Monday, June 30, 2014

Back from vacation

Sunset over Epcot
Back from vacation--now time to set things in order!

Once again, publishing news will be shared on this Friday (yep, the Fourth of July), since I missed it last week.

Meanwhile, as I was away, many area sci-fi/fantasy fans went to ConTemporal, a steampunk convention. If you love cons, check out Margaret McGraw's post about it for some interesting behind-the-scenes details.

So now you tell me... what did I miss while I was away?

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Disney Vacation, part 3

Whoops... is it Saturday already? I seem to have lost a bit of time. Anyway, publishing news won't be posted until this coming Friday, on account of vacation.

There may be a final set of pictures on Monday, but it turns out uploading lots of pics to share with the family takes a while through hotel internet. So I'll see you all Monday!

Okay, I did get you one.

Fireworks at Epcot

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Disney vacation, part 2

Another day in Disney!

The Haunted Mansion!
If you go, try to stay long enough to see the castle show and fireworks at the end of the night. Here's a clip of the 15-minute castle show:

Really cool. And after the castle show, fireworks. Fire. In the sky. You can't go wrong with that... well, they can't, anyway.

Plus, Disney is really pretty at night. Worth seeing.

Disney World from the ferry... at about 1 am...
My feet were quite happily sore.

Monday, June 23, 2014


So this post might be a few minutes late, on account of me being on vacation and having walked a few miles the previous day and thus slept in late.

Yep, I'm in Disney, giving my roommate a few days of having the apartment to herself. And the cats. And her dog. And maybe the neighbors.

And yes, I'm having a great time. :)

Splash Mountain

I've even settled a small grudge by punching Gaston in the chin. Take that, interrupter of books.

So needless to say, Publishing News will go up next week instead, and this week's posts will be short and probably involve a humorous picture or two. Have a great week!

Friday, June 20, 2014

Wait to cut the throat-clearing

When I write articles, I usually write a lovely opening paragraph with deep symbolism or evocative figurative language to introduce my topic. Then I move directly into the topic of the article, keeping my tone mostly practical with a light side of humor, and say what I really want to say.

At the end of the article, without fail, I go back and lop off the head (paragraph).

The first paragraph is overwriting; it doesn't match my tone, and even if sounds nice on its own, it rarely contributes.

It's also often one of the first things done in the second draft of a novel. We all have to clear our throats when we start talking. But the throat-clearing doesn't have to occupy precious word space.

So why do we start too early?

Because it is throat-clearing. I write a first purple-prose paragraph to get myself in the mood for the article. It brings up in my mind what I'm talking about, and helps ground me in the issue.

When you write, if your first chapter or two feel embarrassing, if you begin to think you'll need to cut them, I suggest you don't go back and revise yet. Not until you've finished the draft. Literary throat-clearing is an important part of the process, because it gets you in the mood. Just know you're going to rework it your opening later.

After you finish the manuscript, then go back to the beginning. Decide where you need to start, and if you need a new opening scene. If so, you have a great opportunity to add in foreshadowing, and to parallel your ending to create a stronger feeling of closure--had you rewritten the opening as you were writing chapter 5, you'd miss that opportunity.

I also don't recommend getting feedback on your beginning until after you've changed it, unless you're looking for brainstorming on possible ways to really begin it. This helps focus your beta readers on a section that you really want feedback on--something you plan to keep.

Once you've rewritten your beginning, after the manuscript is finished, then ask for feedback.

There's a purpose for your throat-clearing. Don't devalue it. But also know that good feedback is invaluable, and often it's hard to get enough of it. So be prepared to cut your beginning, and focus on getting feedback where you can really make the best use of it. 

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Trax's Favorite Show

What's Trax's favorite TV show?
Wholock's Headquarters in Time
(or a Wikimedia commons image)

Super Wholock: the story of the time-traveling ex-detective Wholock and his sidekick Bob, who stop monsters from destroying all of human history throughout all of time and space.

Wholock, a former police detective suffering burnout, retires to a rural Oregon town, where he takes a job as building superintendent for a long-abandoned mansion that has recently been renovated into apartments. There he hears rumors that the former mansion has a spotty history--as in, sometimes it's there; sometimes it's not. Naturally brushing aside this rumor as ridiculous superstition (who ever heard of a disappearing building?) he moves in and meets the first four tenants, including his neighbor, the sarcastic history professor named Bob whose desire to avoid trouble is matched against his tendency to attract trouble, thanks to minor but annoying gift of foresight.

Things quickly to ruin when Wholock discovers a secret room under the basement, where he can see all of time... and the monsters who are coming out of the woodwork to change history so that they, instead of the human race, will rule the world by the modern era. Now Wholock and Bob must use the mansion's magic to save history, while keeping any of the other tenants from discovering the secret of the mansion.

