Summer conjures up fond memories of vacations, camping, outdoor activities, and hours spent in the sunshine. I didn’t always spend my summers slinking from patches of shade to the indoors. Now I prefer to sparkle with an eerie luminescence, but a mild sun allergy and life in Seattle will do that to you. When summer is upon me, I think of all of these things followed by, "When are peaches in season?"
Peaches are my favorite fruit and I have to wait until the end of summer to have them. This would be a tragedy... if cherries and raspberries didn't exist.
I am fortunate to live in the state of Washington. After June, small canopies and card tables stacked with boxes full of bright red, dark purplish red, and yellow cherries dot the roadsides. Quite simply: we're spoiled.
This year, Lance signed us up for a fruit and vegetable delivery service through his place of work. It has been great! We have spent much less on the groceries, and we are forced to eat a variety instead of just falling back on the items we know we can prepare quickly. Because we can have upwards of five pounds of cherries in a single delivery and there are only two of us to eat them, we have discovered that a crumble is a great way to make sure they don't go to waste.
Cherry Cobbler Filling
3.5 pounds cherries, pitted
3 apples, peeled and diced into 1/2" pieces
4 T tapioca starch
3/4 c sugar
1/2 tsp salt
Step one should really be purchasing a cherry pitter. These handheld little wonders help minimize the amount of time that goes into pitting cherries, which helps cut down on the amount of staining on your fingers. My poor mother-in-law helped me manually pit ten pounds of cherries when she came to visit one year. I received a cherry pitter in the mail a few weeks later. The hint wasn't subtle, but the gift is very appreciated.
I halve the cherries, dice the apples, and leave them in a large mixing bowl. Combine the dry ingredients and evenly distribute over the fruit, then stir to make sure it is mixed evenly. Pour the mixture into a 9X13 pan and heat the oven to 350 degrees.
Cherry Cobbler Crust
1 c brown rice flour
1/2 c teff flour
1/2 c sorghum flour
2 T tapioca starch
1/2 t salt
1/2 t cinnamon
1 c sugar
1 c palm oil
Teff is an Ethiopian grain that has a very mild taste and is great to bake with, particularly with cake and cupcake recipes. If you can't find it locally, just use sorghum flour. I prefer to use Turbinado sugar or evaporated cane juice in both steps because of the texture and less processing is required to manufacture the product.
Combine the dry ingredients thoroughly. Add the palm oil and either use a pastry cutter or a fork to combine the ingredients until they are mixed well. It's okay to have the texture of fine gravel, although I'll use my hands to combine the ingredients at the end to get a smooth texture. Pour this mixture evenly over the fruit in the pan to form a crumble crust.
Bake for 30-45 minutes or until the crust is very slightly browned and the filling is bubbling.
Comments or questions? Leave a comment below.
This weekend I attended my first book launch party, and it was a ton of fun! Michael Munz hosted the event at Wayward Coffee House. The minute I walked into the cafe, I knew I'd found a new place to frequent. Star Wars, Star Trek, and Firefly paraphernalia abounded with a small smattering of Lord of the Rings. A large bookcase sat in one corner, well stocked with science fiction and fantasy novels. Combine that with hemp milk lattes and wi-fi, and I'm in heaven. It was the perfect place to host a launch for a contemporary mythological fantasy and a viewing of Clash of the Titans (the 1981 version, of course). Unfortunately, I missed the reading, but my husband and I have started the book. Despite the fact that we are both reading it, my husband has been reading small snippets from the novel out loud, a habit he has when he is entertained. So far, it has been really funny.
When Michael asked if I would be willing to participate in his book tour, the answer was a resounding, "Of course!"
The following is an excerpt from Chapter Thirteen of Michael G. Munz's epic comedic fantasy Zeus Is Dead: A Monstrously Inconvenient Adventure. Ares, the god of war and part of a small conspiracy that found a way to kill Zeus, is waiting while a goddess (whose name is unknown to the reader but known to Ares) instructs her mortal son Thad in the next room with regard to their plan to thwart Apollo's attempts to somehow resurrect Zeus by way of another mortal named Leif Karlson…
Ares listened to the boy and his immortal mother from the adjoining room. To the untrained eye (of which there were none in the otherwise empty suite), he was seething. His teeth gritted, his hands clutched at the fireplace poker he’d grabbed in the event anything should need pokering, and his pacing feet ground into the carpet in a way that would, given perhaps a decade, give the Grand Canyon a run for its money. The trained eye, however, would tell you that seething was the wrong word. (There were no trained eyes in the room either, but as we are also imbuing trained eyes with the power of speech, questioning their existence in a given area is unfairly pedantic.) Seething was among Ares’s five resting states, along with raging, blood-lusting, hating, and missing important details. No, Ares was more than seething, more than raging, more than hateful at Thad’s utter failure to do as he was told.
Ares was annoyed.
When Athena first designed the turtle-frog (official Olympian registry name: “Testudomeleon ATH 4R”), she had for whatever reason consulted Ares about its greater arms. In an uncharacteristic fit of cooperation―perhaps brought on by either boredom or the hope that the goddess would sleep with him―he had given a small bit of help. Then the thing got killed by that Monster Slayer guy. Ares was the first one Athena told. The insufferable bleeding-heart-defense queen blamed the whole thing on failure of his arm design, of course. Argument ensued, and damned if it didn’t come out then that the victorious hero got a little help. The pieces were easy to put together from there, especially since Ares wasn’t alone when he was told and therefore had some help to figure it out.
And so Ares was annoyed. The blond mortal bugger got away from them so easily! The others were fools. Send another mortal to watch in their place? A mortal? Discretion be damned, that’s what he should have told ’em! Who cared how much attention they’d attract? Stupid jerk Hades!
Okay, so they’d flick Thad back on the job and put the fear of the gods into him if he screwed it up again. Titans’ armpits, that wouldn’t be enough! And what the heck was taking her so long?
