Citrusly Delicious

Hello, my lovelies! How has everyone’s November been so far? Can you believe it’s halfway over already? I have been so busy with NaNoWriMo that I keep losing track of the time! Can you believe Thanksgiving is next week??? Pretty soon people all over the country will be gathering around the dinner table with friends and family to enjoy a good time and gorge themselves on many, many, many delicious dishes.

Do any of you have a favorite Thanksgiving food, one that you wonder why you don’t get more often? My mother makes a wicked cranberry salad, and my grandma makes the lightest and fluffiest rolls I’ve ever had. One of my personal favorites, though, is a squash apple bake. Just an handful of simple ingredients thrown together to make something positively gobstopping. Perhaps I’ll share it with you sometime here in the Reynwood’s Recipies blog tab.

Last month I posted a recipe for Pumpkin Rice Krispies, but today I want to share with you another combination of two of my favorite things: bundt cakes and gingerbread. I can hardly get enough of either of these two, bundt cakes are so much fun with all the different shapes you can make with the pans, and gingerbread is a warm fussy for me, full of mildly sweet molasses and spicy ginger. This cake has an extra zing added with lemon zest, giving it a citrusy kick.

Maybe instead of (or in addition to!) the traditional pumpkin and apple pies for dessert, you’ll want to surprise your family with this baby.

Are you ready for this?

Lemon Gingerbread Cake

Ingredients:

  • 2/3 cup brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup molasses
  • 3/4 cup boiling water
  • 1 egg
  • 2 2/3 cup all-purpose or cake flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon peel*
  • 1/2 teaspoon allspice
Lemon Glaze:
  • 1 cup confectioner’s sugar
  • 1/2 tablespoon butter, softened
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons lemon juice*

Instructions:

Turn oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease and flour a 10 or 12 cup fluted tube pan (I used the  Heritage Bundt Pan from Nordic Ware, made in the USA!) and set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, cream the sugar and butter until light and fluffy (this will take about 2 or 3 minutes). Add the molasses and water, beat well. Add the egg and beat well. Sift together the remaining cake ingredients and add to the batter; mix well, then spoon into the prepared pan.

Bake in the preheated oven for 50 to 55 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Remove from pan and cool on a rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.

For the glaze, in a bowl combine confectioner’s sugar and butter. Gradually add juice until it reaches the desired consistency, then drizzle over the cake.

*For those of you who aren’t big lemon fans, you can easily substitute the lemon for any other citrus fruit. Try an orange (which I might next time), or even a lime or grapefruit, if you’re feeling particularly wild.

Rewynwood’s Reviews: Writing Lessons From the Front

Title: Writing Lessons From the Front23463910

Author: Angela Elwell Hunt

My rating: 4 of 5


A complete writer’s workshop in a book . . . The first ten Writing Lessons from the Front are compiled into this volume. Lessons cover plot structure, characterization, point of view, evoking emotion, self-editing, creating and maintaining tension, writing historical fiction, plans and processes to get your book finished, self-publishing, and a complete writer’s checklist that will take you from prewriting to publication, including details on how to publish on CreateSpace and Kindle.


My thoughts:

As most everyone who knows me well would agree, I don’t often read non-fiction (unless cookbooks count, of course. Then it’s a different story.). It may or may not be a character flaw. I think there are at the very least two different types of non-fiction: recreational and educational. I do far more educational non-fiction reading than recreational (any suggestions?)

This book, Writing Lessons From the Front by Angela Hunt, is an educational read. I’ve recently decided I needed to take a more active role in learning how to hone my craft so that my stories can improve in quality. I always want to be moving forward, progressing, developing.

Some might wonder at it, but there is, in fact, a method to the madness of creative writing that goes beyond what the reader sees. People have skeletons, buildings have skeletons, and stories have skeletons — a basic structure that gives your story a sound shape and feel, sturdy, per se. It’s the (and we’re speaking figuratively here) muscle, sinew, and flesh that we build onto this structure that makes our stories so unique.

This book is loaded with knowledge on storytelling, compiled by someone who’s spent longer than I’ve been alive writing books. Hunt has penned well over a hundred books in a range of genres, and she also teaches courses on writing.

The lessons in this book range from the first stages of developing a story all the way to publication, offering loads of resources to help you write your story best. For myself, who never did any creative writing courses before jumping headfirst into my first project (The Journey Taken), I found the chapters on plot skeletons, character development, evoking emotion, and tension monumentally helpful. The plot skeleton, which is the first chapter, provided a vivid picture for me to visualize while constructing my plot for this new project I’m working on.

In the back is a section of checklists for every stage of the process as well, from prep work through the first handful of drafts. They give bullet point topics and details to focus on, building layers of depth and meaning for the story — like baklava, layers of flaky pastry and spiced nuts drenched in sweet goodness. Man, now I want to make baklava . . .