Whether it's discovering the cause behind the Famine of the Fireflies (season 1, episode 19) or nudging a scullery maid and a molding specialist towards new jobs in Area 51 without allowing them to be killed by swamp monsters (season 3, episode 9), Wholock is sure to save the day. 

Monday, June 16, 2014

Monday Geekery: Mario Kart 8

Mario Kart 8 is the newest of the Mario Karts, for the WiiU. I played it a bit over the last week, and of course lost horribly after I got out of the 50cc, but that's a different story...

To be fair, the only other Mario Karts I've played have been for the Super Nintendo and for the N64. That said, there were things I enjoyed, and things I wasn't so fond of, with the Wii U Kart.

Of course the graphics I'll put down as a plus. My eyes get dazzled with scenes that are too busy and I have hard time focusing on the track (hence the losing horribly), but that shows you the level of detail put into the settings, which are elaborate, bright, and amusing. There are a lot of the classic settings (Wario's Stadium, Donut Plains, Peach's Castle, and of course the Rainbow Roads). In fact, there are two Rainbow Roads, one based off the N64 track and the other, although original, reminds me of the Super Nintendo track. But we all expected the classics to be back, and I think that may have been one of the drawing points--the game boasts 50% new tracks. (I consider the second Rainbow Road to be fudging it slightly, but it does have unique features not in previous Rainbow Roads I remember.)

There were also a couple of "new-retro" settings that, like the second Rainbow Road, have a touch of familiarity. Dolphin Shoals, for example, was for me a flashback to some of the previous beach settings, with the addition that now you drive underwater. In fact I was sort of reminded of a Mario Jet Ski game I played a while ago. Mario Kart Stadium and Bowser's Castle are also included, and again, while the names are retro (Super Nintendo style), the tracks are very much more alive in this 3D setting, unrecognizable compared to the 8-bit era versions. Yet still, familiar, and there are elements like fireballs and jumps in both versions.

From IGN 's review of the features, tracks, and more
The super-busy water park track. Yes, you plunge directly
into the water, drive sideways, and more.
Then there are the new-new tracks. I've never seen a Cloudtop Cruise before (that doesn't mean there wasn't one, but it was entirely new to me). It had the strong Mario flair of finding that secret level,climbing into the sky and running around on the clouds, then jumping onto the cloud ship... you know the classic Super Mario feel brought to life, which is what I think all Mario Karts aim for. I enjoyed all the new settings, although the Music Park, Toad's Harbor, and the Water Park were just a wee bit too busy for me, so distracting I had a hard time seeing the road.

Still, all the business in those parks included some interesting alternate routes. There are bonus ramps in each track. Most of the ramps are only useable with a mushroom, since they're located on grass, and there are more of them on tracks with fewer alternate routes. Which some tracks offer quite a variety of. Toad's Harbor seems to have the second-most in options (of course Yoshi's Valley, in its maze-like setup, offers the most). These I appreciate more, because it gives me the feeling of exploring, and the ramps... well, honestly left me disappointed as they didn't go anywhere interesting and offered little in the way short cut, and rarely offered the additional question mark that made them so useful in N64. I didn't find much in the way of serious shortcuts, although there were one or two that shaved off a corner or an extra second's worth of track. I'm going to keep looking, though.

The golden mushroom was much my pet peeve in the game. This version of Mario Kart has twisty, tight turns on almost every track. Admittedly, the tracks with straightaways, golden mushrooms were great. But getting a golden mushroom in either Rainbow Road, or the Music Park, or the Haunted Mansion (excuse me, "Twisted" Mansion) was more a slap on the wrist, because you couldn't really effectively use it without sending yourself plummeting to your would-have-been-certain-death-if-you-weren't-promptly-rescued. Perhaps it was just my luck, but falling into lower ranks kept saddling me with golden mushrooms instead of more useful items like red shells or even triple regular mushrooms, which can be spaced out appropriately and used for maximum effect.

The tightness of the turns also made vehicle selection important. You get options--lots of options--in vehicle customization. I enjoyed the handling of the bikes, but the power braking was hard to control and much, much harder to stay on the track in the sharper-curved courses. On the whole I found I preferred 4 wheels, because they were more adaptable for a variety of tracks. Top speed was affected by weight, so characters that were heavy and had heavy vehicles had the highest top speeds, but getting hit by a single shell in the last lap was practically the kiss of death, because of the slow acceleration. And whatever you do, don't drive on the grass! Lighter characters recovered better, and if you're just picking up the game, I'd say start with a light or middle weight character until you get used to the vehicle handling.