The goddess returned just as he’d made up his mind to yank the boy out of the water and throw him where they needed him.
“So?” Ares asked.
“Boy’s as smart as his father,” she sighed.
“Yeah, so?” That didn’t tell him nothing, even if he’d known who the boy’s father was.
“He’s back on the trail. I gave him a good head start.”
“A head start? That’s it?”
She pouted. “Apollo’s champion might have a Muse watching, or Apollo himself. Do you want them to see him just teleport in?”
Ares growled. “Then I’ll go myself.”
“Don’t be stupid.”
“I’ll be what I bloody want to be! Can’t matter anyhow if they see me. I said I killed Zeus all along! I got no cover to blow.”
“Ares, you’re a boasting, blustering brute.”
“Um . . . Thanks?”
She rolled her eyes. “I mean no one believes you! They just think you stole the credit to look stronger. Please, for me, let Thad do his job.”
Ares held her gaze and grunted, thinking a few moments before seizing on an alternative that would end this whole thing a small sight quicker. “You’re right,” he said.
She beamed. “Always am!”
“See you back on Olympus.” Ares turned to go. “There’s things I got to take care of.”
She grabbed his arm and drew him back.
“You’re planning something, aren’t you?” she asked with a poke at his chest. “I mean insomuch as you plan anything.”
“What? Nah.” He turned again only to have her yank him back, glaring.
“Or, to put it another way, ‘yes,’” she said. “It’s all over your face. What is it?”
“Oh for the love of—” He shoved away her grip. “So what if I am planning something?”
“Hrm. We’ve already got a plan? Stick to that!”
“Your plans’re what got us into this! We wait any longer for this one to work and we’ll still be waiting while Zeus shoves lightning down our throats! I’ll just kill the twerp! He’s mortal; that’s what they’re for!”
“Sure as Hades I can. Just one more dead mortal on a long, long list. I’ll make it quick if you’re so squeamish.” In fairness, he supposed she didn’t look squeamish. She looked angry, which frankly was quite a good look for her. Then again, it was a good look for everyone so far as Ares was concerned.
“Ares, no! Hades said you can’t just—”
“You can ram a pike up what Hades said!”
“We don’t know enough about what Karlson might do!”
“We don’t need to know nothing!” he fired. “What if he did what he was supposed to when your little pipsqueak lost him, eh? What if he does it when Thad loses him next time?”
“Thad will not lose him again!”
“Bettin' our hides on that, are you?”
She hesitated. “Even if Thad does lose him, Karlson’s distracted. He’s in love! Mind-bogglingly, distractedly infatuated!”
Something slid into the war god’s mind and failed to stick. Ares stopped. “. . . He’s fat?”
The other blinked. “Infatu—! It means ‘in love.’”
“Yeah, like that ever solved anything. This ain't a movie.”
She went on. “Fine, don’t listen to me. But you kill Karlson and you know, you know that Hades will come down on you. Hard. You know what he’s like when he’s angry.”
“He don’t scare me.”
“Liar. He’s older than you, Ares. You can’t stand against him alone.”
“So you can help me.”
“I agree with him! Karlson’s death might be the very trigger to bring back Zeus!”
“And . . . it might not be!” he stammered. “You don’t know!”
Ares glared at her. He hated arguments that made sense. They usually meant that he couldn’t do what he wanted to, if he paid them any attention. So as a matter of course, he ignored them as best he could. But she wasn’t going to stop nagging him.
“Fine,” he said finally. “I won’t go kill him.”
“And you won’t go watching him either. Not yet, anyway.”
He only then realized he still had the fireplace poker in his hand. He tossed it to the floor, glad for the chance at least to throw something. “Fine.”
She smiled. “Thank you. You know how these things work; there are all sorts of little rules and such, especially with death.”
Ares just grunted at that.
“I’ll make it up to you in some, oh, creative way, I’m sure. Come on. Let’s go.”
He followed, pondering. All sorts of little rules and such, especially with death. Another scheme was creeping into his mind in an attempt to take form. He started to hum Wagner to keep it from showing on his face this time. After all, he’d only said that he wouldn’t kill Karlson. Didn’t mean someone else couldn’t. Heck, if he played it right, even Hades couldn’t fault him for it.
About Michael G. Munz
An award-winning writer of speculative fiction, Michael G. Munz was born in Pennsylvania but moved to Washington State in 1977 at the age of three. Unable to escape the state’s gravity, he has spent most of his life there and studied writing at the University of Washington.
Michael developed his creative bug in college, writing and filming four exceedingly amateur films before setting his sights on becoming a novelist. Driving this goal is the desire to tell entertaining stories that give to others the same pleasure as other writers have given to him. He enjoys writing tales that combine the modern world with the futuristic or fantastic.
Michael has traveled to three continents and has an interest in Celtic and Classical mythology. He also possesses what most “normal” people would likely deem far too much familiarity with a wide range of geek culture, though Michael prefers the term geek-bard: a jack of all geek-trades, but master of none—except possibly Farscape and Twin Peaks.
Michael dwells in Seattle where he continues his quest to write the most entertaining novel known to humankind and find a really fantastic clam linguine.
Find out more about him at michaelgmunz.com. While there, it wouldn't hurt to get a FREE copy of Mythed Connections, the spiritual prequel to Zeus is Dead.
Contact Michael on Twitter / Facebook
The night light cast shapes against the bedroom walls, highlighting fragments of toys and casting shadows in dancing shapes across the room. Despite the cheerful stars and moons sparkling across the room in endless circles, the small child hesitated, dwelling on the darkness that pooled in corners, behind toys, and reached across the floor from the bed like some giant being in restless sleep. The dominant shadow hugged the bottom of her bed and the army of smaller shadows shifted like roiling water against a craggy shore. Her feet flexed, lifting her toes off of the cold hardwood, as she waited for a path of light to appear through the shadows.