The chapters are clear on their respective topics and easy to understand, with examples that illustrate the point being covered. The chapters are:

  • The Plot Skeleton
  • Point of View
  • Creating Extraordinary Characters
  • Evoking Emotion
  • Plans and Process
  • Writing Historical Fiction
  • Tracking the Weasel Words
  • Tension on the Line
  • The Book of Checklists
  • Ruminations on a Life in Pages

I enjoyed this book and will certainly be coming back to it as I develop my craft. I highly recommend it to anyone aspiring to write fiction.

Initiate NaNoWriMo

Happy November! This month promises to be a pretty big one over here in the Writing Corner, but before we get into all that, let’s look at a pair of literary holidays that share this date of November 1:

  • Author Day ─ We all have our go-to authors for great stories, and this is a day to honor our favorites everywhere. (I’m looking at you, Turner, Tolkein, Batson, and Lawhead. And a bunch of others; so many great ones . . .)
  • National Family Literacy Day ─ An holiday all about encouraging families to read together. Talk with your wee ones about their favorite stories, introduce them to some of your own ─ you never know what you might learn about each other through the stories that speak to us.

These are two very neat holidays, but I believe what November and its first day are known best for within the literary community is the kickoff of NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month. This epic event has been running for the past 18 years (this year will be its 19th), and the goal for participants is to write a 50,000 word novel between Nov.1 and 23:59 on Nov.30.

The event provides a ‘fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to creative writing’, ‘valuing enthusiasm, determination, and a deadline’. This is something for anyone who ever entertained the idea of writing a novel. Participants have access to numerous pep talks, prep advice, and resources to help get their story started and keep running once it has. There are hundreds of forums for writers to interact and help each other with a wide range of story related issues, from world building and character development to discussing the problems with fedoras.

Participants can also earn badges in three categories: Participation, Personal Achievement, and Writing. You can also track your word count on the site to see how you and your fellow challengees are doing, allowing you to see your progress as they days go by.

For more info, check out this link.

I’ve a friend who’s been a part of NaNoWriMo for some years now who has suggested to me to join in, and now that TJT is finished I though it a prime opportunity to try something new. So I joined NaNo and have spent the past couple of months preparing a new story. (I’m what they call a Planner. There are also Pantsers and Plantsers).

And since today is the kickoff for the event, I’m going to share with you the name of this new project (so exciting!) and a little bit about it (can hardly wait!)

Ahem. The current name of this project is The Druyds of Phen. The name may change between now and publication, but so far this is my favorite of all the others I’ve come up with to date.

The Druyds of Phen is a fantasy adventure story set in the country of Phen, where there are those born with special abilities known as bunes. These people are called Druyds, and for generations their existence has been both highly coveted and severely reviled among the surrounding nations. The story follows a young soldier named Roscha, who would like to be just about anything else in the world except a soldier. He is sent to accompany a particularly powerful Druyd on his quest to Ashelon in the north.

It was supposed to be secret. It was supposed to be safe.

But the Druyd Hunters, thought to have vanished years ago, are resurfacing. And they’re after the Druyd Roscha is supposed to protect.

Pursued by hunters and harried by doubts, Roscha will have to overcome his greatest fears if he wants to prove himself and save not only his charge, but the very future of his people. If he fails, the Druyd won’t be the only one to suffer.

Phen will lose its freedom, and the enemy nations will tear it apart and swallow it until there is nothing left.

I am stoked to be working on this story (which has been simmering in my mind for a good while now) and thrilled by the enthusiasm of my readers who are wanting more ─ it’s an encouragement of mammoth proportions!

I’m ready to don my writing helmet, grab my hammer, and forge a new story. You’re welcome to come along and watch the sparks fly!

In the Spirit of Getting Ready

Hello and good morning! Can you believe October is almost over already? Many are anticipating Halloween, with its costume parties, trick or treating, and spooky games, but over here in the Writing Corner we’re making the final preparations to begin the first draft of a new project. Exciting, write right?

I think so, too. I have received much enthusiasm concerning ‘what’s next’, and I will very soon be divulging more details concerning it (so don’t stray far!). But today I want to share a bit about a question that was asked me that I believe to be in the spirit of Getting Ready.

I was asked how I centered myself and cleared my mind prior to writing.

An excellent inquiry.

The inquirer stated that they were experiencing trouble doing so themselves, having a hard time clearing their mind to get ideas out and feeling that they waste 10 to 15 minutes just trying to figure out how to begin.

Well, my dear inquirer: join the club.

After giving the matter some thought, I came to realize that my methods differ depending on what it is I’m trying to begin, whether a simple day’s writing or starting a new book. Every time I finished one volume of the TJT series and had to begin working on the next one, I repeatedly and without fail found myself intimidated by the idea of Starting. After all, the opening is an extremely important part of the story. It has to be done well, or who would keep reading? I’ve found myself stalling and (gasp!) procrastinating, struggling to come up with a decent way to start. However, the only thing I can really say that solved that was the inescapable need to just do it. The more I write, the more ideas come and the better they become.