Another attribute is the fact that you can choose to race internationally online. But I wouldn't suggest this if you're just getting started. The game's been out for only a short time, and already the online tracks are vicious. Fun to watch, but if you're going to play before you've gotten your feet under you, expect to end up dead last.

Then there's the battle mode, which was the big disappointment of the game. Unlike the arenas of N64 and Super Nintendo, battle mode takes place on a regular track. Yep. The entire track. In my opinion that's far too much space... you never even have to see your opponent. You start out in view of each other, but quickly end up losing sight; and once the other player has disappeared, you have little chance of finding her without looking at her screen. Of course you still have the three-balloon setup, where being hit loses your balloons, and once you've lost all your balloons you're out. Then again, you still get to run over question marks and drop green shells and items, so you're more disqualified from winning than out of the game. So that's a bonus, since nobody has to sit around getting bored in three-plus player combat.

On the whole it's an enjoyable game, and worth playing. The highlight reels are amusing the first time or two, but they quickly lose their glitter; most of the fun comes from what Mario Kart is all about: racing through an interesting track and shooting the other racers with banana peels, ba-bombs, and shells. It's a game where playing dirty is the draw, and in the end everything else is just tasty icing on the cake.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Publishing Industry News

This week's publishing news and industry blogs post covers 5/31-6/13.

Publishing News

Penguin Random House unveils its new logo. (There go my daydreams of a Penguin disguised as a house...)

Open Road launches an imprint just for controversial works.

Smashwords now allows authors to generate daily sales reports.

Barnes and Noble doesn't want to abandon the Nook platform, but it doesn't seem to be winning the tech race... so it's teaming up with Samsung to integrate Nook tech into Samsung tablets, so Nook can focus primarily on content, while Samsung focuses on improving tech and helping market devices.

Harper Lee, author of To Kill a Mockingbird, sued Monroe County Courthouse (in which parts of the novel are set) when it used the title of her book as its website and began selling souvenirs related to the book without permission. Both parties have now agreed to an undisclosed settlement. Part of this settlement (as evidenced by it having happened) was apparently the courthouse changing its website name.

In a lawsuit last year, the Supreme Court ruled that it's legal for students to buy versions of books from overseas where they're produced more cheaply, and resell them in the US, assuming the books are produced legally and bought legally, due to the Rule of First Sale. The publishers who printed the books want the Supreme Court to make parts of the ruling more specific, to avoid English-language editions from several countries competing with one another on a large scale. There was also a congressional hearing on whether the First Sale Doctrine applies to digital works, which may have an impact on ReDigi (a retailer designed for customers to resell music and possibly e-books).

Judge Cote has decided to allow e-retailers to bring suits against Apple and the major publishers involved in the price-fixing lawsuits. Just because she's giving them a day in court, however, doesn't mean she thinks the e-retailers (DNMAL, Lavaho, or Abbey House) will have an easy time proving damages. Meanwhile, the date for the Apple damages trial has been moved to August 25 2014.

In the HathiTrust vs Authors Guild lawsuit, in which Google's HathiTrust made digital copies of library books to preserving the content of the books, and putting them into a full-text-searchable database (that is, the entire text cannot be read, but can be searched to see if it contains search words), the Second Circuit Court of Appeals upholds the verdict ruling Hathitrust's scanning to be within fair use. The Authors Guild offers an official response to the ruling.

In the Amazon-Hachette battle, lots of people and organizations continue weighing in with opinions (extra words for more links). Other retailers rush to fill the gap. Also, Hachette isn't Amazon's only target--it's also not taking pre-orders for any of the Warner movies, not even the much-anticipated Lego movie; and Bonner Media Group in Germany makes a third battlefront. (Hat-tip to Fraser for the final three links!)

Industry Blogs

QueryTracker's Publishing Pulse for 6/6 and 6/13.

On the QueryTracker blog, 14 tips to surviving your book signing. Sarah Pinneo shares 6 things your book publicist won't tell you. If you're in charge of kids who get the summers off and things therefore have a tendency to go crazy during this time of year, Stina Lindenblatt offers 12 tips for surviving the summer.

If someone e-mails you saying they've found errors in your book, don't accept the offer for the paid editing. Apparently this is the latest hot scheme against self-published authors, according to Victoria Strauss on Writers Beware. Also, Michael Capobianco checks out UPublishU for Writers Beware, and reports that he's not particularly impressed by this year's BEA presentations for the program.

Agent Kristen Nelson reminds authors to please, please read your final contracts before signing them. Yes, even if you've signed 50 other contracts with that particular publisher and trust them implicitly--they make mistakes, too. And sometimes those minor mistakes can have HUGE consequences.