“Jessica,” her mom’s voice materialized by her ear, causing her to jump. She spun quickly to see her mother bundled in a pink robe, smiling down on her with eyes that crinkled in the corners as she grinned. Jessica was so focused on her dilemma that she hadn’t heard her mother walk down the hall.
“You look like you’ve seen a ghost, sweetheart. Why are you standing out in the hall?” her mom asked.
Jessica cast her eyes to the ground and fidgeted, hooking her right big toe around her left heel. Long, shiny blond hair that hung in her eyes was gently cast away in a billowing curtain as she let out a shaky breath. She hadn’t considered the possibility of a ghost lurking around her bedroom, but her mother’s poor choice of words added the possibility to the monsters she’d already conjured up in her mind.
“Are you scared of what’s in the closet?” her mom asked.
Jessica hesitated. She hadn’t thought of her closet either, but she shook her head no. “It’s the bed. Could you please turn on the light and check?”
Her mom’s smile tightened and grew harder. This was a game they played every night and her patience was slowly being chipped away over the weeks. Months. She had even dared to hope for a slightly different variation of the phobia. Like daughter like mother - the woman blew out a gusty sigh, causing a wave of light brown hair to momentarily feather away from her face.
“Sure,” she replied through gritted teeth and flicked on the light to Jessica’s room.
The woman made a show of folding the blankets away from the floor over the bed to look underneath, even going so far as to reach into the darkness. Jessica cringed, waiting for her mother’s arm to be grabbed by some unseen force and nearly shrieked when her mother made a face. Unharmed, her mother stood up clutching a wayward toy and brushed imagined dust from her robe. When she turned to Jessica, she was smiling a little too brightly at the child.
“See? Nothing’s there!” She made a dramatic sweep of the room with her arms.
Jessica was anchored in place. Her freckled nose wrinkled; arms stubbornly crossed. Her little voice squeaked, “Can you check the closet?”
Her mom’s patience was pushed to the limit and anger briefly flashed across her face. She strode briskly to the closet, muttering, “I guess I brought that one on myself.” Brittle fingers violently shoved the closet doors apart in opposite directions. The hinges squeaked loudly in protest and one of the doors caught before folding.
“What the....” Jessica’s mother bent over and retrieved something from the floor. “I just don’t understand how this little guy always gets crammed in here. Don’t you like Mr. Elderberry anymore?” Her mom held the hideous marionette puppet up by the control bar, flexing her hands so the strings moved his disproportionately small arms and legs, his giant mouth gaping open and close like a yammering drunkard.
Realizing that her mother was waiting for a reply, the small girl looked up with wide eyes and benignly nodded. Satisfied, the woman put Mr. Elderberry back on his hook overlooking Jessica’s bed. While her mom was distracted, Jessica took a flying leap across the floor to avoid any lingering shadows and landed on her bed. The headboard gently tapped the wall as her slight body shifted the bed frame on impact.
“Jessica,” her mother knelt next to her bed to tuck her in. “I know you’re scared of what’s under the bed, but the more you think about it, the more power you give it. If you choose not to believe in it, it will go away.”
The little girl’s face scrunched up as she considered what her mother said. “You mean, it’s only there if I think it is?”
Her mom’s face softened as she leaned down and gave her a quick kiss. “Yep. You can make it go away by telling it that it’s not there.”
Jessica looked skeptical but a small smile tugged at her rosebud mouth as she snuggled down into her blankets. “‘Night Mom,” she said quietly. Her mom hesitated as she stepped out of the room and turned off the light. “Can you leave the hallway light on at least?” Jessica called out.
“Nope. Just remember, it’s not really there unless you think it is,” her mom called over her shoulder as she went towards her room.
Frowning, Jessica squeezed her eyes shut and muttered, “It’s not really there.” She moved her legs around in her blankets, feeling the crisp cool sheets against her knees and toes. Something shifted in her room, making a sound like branches hitting together. Her breath caught in her throat as she pushed her blankets over her head and pinned them against the headboard. Seconds passed with a gentle tapping that slowed in rhythm. Remembering what her mother said, Jessica forced herself to slow down her breathing and pull the sheets back beneath her chin. She slowly opened one eye and then the other. Mr. Elderberry was gently rocking against the wall, its weight finding a balance on the perch.
As Jessica relaxed and began to settle into her pillow, she froze and frowned.
“Shoot,” the little girl whispered. She had forgotten to use the bathroom and her bladder was full. She looked around the room watching the shadows dance with the turn of her night light. She started when a face jumped out on the wall, but calmed when she watched it shrink back to the source. Mr. Elderberry.
“You are not real. This is my bedroom,” she said quietly.
“You are not real,” she said again a little louder.
Feeling empowered, Jessica decided to take advantage of her new found bravery and swing her feet to the ground. She stood up with sudden conviction and even took the time to stretch before continuing on to the bathroom. Two cold hands clamped down on her ankles like vices and pulled her to the ground, knocking the wind out of her before she could scream.
by Camela Thompson
My family doesn't do anything in moderation, and that includes doling out life’s lessons. This was the cornerstone of my fear of driving. I didn't even want to learn how. Swimming lessons consisted of being grabbed by an elbow and a knee, then tossed into the deep end like a human Frisbee. I still think my dad was trying to practice retroactive birth control, but that’s another story. I wasn't one of those 16-year-olds who couldn’t wait to go to the DMV on their birthday - I was physically drug to my mom’s mini-van at the age of 17 for lessons.
After weeks of nerve-racking practice with my grandfather, my mom decided it was time for me to have a driving lesson with my brothers in the car. I've been called an old soul. That’s probably because you have to grow up quickly when the adult in the situation consistently makes decisions that defy common sense.
“Mom, do you really think that’s a good idea?”
“Yeah sure. You've been driving a couple weeks now and we’ll take them on the freeway. It’ll be fun!” She paused to throw soccer balls and baseball gear out of the back seats. “Boys! Get in the car!”