For example: pushing an heavy wagon is difficult, but the initial shove that gets the wheels turning is the most strenuous. Once the wagon is moving it rolls easier and goes faster.

As for the simple, everyday writing, the method is pretty much the same. I would suggest beginning by

  • creating an environment that eliminates distractions. Put blinders on, per se. Turn off the phone and remove it far from your person. Close the door. If you’re like me and have a tendency to stare out the window, put your back to it, or draw the curtains if you must (although I, myself, loathe shades). I like having music playing quietly ─ orchestral, no lyrics ─ but others may not find that helpful.

Then,

  • focus on what you’re working on and recapture the thought train you were on when you left off. Sometimes I read a bit of what I’ve written the day before in order to refresh my mind, but it’s also helpful if you stop at a place where you know where you want to keep going with the narrative. That way you have a starting point for the next time.

Still, I’ve not yet found the infallible cure to the struggle. Not in writing and not in life outside of writing. Starting is hard and slow for me. I have to relocate my rhythm, which flees to the far reaches of the universe every time I let go for the day. My thoughts and words usually ‘buffer’ for a while before I can really get into it ─ but once that is achieved I try to keep it as long as possible.

I won’t lie and say it isn’t frustrating sometimes, but I often say that ‘noting worthwhile is ever easy’. I’m finding this to be true in writing more and more all the time, but the challenge has not yet discouraged me from pursuing it. Starting is hard, but the salvation in writing is that you can go back and make better whatever you began with. Trash can be turned into treasure with a second, third, and eighteenth pass. So just start.

Just start.

Reynwood’s Reviews: The Dragon Business

20607958Title: The Dragon Business

Author: Kevin J. Anderson

My rating: 4 of 5


King Cullin may be known as “the Dragon Slayer,” but he fears his son’s legacy will be as “King Maurice Who Speaks with Proper Grammar.” The boy keeps his nose buried in parchments, starry-eyed at the idea of noble knights and eager to hand royal gold to any con man hawking an unicorn horn. Tonight, though, Cullin will educate the prince in the truth behind minstrels’ silly songs of glory.

Long ago, in a kingdom, well, not that far from here really, young Cullin traveled the countryside as squire to brave Sir Dalbry, along with Dalbry’s trusted sidekick Reeger, selling dragon-protection services to every kingdom with a coffer. There were no dragons, of course, but with a collection of severed alligator heads and a willingness to play dirty, the trio of con men was crushing the competition. Then along came Princess Affonyl.

Tomboyish and with a head for alchemy, Affonyl faked a dragon of her own, escaped her arranged marriage, and threw in with Cullin and company. But with her father sending a crew of do-gooder knights to find her, the dragon business just got cutthroat.


My thoughts:

What fun! I read the synopsis of this story, that it was about con artists slaying false dragons, and thought it such an unique twist on the usual adventure trope that I knew I had to give it a try, and I’m glad I did.

Anderson crafted this tale wonderfully, formatting it so that King Cullin is telling his sheltered son a grandiose tale of his past shenanigans in order to learn him up on the way the real world works. It follows a group of con men who prey upon the simple-minded, gullible, and superstitious peoples of the (many) kingdoms, in a world where con artists, swindlers, and money grubbers abound. It paints a fantastical rendition of the world we live in today.

And yet, even though our ‘dragon-slayers’ are making a living rather dishonestly, selling a service nobody needs, you can’t help but like them. Reeger is rather crude ─ in his humor, behavior, and lifestyle ─ but he’s also very good at what he does (the dirty work), a loyal friend, and in a way charming for his preferences of ‘latrine refurbishing’ to high courtly politics. Sir Dalbry is a victim of his own trade. Swindled out of his inheritance at a young age by a group of con men, he has vowed to avenge his honor for having run away. His current methods are questionable, but even so, he insists on retaining a sense of ‘knightly honor and nobility’ ─ to the point where it nearly costs him his life. Cullin is an apt and clever sidekick. Tempted by dreams of starting fresh in the new land across the sea, fantasizing about someday marrying a princess and gaining a kingdom and riches of his own, he serves as Sir Dalbry’s squire. Affonyl, the newest member of their band, is a runaway princess who faked her own death by dragon attack in order to escape her fate as a princess. She would much rather study alchemy and gallivant across the country  as a person than marry a silver-tongued and sticky-fingered duke as a princess, because as it happens, princesses aren’t people.