Author Jordan McCollum explains why he actually rejected a publication offer from his potential publisher after reading his contract. Again, read the fine print.

Agent Janet Reid clarifies that she wants you to be finished before querying, not in revisions, even if you expect to be done soon; and she explains that if she asks for something different from her agency's standard submission policy, she wants what she asks for, not what FPLM asks for. She also explains what a "one-paragraph synopsis" might look like. And as long as you use some part of her name, she's not too concerned exactly how you address her in your query salutation. She also explains how to query with a pen name, and advises starting early if you know the one you want.

Reid also answers some more questions: Will publishing serially on Wattpad stop a writer from being traditionally published? (No; major publishers will still want to publish you if you get enough hits. But be sure you know what you're doing.) An new author gets advice from a well-known author, some of it quite, uh, "helpful," and wonders how much she should take to heart. (He doesn't know everything, even if he thinks he does; use your own judgment.) If you self-publish a first book but want to traditionally publish the series, can you ethically republish a book (and its unpublished sequels) that's been self-published? (It's not about ethics; it's about numbers. It's very hard to do so, and requires a lot of sales, but there's no moral reasons not to. You probably can't get numbers 2 & 3 without #1, though.) Should you market something as New Adult or mystery if it's more mystery than NA, but qualifies as both? (Reid suggests mystery, since it's a better seller; but says in her experience nobody really knows what NA is right now.) And is having a UK based agent a bad idea for a US author, with extra complexities? (Reid doesn't know, as she's a US agent and hasn't had to deal with trying to smooth any international difficulties. As a UK agent representing a US author.)

On the Editor's Blog, a post on the effect of the right words, and how to choose how to phrase a sentence based on what you're trying to accomplish/emphasize. Also, how to address love (and show it) in fiction, in various forms from lust to family to grown-old-together.

On the Futuristic, Fantasy, and Paranormal blog, Livia Quinn talks about why she recommends Scrivener as a tool for organizing your work. And Diane Wylie offers tips for overcoming writers' block. Also, agent Nalini Akolekar drops by for an interview.

Random House book designer Chip Kidd offers advice on book cover design.

What happens when you apply the same kind of analysis to the book industry as has been used in the music industry? Macmillan studies how readers spend not just money, but also time, and comes up with some interesting correlations between visitor spikes on websites and sales (Wikipedia... I never knew).

Author Malcom Gladwell does an "Ask Me Anything" on Reddit and gives advice on writing.

Romance Writers of America releases a new product--Novel Engagement--that helps romance readers discover new romance novels, alerts them to new favorites coming out, and generally keeps them up-to-date on the books they want to know about.

KickStarter offers a Creator Handbook for people planning to launch Kickstarters (planning on crowdfunding your next book? Then this is for you.).

And then there's the new BookReels, dubbed the MTV of books, where authors can post multimedia visuals for their books, from videos to animated covers.

And Simon and Schuster authors now have the portal InkedIn, aimed at giving authors, publishers, and publishing people a place to interact and hopefully enhance support and communications.

The RWA chapter FF&P posts its lineup of online classes. (Although I'm picky about which I take and when I take them, generally I personally find the classes from the various RWA chapters a great value for the money. Be sure if you sign up for one it's focused on something you need, but you'll get a lot of information on that topic, and interactive classes often give valuable feedback. I'm a hands-on kinda gal, so I tend to go for how-to classes instead of purely informational ones; therefore classes with homework are usually the ones I've ended up liking best.)

What publishing news have you encountered in the past two weeks?

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

A funny video to get you through hump day

What do you do when you're stuck alone at night in an airport?


Laughter is the best way to start a morning. So after this, your morning will probably be great.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Post 500!

It's my 500th post! Woohoo!

I made my first posts in February, 2011. Now, over 3 years later, here we are. I've published my first book, Into the Tides--which, okay, was not the first one I've written, just the first one I've published. I know a lot more now (for instance, mailing myself a copy of my manuscript isn't considered adequate copyright protection; however, registering the copyright is). And a few of my life goals are different: for example, I've since decided that self-publishing is more advantageous for me.

It's been a wonderful, crazy, delicious few years. I've made fantastic new friends, while keeping my oldest friends close to my heart. Turns out, following my dreams--as terrifying as it was--seems to be working out all right for me.

And the blog has grown, too. I looked at the stats in 2012 and was pretty blown away by how much it had grown. It's kept growing since. No, not the million-hit-a-day kind of popular, but I'd call it fairly respectable. Here's a clip from today's stats!

Here's a toast to everyone who has joined me on my blog, and helped me grow it!