My brothers ran out of the house and into the cramped garage. Colin, the middle child, was fourteen and a natural at anything that involved hand-eye coordination. He would make an excellent driver one day, judging from the video games we played in arcades and at home. Judging by those same video games, I was about to lead them all to an inevitable death after soaring through a median in a ball of twisted metal and fire.
“Get in the van, Cam. We can’t get by you.” My mom pushed me through the passenger door. The driver’s door was against the wall of the garage so minor acrobatics were required any time someone wanted to drive. I did not want to drive.
The van’s side door slid open as I crawled over the passenger side seat and squeezed behind the steering wheel.
“I want to sit in the way back!” Colin's voice had been shrill since birth and wouldn't deepen for at least another year. He was five-foot-two in his pumped up high tops. The girls still fell all over him because of his charismatic personality. Being his older sister, I didn't get it.
“Why?” Keenan asked.
“I think I can get all three seat-belts on. You get the middle. You’ll only have two seat belts.” Colin and Keenan threw elbows and shoved each other as they scrambled to get in the back. Keenan was taller, even at the age of 10, and nearly gave Colin a black eye trying to hurtle over the middle seat.
“Boys! Cool it! Keenan can sit in the back and use three seat belts.“ Mom was buckling her own, testing the latch a couple of times before settling in.
“It was my idea!” Colin nearly squealed.
“Yeah, well you’ve lived longer.” Mom laughed and slapped my shoulder to make sure I’d noticed her hilarious joke. When she saw me glowering at her she rolled her eyes. “Lighten up. Let’s go!”
I started the van and very slowly backed out of our garage. We lived at the bottom of a cinder block “paved” driveway. After a 40-point-turn and endless jokes about how much my driving ability resembled Austin Powers, I finally got us up to the road. My knuckles were stark white.
“Are you going to go?” Mom asked.
“Just give me a minute." There was no one on the roadway. If I had trusted myself, I would have backed down the driveway. The fear of driving off a ledge or into a tree kept with my foot wedged against the brake.
“I’m growing old here!” That was Colin. Of course.
After checking each way three more times, I clenched my teeth and gently eased onto the accelerator. Looking from the speedometer to the road and back again, I got the van up to the speed limit. Colin made a crack about my new nervous tick. Finally, I was left to twitch my eyes between the road and the little orange dial in peace. This made me nervous. The electric whir of windows rolling down sent me over the edge. “What’s happening?” I wasn't willing to take my eyes off the road with a pedestrian jogging up ahead of me.
“Don’t worry about it.” Mom sounded bored.
I took a deep breath.
“SAVE YOURSELF! JUMP IN THE BUSHES!” Colin shrieked at the top of his high capacity lungs. I sat up straight, trying not to swerve and clip the dazed jogger. I glanced in the rear view mirror. Colin leaned towards the other window after spotting a bicyclist. “WE’RE ALL GONNA DIE!”
Younger brothers worship older brothers until they learn better, and Keenan hadn't. He joined in, and they spent the next several miles screaming at pedestrians like a couple of psychos. Even when there wasn't anyone roadside, they carried on like I was driving off a ravine. Did my mom worry about the distraction and tell them to stop? No. She was too busy trying not to wet her pants from laughter.
I started to get used to the noise by the time I turned onto the freeway, barreling along at a hefty 55 mph. Keenan and Colin alternated between telling me I was too slow and that I was going to crash into something. My eyelid twitched at a steady interval. My death grip on the steering wheel made my hands numb.
“Cami! This is our exit! Get over now!” Mom yelled.
“YES! Now now now now!!!” Mom kept yelling
I swerved into the exit lane and suddenly there was... silence. In any other family, silence was good. I knew nothing good was happening. I chanced a look in the rear view mirror and could see nothing, save the grill of an enormous semi.
“Go Faster! Go Faster!” Mom was screaming.
“You told me to change lanes!” I whined, nearly in tears.
“GO FASTER!” Mom yelled again and jammed her fist into my thigh, forcing me to kick the accelerator.
The van careened down the exit and I pulled off to the side of the road. My head rested on the horn of the steering wheel as I attempted to stop hyperventilating. When I pulled back onto the road, the car was eerily silent.
In a way, I should thank my brothers. The next time we were all in the car, they picked up their screaming and yelling again. My tolerance level built up and I passed my driver’s test with flying colors. Over ten years later, I was the designated driver for a car load of shouting, drunk men. When they screamed at me to turn left, I calmly replied, “That’s an irrigation ditch, you idiots.”
Without my years of training, I might have totaled the car.
Do you have any harrowing survival tales from your youth?
Champ knows better than anyone that car rides can be awkward.
My husband is fond of telling people, "The first time I met Champ, Camela had a list of rules for meeting him. There were weeks of instructions on what to do and what not to do. When it came to her family, she just drove me over there with no notice at all."
He isn't lying. Champ has special needs. And quirks. And imaginary demons chasing him. It isn't easy being Champ, and it certainly wasn't easy being our (Champ and I were a package deal) roommate in college. In addition to holding a grudge that would put a Hatfield or a McCoy to shame, Champ acted as though murderous thieves were coming for our food stash and it was his solemn duty to demolish it single handedly. I purchased many replacement loaves of bread, was stunned that he figured out how to open the fridge, and nearly cried when he destroyed the baby locks. With genius comes insanity. Champ was the mastermind behind butter thefts (he had a glorious coat), and made enemies by refusing to be friends with anyone other than myself. He was never mean, but he trusted only me.
My family always had at least one dog. I trained them, showed a few, and one even visited nursing homes and schools. They were happy, stable animals that did well in crowds and around other animals. When I met people with a skittish dog, I assumed that they had done something wrong. The most reasonable explanation was that the dog had been abused. It never occurred to me that a dog could start out in life a little off.
Champ was never abused, unless you count leaving him in a cool car with the windows down while I went into a store (he would). I adopted him from the pound at nine weeks old. I was able to confirm that the whole litter was weird. Their mother was brought in feral and warmed up to humans again after being adopted. Some of the puppies had a harder time adjusting after spending their first weeks following their mother's skittish lead.
