.

Watching plants grow–yet another distraction from writing.

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