Thanks, guys, you rock! :D

The most popular post now, in case you're wondering, is the Sapience vs Sentience post. #2 is "How to tie a perfect bow."

As a major-blog-post-number celebration, I'm going to share a (sort of) deleted scene: the original opening to Into the Tides. This is the beginning that enraptured me so hard I had to keep writing the story, the writing exercise that took on a life of its own and superseded an outlined plot to become a book I couldn't stop writing until I finished.

Eventually, I replaced it with the current opening, but I kept as much as possible at a later point in the novel (You'll recognize it if you see it!). Still, much was also deleted.

The original, since-deleted opening:

The best hours of my youth were those I spent watching my mother work.
As an editor, she would spend hours working on the computer, ­tump-tump-tumping away, or else sitting with her eyes dancing and her mouse click-click-clicking. When it was “Mommy’s work time,” she’d place my brother and me in our play zone with crayons and paper, put in a pair of earbuds connecting to her cranky old iPod, turn the volume to midway, and start tapping out the tune of the music on her collarbone as she read.
As I got older, I discovered that I could judge her clients’ work by that tapping. Tump-tump-tump, regularly to a beat I couldn’t hear, meant they were doing well, that she didn’t need much concentration because there wasn’t much that needed fixing. When the beat dissolved into a rapid flutter, I knew she was enraptured, on the edge of her seat as the novel gripped her and wouldn’t let her go. When that happened, sometimes she wouldn’t remember to make dinner, or hear Dad come in. She’d always hear us if we cried, though; she never forgot her kids.
When she ran into something that made her think, the beat would lapse into silence, and her lips would curl into a moue. These were the moments she loved the best, even more than being swallowed by the story. Mom liked a good challenge, and so when she found a passage that came so close to being perfect, if only she could figure out what it needed… Sometimes, if she really had to think, she’d pull the earbuds out and stare at the screen in silence. Her nose would scrunch and scrinch and squirm around her face, and her eyes would take turns squinting and rolling around. She was always in a good mood after a day like that.
I could tell she’d be in a bad mood if the rhythm slowed without stopping. Tump… Tump… Tump… it was the Imperial Death March, the ominous sound of funeral drums. But worse were the occasional e-mails—the ones she despised more than anything, when a once-favored writer was snatched away by a larger publisher. That usually led to squeaky vituperation and the dramatic crack of Mom mercilessly kicking the tiny, battered trashcan under her desk. This was usually followed by more high-pitched cursing, as Mom rarely wore shoes, and the trashcan sensibly chose to fight back by being metal. We typically ate out on those nights, because Dad was a terrible cook.
In actuality, Dad watched us more often than Mom did. Mom’s job might let her take her work home on Monday and Tuesday afternoons, but she often had to travel, seeking out new clients for her company. Dad’s job was a little more flexible. As a fourth-class music Power, he went from clinic to clinic, hiring himself out by the hour to sing away patients’ pains. As a subcontractor, he got to choose his hours; he tried to keep his schedule as regular as possible for the patients’ sakes, but his own kids came first.
Trax and I never doubted that our parents were deeply in love, improbable as other people found their relationship. Mom was a book editor; Dad read stop signs and movie posters. Dad was a fantastic musician and Powered; Mom was tone-deaf and as magical as a rock. I think their differences may well have been the secret to their success, as much as it bewildered Dad’s die-hard fans after he’d traded in the search for fame for a house and two kids.
Dad’s account of how they met was much more dramatic than Mom’s, but hers was probably more accurate. Mom had been at a battle-of-the-bands concert, celebrating her acceptance as an intern at the publishing house. Dad overheard her talking about an agent whose client had been turned down, and just like that, he was all over her. Fortunately, he was decent enough to keep the date, even after realizing she’d been talking about a literary agent. Over the course of dinner, they discovered that she hated his music, he read as often as he shaved his cat, she thought that Powers were mostly useless, and he didn’t approve of anyone who couldn’t play at least one kind of instrument.
Trax and I were born five and half years later.
My brother took after Dad in musical skill, but I got Mom’s complete tone-deafness. I mean, I’m not just tone-deaf, I’m literally tone-deaf, as in physically incapable of identifying a single note by itself, due to a neurological misconnection. That’s what made it so crazy when I hit puberty and discovered I’d inherited Dad’s Powers, while my brother stayed as mundane as Mom.
For a while, Dad thought he might be able to train me, anyway. The problem is, musical-based Powers actually require the user to be able to hit a note. The right note. Music Powers are supposed to be able to hear every nuance of every sound, the tones of the world around us. I couldn’t. So he tried to teach me accompaniment instead. Sounds just fine; I have a pretty enough voice when I try and even if I can’t carry a tune, I make an interesting counter-melody, but… well, let’s just say it’s sort of disaster magically.
My brother, on the other hand, took full advantage of his lack of Powers to do what Dad never could: he started a band, and at 17 sold his first record. Dad was really proud of him for accomplishing what he couldn’t. It’s not that Dad wasn’t as good as my brother, but he was Powered. Everyone expects the Powered to do something—not just entertain. Dad thought he could get away with it, being only 4th-class, but if you’re more than a 6th, fame’s a dead-end road.
While my brother was getting famous, I was getting shuttled off to Mechany’s School for the Magically Disabled, which is sort of a super-intensive school for fixing magical learning disabilities that accepted students as young as twelve and as old as college. Dad’s attempts at tutoring me through it put me with the college prep kids. I wasn’t powerful enough to be dangerous, but I was powerful enough that I could be useful—if I could use my magic.
I managed to escape the barrage of researchers, since the source of my disability was pretty obvious, but it meant I never got a lot of one-on-one attention. Rogers’ Research Institute only granted funds when researchers asked for them; being tone-deaf didn’t qualify as interesting, so no private tutors for me. During my freshman college year, though, my professors had some marginal success. I’m not your typical Powered, but we found a way for me to somewhat use my Power. Still, they downgraded my talent classification to 6th, because while I had the power for 4th-class, I was pretty limited in what I could actually do.
I transferred to a regular college with the understanding that I’d never make a living off my Power. Being a music Power without musical ability pretty much strikes that profession off the charts. But I was able to get a pretty good job in the editorial department of an online magazine—‘pretty good’ meaning that I had a job, not that it paid well. I moved to Madison, WI, and not too long after, my brother moved to New York to appease his career manager.
Mom and Dad stayed in the South. When the Tides hit, we lost them—we lost our grandparents and our cousins—we lost everyone south of Virginia and east of Texas.
Trax moved in with me as soon as the road bans were lifted. I was all he had left. The rent went up shortly thereafter, but thanks to his career, we had more than enough, even though the housing market was sky-high.
Nobody wanted to live on the coast anymore.