In the past, I would get embarrassed because I needed to step in when people wanted to pet him and let them know he just wanted to be left alone. The rare times he did something naughty (other than trashing the kitchen), a harsh word could send him groveling, which looked suspiciously similar to a cower. I tried socializing him as a puppy, forcing him around people. I tried training classes and behavior conditioning and prozac. Years and years were spent trying to find a way to communicate to my crazy boy that the world was not out to get him. A trainer wouldn't listen as I yelled at her to stay back in an agility class and he flung himself from an A-frame, falling several feet and limping to lean against my legs for comfort. It was the tipping point. I finally realized what Champ was trying to tell me all along. He would never be a people "person." My introvert was who he was and I could either continue torturing us both, or just accept him as he was.
Champ would not be left behind on the beach. If the raft was good enough for me,
it was good enough for him. The raft promptly sank from someone's toenail gouges.
Despite - or maybe in a funny way because of - the numerous times destroying kitchens, stealing food, and shunning humans, Champ has been my once in a lifetime four footed buddy. He is the most loyal animal I have ever had the honor of being owned by. I didn't intend to get a dog. My ex-boyfriend talked me into going to two humane societies. I had made it to the very last cage of the very last kennel when a little dirty puppy walked up to the fence and raised his paw. He snuggled into my arms and rubbed his face against my neck. Volunteers gawked and I later found out it was because the puppies shrank from human contact. When I got home and he saw my roommate, Champ shoved himself under a couch.
My old man - enjoying the lake
Champ doesn't get into much mischief anymore. He has been in my life for twelve and a half years. His eyes are clouded with cataracts, he is a cancer survivor, is on meds for atypical Cushing's disease, and only wants to walk around the block at a very leisurely pace. Champ doesn't have much time left, but he still enjoys life. He insists on searching the neighborhood for apples, loves car rides, and has calmed down around people despite growing deaf and blind. He's not outgoing, but he stopped hiding years ago and he has never so much as snapped despite his desire to just be left alone. He also mercilessly bosses around my husband, which is his right.
When I first met Lance, I told him Champ was in my life first. If they couldn't get along, the dog would win out. I didn't need to worry. Champ chose Lance, too. Seven years ago, on the first night he met my future husband, Champ fell asleep with his head resting on his feet.
Leave a comment to discuss your once in a lifetime furry friend. Do you agree that the hardest won friends are the best?
Follow Camela Thompson on Twitter.
The first time I pitched, I was terrified. It was obvious – I was nearly shaking and stuttered a bit – but both of the people I pitched to were kind and encouraging. Despite the nerves, I was prepared and they both expressed their surprise that I was not already published because I knew what was expected of me. I did my research, focusing on the articles written by agents and prepared as much as possible. With the PNWA conference here, I thought I would share what I have learned.
Writing Fiction? Finish Your Manuscript
Non-fiction writers have different rules than fiction writers. Oftentimes, non-fiction writers can come in to a pitch with one or two polished chapters. This has a lot to do with the fact that non-fiction already has a solid conclusion. Think of a memoir – we know where that person's life ended up at the time of writing. I believe fiction writers, especially first time authors, should have a finished manuscript. I was shocked when an editor told me that the majority of the people who pitched to her were not done, and many were just pitching an idea. There are a million ways a novel can go sideways as you write a fiction piece, and it is difficult to know when the novel will be completed. Wait to pitch your book until it is finished.
Update 7/20/14: I stood up at the PNWA conference and asked the panel of editors: What state should the manuscript be in when someone is pitching? It was unanimous. They all recommended that not only the manuscript be finished, but it should be beyond its first draft. This is your chance at a first impression, and you are shooting yourself in the foot if it is not your best product.
Do Your Research
Preparation is the key to success. Before the conference, learn who you are pitching to, which agency they are with, and their submission guidelines. Every agent listed at the writing conferences I have attended has had a bio on their agency website that details the genres they work with and their submission guidelines. Some go so far as to state that it would be prudent to draft a marketing plan, although this is rare (do it anyway – it's a great learning process and will help you speak more intelligently about your novel, target demographic, and plans for social media). It is pretty normal to start with a list of 20 agents and whittle it down to pitch to two or three.
Many of the smaller conferences will have one or two agents who will listen to a pitch for any genre. I have learned that this means they will listen to pitches but only show interest within genres their agency represents. If you have a vampire book and the agent specifically states he hates vampires and no one else at the agency is interested in anything paranormal, it's probably not going to work out. And you know what? That's okay. You want an agent who enjoys working with people who write what you love.
Know What To Expect
If you walk into a room with an agent for your ten minute (or less) block of time, know what to expect. It flies by, so it is critical to know how to spend each of those minutes. There are fabulous articles online, many of them written by experienced agents, outlining what they look for when they meet with an individual. You should expect to spend a brief minute exchanging pleasantries (“How are you? Having a good time at the conference?”) and then jump straight into your pitch. Your pitch should be two to three sentences. If you see nods and smiles, continue on to explain your genre, answer any questions about your story, and speak to your target demographic.
I suggest dressing like it is an interview and bringing a pad of paper and pen to take notes. I also bring the first chapter and a synopsis, but it's a security blanket. I rarely hear of anyone being asked for printed materials.
A pitch is two to three sentences, and often known as an elevator pitch because it runs the amount of time you would have running from one floor to another. If you don't have their interest by then, you are in trouble and they step off to go about their day. Be sure to pitch your concept with the hook. I recommend that you read Story Engineering to get a better understanding of story structure and the differences between idea, premise, concept, and theme (my review was not entirely flattering, but I believe in what the author has to say enough to recommend it). If you don't have time to read Story Engineering, at least read this article by Larry Brooks explaining concept. Because of the complexity, I will be adding a blog post next week to help illustrate.