The writing is witty, whimsical, and humorous from the first page to the last. Minstrels’ songs go viral, one town’s local Renaissance Faire is ‘futuristic’, newspapers (like the Olden Tymes) are transcribed by monks, purified guano and bone dust are thought the more active ingredients to pain killer than the milk of poppy. On and on, every page is filled with crafty and silly details about life in medieval times that those of us who are more accustomed to the more epic, hard-core fantasy don’t usually think about ─ like hawking seagull guano as a miracle fertilizer.

Yet through the ridiculousness are strings of heart that do more than entertain us, they endear us to the characters, who they are and what they’re searching for. Sir Dalbry wants to regain his honor, following a code of knightly nobility to a fault that nearly gets him killed. Reeger wants to raise enough money to establish his own tavern. Cullin wants a better life, but looks for it in the wrong places. He realizes, after he gets what he thinks he wants, that it’s not what he wanted all along. The meaning of bravery and honor, friendship, and loyalty are all currents carrying this story and the character of its heroes forward.

I hope Maurice gets as much from his father’s tales as we do.

Autumn-ly Awesome and Fall-ishly Fantasticical Treats

Greetings, everyone, and happy middle-of-October! ‘Tis the season for apples, squash . . . and pumpkins! Today I want to share with you a glorious combination of two of my favorite things: pumpkins and Rice Krispie treats. Rice Krispie treats are probably one of my top favorite snackey-dessert things, and I have to say, I don’t make them enough. For years I’ve made them the traditional way ─ in a pan and cut into squares. But then, while scrolling through Pintrest with my mom one day, we came across something that made fireworks go off in my brain: Rice Krispie treats in the shape of pumpkins. My mind was blown. I could hardly believe such an ingenious revelation.

I had to try it.

I looked through a couple of different recipes (because when I look for a recipe for a dish, I rarely, hardly ever just go with the first one that crosses my path). You wouldn’t think there were so many different ways to make pumpkin Rice Krispie treats, but there are, so I took the elements I liked from this one and combined it with that one and came up with my own. I think I might do some minor tweaking in the future, but for a first shot, I don’t think they turned out half bad.

Spiced Rice Krispie Treat Pumpkins

Ingredients:

  • ¼ cup butter
  • 1 bag regular-sized marshmallows (approximately 40 marshmallows)
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp pumpkin pie spice
  • 6 cups Rice Krispies (or any off-brand, they’re all the same)
  • Red & yellow liquid food coloring
  • Pretzel rods
  • Green M&M’s
  • Cooking spray

Instructions:

  1. In a large pot, melt the butter over low heat.
  2. Add the marshmallows and stir until completely melted and combined with the butter. Add about 12 drops of yellow food coloring and mix it together, then add about 3 drops of red food coloring and mix until color is uniform. Add red/yellow drops until you reach your desired color. Add spices and mix well.
  3. Add the Rice Krispies and stir to combine. Lower heat on the stove to lowest setting (this keeps the treats from cooling and hardening while you work).
  4. Coat the palm and fingers of one hand rather generously with cooking spray and roll the Rice Krispie mixture into small balls. (I’ve read where one person coated both sides of both hands liberally with oil after each ball, but I found I only had to spray the one side of one hand at the onset and that served to keep my hands sticky-free for the entire batch. I got thirteen pumpkins.) Reoil your hands as needed.
  5. Set each ball on parchment or waxed paper, and while still warm, press a pretzel stick into the top of each wee pumpkin for the stem and add a green M&M beside it to serve as a leaf.
  6. Enjoy immediately (because why wouldn’t you want to?) or cool until firm.

Give it a shot and don’t be shy to let me know what you think! I’m contemplating on posting a recipe once every month, since cooking and baking are my second biggest passions next to writing. And who knows? We may see some book-inspired recipes show up. Would you like that? Let me know in the comments!

National Book Month

October may very well be the best month of the year, for not only is it nestled within my favorite season of the year, autumn, it also happens to be National Book Month.

An entire month, dedicated to the amazingness of books. Of reading and enjoying books. This reminds me of a quote I once saw that still makes me laugh even years after first seeing it:

You go, Batman.

Really, perhaps it is because I’m an incurable reader, but I can’t quite understand how some people just don’t like reading. Books are an incredible thing, both fiction and non-fiction. Reading has become how we pass on information and stories. Without reading, without books, we are a people lost and fallen to the darkness of ignorance and the drudgery of mundane existence.

Books are portals to other places, other times, giving a reader the opportunity to go beyond and see, feel, and experience more. And sometimes, hidden inside these adventures, we find a lesson for our own lives. Don’t give up. Keep trying. Don’t lose hope. The easy road doesn’t always (rarely will ever) lead to a good place. Rise above. Have courage.

That we have a month celebrating books is a great thing, and for all of us readers out there it’s positively spectacular. Spread the love of books this month and share with others just how awesome these blocks of paper and ink really are. That just two simple ingredients can sway a soul is truly something magical.

So . . . what are you reading?

Celebrate National Book Month with a good read! Start your adventure today.