Being tone deaf, Kelly always considered her music magic useless. But when her neighbor Derik invites her on a salvage mission in the magic-devastated American South, she discovers she can hear the voices of the people lost.

Now, hoping to save the family she lost, she'll seek out a way to collapse the bubble of magic drowning most of the region. But Derik and her only surviving relative--her twin brother--aren't about to let her face being trapped forever in the magic herself, or death by its monsters.

Trying to get back everyone she's lost might just cost her everyone she has left.

Available on:
Barnes and Noble

Friday, June 6, 2014

Writing Tea 101

Have you thought about writing tea into your story? About having your reader be a perennial tea drinker?

If you're not a huge tea drinker, you might not know all the terms and tidbits. So here's a quick Tea 101 for Writers:

Bags vs sachet vs loose-leaf vs brew-your-own

Tea comes in a variety of presentations.

Tea bags: This is the lowest quality of tea of each tea leaf, being made of the smaller bits and pieces and dust of tea. That doesn't mean tea in tea bags is bad, and some brands are consistently excellent. It might be very good dust. It's the cheapest way to buy tea, and very convenient to prepare. The tea bags are usually flat, and can be round or square, have paper tags with strings to pull them out of the tea or lack strings and require rescuing with a fork. Even most picky tea drinkers will drink bagged tea if they don't have time for other forms, or if it's all that's available; there really are some very nice bagged teas, and it's convenient. I'd say the majority of American tea drinkers go with regular tea bags most to all the time. If your character is a casual tea drinker, give her bagged tea. Lipton and Bigelow (which have a variety of flavors) are the brands I most often find served in restaurants in the American South), with Numi a higher-end common brand (organic, and also often served at places going green). Few places serve more than one brand of tea.

Tea sachets: These look like tea bags, except that the teas tend to be whole-leaf: that is, instead of being the odds and ends of tea leaves, the entire tea leaf is in the bag, which gives a slightly higher quality of flavor. The sachets are also built with slightly more room for tea leaves to expand (i.e., they're bigger, and often pyramid-shaped, capable of standing on their own). Equally convenient, but slightly more expensive. Picky tea drinkers will usually drink these teas if offered the choice between sachets and tea bags, or if in a hurry, because convenience. The tea is usually higher-quality, and is often on par with mid-quality loose leaf tea. Occasionally companies will offer high-end teas in sachets, too. Like tea bags, sachets offer little to no cleanup.  "Two Leaves and a Bud" is the most common tea sachet I see served, although the Lipton sachets are growing more popular.