Keep it short, stick to the point, and practice. If you think your pitch is spot on, but you are relying on Q&A and five paragraphs of follow up to get the novel sold, you aren't there yet. Watch the reaction of people who ask you what your book is about. Do they lean forward after a couple sentences and say things like, “That's really cool” or do they cross their arms, nod and say, “Interesting”? Find a way to describe your book that lets people know why you are excited about sharing it. When you find the right pitch, you will notice your demographic gets excited with you.
This is a job interview and these people are taking time away from their home and family to listen to a lot of people pitch their book. If they are short with you, do not take it personally. Everyone has a back story (maybe they had a bad flight or the last guy went a little crazy) and they have bad days just like the rest of us. Be courteous, even if they don't like your story, and thank them for their time. Like I said, this is an interview. If they don't represent your genre or don't see the value in your concept, you are both better off parting ways. You want someone who will be able to easily represent you because they believe in you and your story.
If things went well, make sure to write down the details for the next steps (and carry paper so you aren't scribbling on the back of their business card). If they ask for 20 pages, follow it to the letter. Do not add three more pages because of a chapter break. Ask them about their process and questions you have about the agency. It is important to remember that they are representing you - if it's not a good personality fit, you may want to keep looking. If things did not go well and you can handle critique, ask questions. Was it the concept? Is it something they hear a lot? These answers may help you figure out whether your pitch is the problem or if it's a fundamental issue with the story. Note the criticism and think on it later - when you are in a more neutral frame of mind - to determine whether or not they had a point. If you are too angry to hear a critique, smile, thank them, walk out and do some deep thinking. Not everyone is going to like your book, no matter how well you wrote it. Criticism can either be a tool to improve or a source of anguish and torture. The good news is: you get to choose how it impacts you.
Do Not Badmouth
It's tough to get negative feedback. A novel is a part of us, months of struggle and love poured into so many words. If you had a particularly bad pitch, wait until you have time to go outside and call a friend. Do not go to Twitter or your blog. One of the first things an agent will do when they consider signing on a writer is Google them. Be conscientious of what you put out in the internet - even if you delete a blog rant, there are ways to view the content long after it was taken down. Do not start ranting at the conference. It is a small world and you may blow up a bridge. You never know - you may have a novel in a year or two that would be perfect for the same agent.
What have you learned through the pitching or query process? Please leave a comment below.
Follow Camela Thompson on Twitter @CamelaThompson
"Can you read this for me and see if I chicked it out too much?" I had my little laptop extended towards my husband as I gave him my most cheesy smile - the expression I use when I want something. That smile gets used more than I'd like to admit.
My husband is a good natured guy and just shrugged. "Sure." After ten minutes of trying to pretend I was not watching my husband's every expression as he took the story in, he turned to me and said, "Oh yeah. It's chicked out."
I was disappointed, but it confirmed the nagging doubts that had already begun to take hold. My husband was being honest, and for that I can only thank him. If I was writing a horror novel targeted specifically toward men, he was 100% correct. I took the words to heart, set the book aside, and have been avoiding it ever since. I no longer trusted my voice.
I believed that horror is dominated by male writers because the majority of readers are men. I had heard of studies that show men prefer to purchase books written by men, and I was worried that a scene I had written - a scene that I was proud of - would alienate male readers. My story wasn't just about strange things that happen in a house after a couple invites a stray dog inside. My story was about a couple in turmoil, too distracted to notice the strange things taking place in their own home because of the distance growing between them. It was about a woman going through the pain of learning she could not have children and a man who wasn't coping because the life he envisioned with his wife became unobtainable. It was loaded with emotional land mines and did not fit the traditional man vs. very scary obstacle story structure so often followed in horror.
There are many women writers who have written under a masculine pen name or with ambiguous initials to avoid alienating male readers (this great article by Katie J.M. Baker gives several examples of gender biases). Authors, especially those of us who are published for the first time and haven't established a name for ourselves, are willing to do just about anything to up the chances of a sale. We are constantly told by agents we pitch to and speakers at writing conferences that it is more important with the first novel than ever to "play by the rules." If we know our primary demographic, we will bend over backwards by using an alias, donning a costume for our back cover shot, and altering our websites to be more appealing. In my case, I threw out an idea I loved based on fear and decided to stick to safer material.
An article posted by my fabulous sister-in-law got me thinking about the representation of women in literature, including review coverage and awards. It's no big secret that the industry is still male dominated, and it wasn't hard to find articles that represented this stance. What I didn't expect to find were the articles highlighting the fact that women read more than men, outnumbering them in the fiction market by as much as 4:1. According to cited studies, women also do not display the gender bias that men do and will read books written by both men and women.
I am a business analyst by day, which consists of providing executives with data to help guide them to decisions based on fact. Numbers are something I am comfortable with, along with an advanced grasp of economic theories. If women purchase 80% of fiction and we accept the claim that they do not display a gender bias, it seems logical to presume women writers should account for a little less than 50% of the sales. Unfortunately, this is very hard to back up without solid sales data. The only information I could find were the New York Times best seller lists, and this does not give me pricing and volume. However, looking at the top 50 best sellers did reveal that the numbers were fairly close: 27 men to 23 women (again, this cannot be considered definitive without sales data). This is actually pretty amazing considering that the majority of books that make it through the publishing process are written by men.
While the major publications primarily feature reviews by men about men, we are operating in a different world. The proportion of sales that are eBooks continue to grow, and this trend will endure. Reviews on GoodReads, Amazon, and scores of online bloggers continue to sway readers. Book sales continue to be heavily influenced by word of mouth and if women are reading more than men, most of those mouths belong to women. The landscape is changing, and while it appears the industry is behind the curve, the simple rules of supply and demand will force compliance. I have confidence that consumers will continue to choose books that appeal to them and by doing so, the playing field will even out.
I actually walk away from these articles with more confidence and will dust off my novel. This time I will not slash scenes because they are "too chicked out" and will embrace the time spent on character development. Men like my husband, who prefers non-fiction and spy thrillers, will not pick up my book. That's okay. The important thing is to write and do it well. After it is on paper I will concern myself with fitting it into a genre and choosing a demographic for marketing purposes. It's time to follow the data and forget about my own biases.