Loose leaf: This is tea that is served in a giant tin, and put into a tea bag, a tea ball, or a tea strainer for steeping. Or they can also be prepared with a variety of devices, or added straight to the pot and then the tea poured through a small sieve during serving so the drinker only gets tea. Loose leaf teas aren't necessarily the cream of the crop (they range from dirt-cheap to amazing), but the highest quality teas are usually sold only loose leaf, and most teas served loose leaf are good quality (if not necessarily to the tea drinker's taste). They're not locked into tea bags or sachets, so serving size isn't limited; this makes them ideal for brewing larger pots of tea (those using tea bags or sachets will put more than one bag into the pot instead). 

Loose leaf teas are usually preferred by picky tea drinkers, but this presentation requires more cleanup, as additional implements are required. Usually small bits of tea leaf end up in the tea. Experienced tea drinkers are likely to enjoy loose leaf tea, and most serious tea drinkers prefer loose leaf tea, but black teas are almost never served loose leaf in restaurants. Picky tea-drinkers may only drink loose leaf at home, or loose leaf with very select tea sachets. High-end Asian restaurants may serve loose-leaf-brewed green tea, but only occasionally will you get the portion with the leaves; Indian restaurants may serve loose-leaf-brewed spice or milk teas, but again, you're not likely to get any of the leaves used in the brewing.

Make-your-own: For the true tea aficionado, mixing her own tea will invariably come onto her bucket list. She may or may not regularly make her own tea, but it's probably something she's looked into. This may take the form of going to a tea blending shop and asking for a custom blend (many local tea shops will offer this option), or finding all-natural ingredients, preparing, and mixing them herself. (Angela Quarles does this--check out her blog for more on how.) Healthy-living lifestylists will also frequently make their own tea, and those who are interested in homeopathy. They may or may not include tea leaves in their blends (teas made without tea leaves, or herbal teas, are technically called tisanes). Make-your-own is inevitably a loose-leaf tea.

Types of tea

Tea comes in a variety of types. Any of these can be flavored with spices, flowers, fruits, etc.

White: This tea is completely unfermented. It brews a very, very pale yellow color. Brews at about 180F, for 2-5 minutes. Has a tendency to become bitter when steeped longer. I don't know anyone who prefers bitter white tea, although there's probably someone, somewhere, who does.

Green: like what you find in an Asian restaurant. It shades from a light green (powdered matcha, for which the tea leaves are powdered and mixed into the drink) to a pale gold (most types of green tea). Brews at about 170F, for 45 seconds-2 minutes, or left in the pot. Has a tendency to become bitter when steeped long. Some people prefer this.

Black: A fully fermented tea. Like what you find in most sweet teas, black iced teas, and "English" teas. It's fermented and contains caffeine. Brews at 190F for 3-5 minutes. Has a tendency to become bitter when steeped longer. Some people prefer this.

Oolong: Oxidized tea. You have to go looking for this tea; it's almost never offered at restaurants. But it's very good, and easy to find in tea-specific stores. It's closest to green tea, a light gold color, with a touch of the flavor of black tea. Brewed at 195F for 2-4 minutes. Characters of Chinese descent, experienced tea drinkers, and characters who are interested in health (high levels of antioxidants). 

Rooibos tea, aka "red tea" in America, without
milk or sugar.
Red/rooibos: made from the South African "red bush" plant, this tea is not caffeinated (at least not by the rooibos). Like herbal tea, it doesn't have any leaves of the tea plant, and depending on source may be linked with herbal teas or regular teas (since it does have a standard plant that goes into it). It has a different flavor than the tea leaf used for white, green, or black teas, since it's not from the same plant. (I personally prefer it prepared with milk and sugar, whereas I prefer white, green, and black teas plain).

Pu-erh: Fermented and oxidized tea. Sometimes called "the diet tea" because it's supposed to be good for weight loss (unsubstantiated in humans). It's sold in "bricks" of compressed leaves dried together that you can break off pieces and use as loose-leaf tea. Has a smokey flavor; somewhat similar to American black tea. Not a well-known tea in America, but an experienced tea drinker or a character on a diet might have some. Tea collectors or wealthy characters might have a very old brick of tea (10 years to over 100 years old). Brewed at 195-205F for 2-3 minutes.

Herbal: Not really tea because it doesn't contain actual leaves of the tea plant, it's a combination of spices, fruits, and herbs. Herbal teas have the most variety, since there are no hard-and-fast rules on what goes into them. People who are avoiding caffeine often drink herbal teas. Herbal teas are often also used for homeopathic medicine, or for simple wellness reasons, such as using ginger teas to settle the stomach, lavender tea to relax before bed, or fruit tea just to wean oneself off soda with a tasty but healthier alternative. Brewed at 212F-boiling for 4-5 minutes, but doesn't become bitter, so can continue to steep as long as desired.