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I would love to hear from you!
My grandparents had decided to take me to Denny's for a double celebration: my high school graduation and my birthday. We tend to be uncomfortable in upscale restaurants. Our family can afford to indulge, but a combination of introversion, frugality, and personal preferences lead to eating out at down-to-earth establishments. I think over attentive wait staff make us nervous. The first time I went to a really fancy restaurant and had a gentleman offer his arm to escort me to the bathroom, I thought I was going to fall over (frankly, it struck me as a little creepy). We prefer to get our food, tuck in, and eat in peace until uncomfortably full and then sit and talk.
Two-thirds of the way into my Grand Slam I had hit the wall and was slowing down. I caught my grandmother's impish smile as she turned to my grandfather, patting his arm with her hand. "Bill, do you remember Runwald's house? They had the gas station that was shut down to expand I-90."
Grandpa sat up a little straighter; his eyes had a glint to them. "Oh, yes. The haunted house."
I carefully set my fork on my plate and stared at my grandfather. "Come again?"
"Not far from here actually. Their house was really haunted."
I sat blinking dumbly for several seconds. I had always looked up to my grandfather and was proud of inheriting his perfectionism and a fondness for logic. Ghosts didn't fit into the picture I held of his inner mental workings. They had to be testing my newly graduated adult status with some kind of joke. "You're kidding, right?"
My grandmother shook her head. "There was even an article in the paper. In the 50's and 60's there was a parapsychology department at the university. They brought in a bunch of equipment and ran tests."
"They got the house for a cheap price from an architect. He sold it because something was scaring his German shepherd. After the family moved in, they started noticing odd things. Sometimes they would see an apparition, but they couldn't make out anything beyond arms, legs, a head, and old fashioned clothes. There weren't any details to its appearance." Grandpa settled back in his vinyl seat and steepled his hands. Next he rubbed the big joints of his thumbs together - a cue that he is settling into a story. "Ridge called me up one night and said the ghost was active and would I like to come see it. I went up to his house. At first, there wasn't much to see, but as one of us was lining up a shot on the table, a couple of the balls started rolling on their own. The ghost was curious, like it was trying to figure out how things worked. It would lock doors, turn on faucets, and play with the pool table, rolling or shoving balls from one end to the other"
"What?" Reality was getting turned on its head. Ghosts didn't exist, yet someone I trusted was painting quite a different picture. It made me uncomfortable and squirm in my seat. I had no reason to doubt my grandfather. His stories were about things he had lived through. He wasn't prone to exaggeration or spinning fiction. It just wasn't his style.
"They just rolled on their own."
"Nooooooooooo." I looked at my grandmother. Had Grandpa lost his mind?
"I talked to their neighbor, Mrs. Brewer, and she said she watched some kind of mist settle over part of their fence. All the vines died where it sat and nothing grew back."
Grandma had lost her mind, too. I was determined to find a rational explanation. "Maybe the pool table was at a slant?"
"No way." Grandpa shook his head. "The balls rolled one way and then another. If it was slanted, more than one or two balls would have rolled and they wouldn't have turned around and gone in the other direction." He was an engineer, always tinkering, fixing, building - he would have figured out if something was strange about the construction of the table.
"What else happened?" My voice was nearly a whisper and I was leaning forward in my seat. I noticed that I was resting the edge of my hand in a pool of syrup and I spent several seconds scrubbing with a napkin, spreading the stickiness around. Focusing on something else helped lessen my anxiety.
"It locked their daughter in a bathroom and moved a beer fridge that weighed over a hundred pounds. One time it locked the bathroom and turned on the faucet." Grandpa bounced his fingertips together. "They had to take the door off its hinges to turn the water off."
"I remember it would settle over a table at a party and the food would turn grey." Grandma made a face and I knew she was thinking of the wasted food. She takes packets of condiments from restaurants and stuffs her purse with free napkins. She'd rather risk food poison than throw out food. That habit had haunted us all more than once. "One night it got in the car with their daughter and followed her to the bowling alley. She just looked in the rear view mirror and there it was."
I picked my hands off the table and clutched at my chest. "Holy crap."
Grandpa shifted in his seat. "The university cut open the pool balls to see whether or not there were magnets and recorded activity. Supposedly they tracked it down to a board in the washroom."
Grandma's voice was perky when she said, "I always heard it was on an Indian burial ground."
The rest of my food had cooled and congealed in a mixture of syrup and fat. The back of my hand still had napkin fibers stuck to it. My grandfather was calmly paying the bill as grandma powdered her nose and snapped her compact shut. My grandpa asked, "Do you want to finish your food?"
"Do you want to go see the house?"
"No thank you."
Leave a comment below and tell us about your ghost story.
Follow Camela Thompson on Twitter @CamelaThompson
I promised myself I would be good and not turn this into a food blog. This website would be focused and revolve around my writing. I would stay on topic. It has been a little over a month, and I am posting a recipe. Oh, it's a good one. The recipe should feed a house full of hungry young men, but it disappears in a small crowd. Potato salad gremlins sneak into the party to empty the bowl, leaving partygoers disgruntled because they did not eat their fill. If I have to fall off the wagon, this is the right way to do it. This recipe is so bad for people that I only prepare it once a year - on the 4th of July. It will probably be the most unhealthy thing I unleash upon the interwebs.
Freedom (BBQ Potato) Salad
5 pounds red potatoes
3.5 cups cheddar cheese, shredded
20 oz bacon
8 oz sour cream
1.5 cups BBQ Sauce (we prefer Stubbs because it is certified Gluten Free)
1.5 bunches green onions, chopped (about a cup)
1.5 tsp salt
pepper to taste
Cook the potatoes by putting them (skins still on) in a large pot with enough water to cover and 1 tsp of salt. Bring the water to a boil and then turn down the burner to simmer. This will take 45 or more minutes. Let them boil until they are fork tender and the skins begin to split, and remove them with a slotted spoon to a bowl to cool. Once they have cooled, peel the skins and chop them into bite size pieces.