Yerba Mate: (pronounced mah-te): Also contains no tea plant leaves, mate is instead made with leaves from the South American holly plant. It contains as much caffeine as coffee, so a non-coffee-drinking character who needs an extra boost might reach for some of this instead of soda or an energy drink. Also thought to promote weight loss and thought to have a couple of homeopathic benefits, but also has small amounts of some carcinogens (not thought to be dangerous when drunk in moderation). Brewed at 208F for 4-6 minutes.

Chai tea: Or more properly, Masala chai, but most Americans call it "chai tea." (This is a bit redundant, as "chai" literally means "tea.") A blend of spices (cinnamon, cloves, cardamon, ginger, and black pepper) and (usually) black tea, often prepared with sugar and milk. Originated from India. A character looking for something sweet and spicy might be drinking go for this ("chai latte" is what they might order in a coffee shop, and in most good coffee shops that will contain no coffee).

Numi Flowering teas, fully bloomed.
Blooming/flowering teas: Usually green or white teas with floral flavorings. Blooming teas are balls of tea leaves (and often flower petals) tied up and dried in balls, about the size of a largish marble. They're usually brewed in clear teapots, because the point of them is to watch the tea "bloom" as it opens; the tea is tied in a flower-like pattern. Not common and usually more expensive due to the artistry involved. Might be used by an experienced tea drinker, someone who is into meditation or zen, or someone looking to impress. Would not be available in most restaurants. A character who isn't into tea might think it looks unattractive or even frightening, since it's a bit unusual in appearance.

Stay tuned for Tea 102.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Have a kitten instead of a post

No real post today. Had an excellent writers' meeting with the Durham Sci-fi/Fantasy Meetup group. Went home tired.

Go check out your local game shop. Chances are, it's a pretty cool place.

And read a new writer. You might just fall in love.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Tea Review: Coconut Oolong

Coconut Oolong

Reviewed by: Rebekkah
Type of tea

Oolong, loose-leaf

Coconut, light oolong scent 
Where I got it

At Tea and Spice Exchange in Blowing Rock, NC.
You can find it online here, although apparently
this is a chain store, so you might be near a brick-and-mortar store.

How I brewed it

Water from the coffee machine poured over 1.5 tsp in a 16 oz mug, steeped for about 2-3 minutes.
Rebrewing notes

Rebrews well for a second brew. It's an oolong, which you're supposed to rebrew multiple times anyway to get the "full oolong experience," which is another way of saying it's a great tea for re-steeping. Flavor holds up for at least 3 rebrews; I haven't gone past that yet. 

Word of warning, if you don't like coconut, you'll hate it; and the coconut flavor is obtained by "artificial coconut flavor." But I do like coconut, and I find the taste of this tea fantastic. The coconut is more in the scent than the flavor--although it has a strong coconut smell, the taste of toasted coconut is rather light and mostly notable in the aftertaste.

In terms of flavor, it's a good-quality oolong tea, if not a particularly fancy one. It's pretty resilient; I've brewed it with both water too hot and too cool, and it turned out okay with the too hot, and fine with the water a bit too cool (a bit light on the first brew with cool water, but the second brew with normal-heated water was full flavored). It's got a bold-for-oolong flavor; the coconut seems to more enhance the natural oolong flavor than be tasted itself, and I think may contribute to the resiliency of the tea, covering up brewing mistakes that might otherwise taste bitter or flavorless.

If what you love about oolong is the scent, you'll miss it with this tea. It's one of the two things I dislike about this tea, but the coconut smell completely covers the rich oolong scent (the other thing: I'd have preferred real coconut to artificial). However, I like how it does smell almost as much, so there's that.

 Admittedly, I also hit up Asian food stores for my oolongs, so I'm a bit spoiled on prices and find it on the high end. However, although the price per ounce adds up, it's in line with Teavana, even a bit cheaper than most of the Teavana oolongs, so it's definitely not unreasonable. On the whole, I give it excellent scores for taste, resiliency, and ability to rebrew. If you re-steep your leaves, it's worth the price, and I would definitely recommend it. 

It won't give you a great idea of what oolongs in general taste like, but it's delicious and a unique tea for habitual oolong drinkers. If you want to buy another tea for a collection and can only buy one, compared to the Osmanthus Chin Hsuang, I'd definitely say go with the chin hsuang if you can find it, but you'll have a much easier time finding this one, and it's good enough you won't feel you're missing anything.

(Learning to Like Tea Part 1Part 2Part 3, Guest Post: Types of Tea, Guest post: Getting the Best Cup of Tea, Guest Post: How long to cool boiling water for your tea)