Cook the bacon to a crisp in the method you normally use, let it cool completely (cool bacon is easier to chop), then chop into small pieces (think a few sizes bigger than Bacos). Shred the cheddar cheese - I think the quantity is a little under 8oz before shredding. Chop the green onions. Mix the BBQ sauce with the sour cream in a separate bowl. Sprinkle half the bacon, cheese, and green onions over the potatoes, add some salt and pepper, and then spoon half of the BBQ/sour cream sauce over the top. Gently mix the ingredients together until they are mostly combined and then put the rest of the ingredients over the potatoes except for 2 tablespoons of the green onions. Mix the ingredients until they are combined (without mashing the potatoes!) and then sprinkle the green onions over the top for garnish.
How is this a Salad??
The green onions qualify as a vegetable, which is the only thing that makes this a salad, plus it sounds better than "Heart Attack in a Bowl." I could argue the potatoes are a vegetable as well since the top of the plant (that is poisonous) is green, but my husband would use this blog post as an excuse to only eat meat and potatoes for the rest of his life. I can hear him now. "According to your blog post it is a vegetable. Therefore, I do not need green stuff."
I love food, which is weird. My allergies are abundant and diverse; the list of foods I cannot eat are longer than the list of foods I can consume. It has forced me to adopt a very healthy diet. Despite my restrictions or perhaps because of them I can cook really well. It's not really bragging - I literally have to cook every meal (it's too dangerous to eat out). My brother's girlfriend compared me to Beethoven when she took a bite because I can't actually eat the salad, but still manage to knock it out of the park. I've learned how to interpret my husband's shrugs and "it's okay" to get the seasoning right - and it helps to have a freakishly strong sense of smell.
The vast majority of my recipes reflect how I choose to eat. I am a health nut. We don't have processed food in the house - everything is made from scratch. I am allergic to all grains and sugar makes some health issues flare, so I stick to lots of vegetables with some meat and fruit (for some reason fruit sugars don't bother me in moderation). It seems fitting that my first recipe is something that I cannot eat. If I'm going to deviate from my blog plan, I might as well do it with gusto!
Follow me on Twitter: @CamelaThompson I'd love to hear from you! And of course, feel free to leave a comment below.
“What are the rules I need to know?” I had talked my husband into going to the Washelli Cemetery so I could do a little book research. He was a good sport about it, and I was relying on him as the subject matter expert. My family isn't big on funerals; many people include a clause in their wills forbidding it. They flat out avoid graveyards.
My husband stopped between plots, shifted the camera bag to his other side, and looked back at me. “What do you mean?”
“What should I not do?” I was standing with a cell phone in one hand and my DLSR camera around my neck. With my feet firmly planted on the path winding around the cemetery, I stood looking at the graves as though a hand would burst through the ground and grab me by the ankles. I had no idea what the do's and don'ts were. Yes, I am one of those people who likes bullet points and checklists. I was a little disappointed when I didn't find a list of rules at the cemetery entrance or their website.
“My aunt told me not to stand on the graves once.”
I wanted to laugh. The grass was peppered with headstones at staggered angles, packed so closely that I couldn't see how people could be laying underground without overlapping. It occurred to me that perhaps the stone covered the head – which would make sense etymologically. Duh. “Where am I supposed to stand?”
Lance shrugged and started taking long strides up the hill. I stepped on the grass, walked up two plots, and yelped when I realized I had stepped onto a grave. I tried traveling laterally for a while, taking giant steps to avoid walking on someone. I looked up and Lance was standing in the distance with his hands on his hips, head cocked to one side. I muttered something angry and tried to move faster, catching up to him as he moved to the next headstone.
“Some of these are really old. I think these people were married.”
The couple died in the 1920's, a few years apart, and one was buried close enough to a tree that the headstone was partially obscured. A light grey marker was near by and covered in needles. I brushed the needles off with my fingers and frowned. The grave was for a baby with the same last name buried fifteen years before the couple. Their child.
“That's sad,” I said.
Lance nodded and started walking off. I had to trot to catch up, doing a weird stagger and hop to avoid offending anyone. After looking at the grass more closely, I decided to relax a little bit about where I was stepping. “They use a riding lawnmower.”
“And a weed wacker around the headstone edges.”
“So I don't have to be so careful?” I stopped to take a few pictures of a grave covered in symbols.
“If they saw the way you were moving around, they'd either laugh or realize you were doing your best. Probably laugh.” Fair enough.
We were quiet, pointing out graves that had interesting symbols or a spot reserved next to a spouse for someone who either had yet to pass away or had moved on in life and was buried somewhere else. We both mused about that and I may have said, “Well, it says 'til death do us part' right? So the obligation ends there, I suppose.” That earned me a smirk and a head shake. We both spent time doing math, trying to figure out if people had passed away during a war.
The Washelli Cemetery has been in operation since 1885. We had picked the older part of the cemetery, only stumbling on the younger graves at the very end. It was harder to walk by headstones with wilting flowers or picture memorials that were elaborate. I felt sad standing over one in particular. The young age and the amount of text on the stone gave me a bad feeling about how his life had ended. Unfortunately, I wasn't wrong.
With the genres I tend to write about, I'm sure it wasn't my last time in a cemetery. I feel more confident about how to respectfully get the photographs and information I need to write a scene, but I'm not sure I'll ever be comfortable walking around unless the cemetery has been out of commission for a period of time. Several decades make it easier to casually wonder what their lives were like without growing too macabre. I'm rather squeamish for someone who writes about murder mysteries and horror, but I like those scenes on paper rather than real life.
Have you done research in a cemetery? What kind of best practices would you pass on to a fellow researcher?
Follow Camela Thompson on Twitter: @CamelaThompson
Freelance writer and Dark urban fantasy author featuring vampires with bite.