Sayonara to ’17 and What’s Coming

Hello everyone! Happy New Year! How was your Christmas? Merry? Bright? We were a little scattered over here in the Writing Corner and beyond, what with all that’s been going on this past year, but we pulled off another great holiday with the family nonetheless. The Lord’s blessings abound in all types of life’s weather.

Taking a moment to look back at the past year, I can remember feeling that 2017 was going to be a big year in my family ─ and boy did it turn out to be true! Here’s a bullet point list of some of what’s gone down:

  • The final volume of The Journey Taken was published, completing a seven volume, five year project
  • My younger brother got married, giving me my first-ever, super cool sister
  • In fact, I ended up attending a whopping 5 weddings this past year, with a life total of (I’m thinkin’) 6. So it’s a record, I dare say. I think it’s wonderful and exciting to have been witness to the beginning of so many new lives.
  • The farm’s greenhouse finally got covered
  • My older brother brought us a cat (poor thing was orphaned). This may seem small to most people, even undesirable by some, but this writer has been wanting a cat for years, and this wee, furry spaz has brought us a lot of laughter. He is also very warm when he decides to sit on your lap while you’re trying to write. His name is Chestyr.
  • We fixed up and sold (almost there!) the house we’ve been renting out
  • I’ve developed a fancy for making earrings ─ the whimsical sort, not fashion. I’ve never been very fashionable.

Quite a doozey, yeah? And that’s not even everything. But now the old year has come to a close and a new one has opened ─ it’s like turning to the first page of a brand new book you’ve never read before! The possibilities are endless. Here’s a few things that I am looking forward to:

  • More weddings! Oh, how the young ones have grown . . .
  • Plying my culinary craft at the farm stand (gotta start small, right? For those of you nearby, keep a lookout for magical munchies come spring)
  • Riding a thousand miles on my dual-sport hybrid bicycle of beautifulness (this’ll be the summer . . . this’ll be the summer . . .)
  • Getting that blasted license
  • Working on my new story. Last November I participated in NaNoWriMo, kicking off the start of a whole new writing project that I’m calling Falconsbane (many thanks to everyone who voted and helped me out). I won’t say an awful lot here, but I’ll tell you that it’s not a part of the TJT universe. Don’t be alarmed, I’m not anywhere near done with Jasinda and its peoples, but this time I felt like branching off to a new location and building something from scratch again. It’s about a young man by the name of Roscha who goes from a fairly anonymous existence to discover a bigger destiny than he ever could have imagined. There, that’s all I’m going to say about it now. You can read the synopsis here and check out the Pinterest board dedicated to it here. I’m super excited about it and pumped to share the journey with you all, so stay tuned!

Now how about you all?

Take a moment to look back over 2017, what things ─ big or small ─ happened? Have you grown, changed because of it?

What sorts of things are you looking forward to this year? Don’t be shy to share in the comments!

Warm up with a Skillet – and Meat and Potatoes and . . .

Hello everyone! Can you believe December’s halfway over already? Christmas is almost here! Please tell me I’m not the only one running the USPS ragged with packages coming in almost every day. It’s so exciting! I can hardly wait to give these gifts to my loved ones.

Now, I know that usually people cook up some special recipes for Christmas, but believe it or not ─ we don’t! Outside of gingerbread men, chex mix, and haystacks, my family doesn’t make fancy food for the holidays (Christmas Eve we’ve eaten pizza and wings at my grandparents’ for as long as I can remember, and our traditional Christmas dinner is your basic lasagna. Nevertheless, they’re both family favorites).

So today I’m going to share with you another of my favorite dinners: Cajun Kielbasa Skillet. It’s a simple dish with a handful of ingredients that packs some great flavors and a bit of bite (yes, I’m in favor of spicy food. The only one in the family, too, it seems). I hope you’ll give it a try sometime ─ and don’t forget to tell me what you think of it!

Ingredients:

4 medium potatoes

1 large onion

2 medium sweet peppers (any color, or try a mix! I like to use red and orange ones)

1 lb. beef kielbasa

1-2 teaspoons Cajun seasoning (depending on your taste)

Instructions:

Gather all your ingredients. (This is an important step that I don’t practice as often as I should when both cooking and baking. It’s worth the extra step, believe me).

Cube the potatoes and chop the onion. Slice the sweet peppers into strips and then cut the strips in half. Cut the kielbasa into 1/2 inch or so pieces.

Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat and add the vegetables and kielbasa. Cook, stirring occasionally, until potatoes are soft. Add the seasoning and stir to coat, then it’s ready to serve!

I made this last night and served it with a batch of baking powder biscuits ─ super delicious!

Thoughts on a Christmas Classic

Well, with it being December and Christmas and all, I thought I’d share with you one of the universe’s all-time classics (at least since 1843: A Christmas Carol. This story has become so popular that you might be hard pressed to find a person who hasn’t heard of it. Ever wonder how we got the term ‘Don’t be such a Scrooge’ and how ‘humbug’ became so popular?

You guessed it.

A Christmas Carol, by our dear Charles Dickens.

This story is small in size and big on impact, recounting the tale of a miserable old miser by the name of Ebenezer Scrooge, who cannot see the joys of Christmas and will not open his heart to the world and people around him. Then he receives a visit from the ghost of his long-dead business partner, Jacob Marley, who warns him of the woes awaiting him after death and gives him a heads up about his opportunity for hope in the future.

Thus begins Scrooge’s journey, his heart shattered as old and painful memories are resurrected, the lives of good and suffering people outside of his melancholy existence are made known to him, and the mysteries and miseries of a dark future are revealed if his ways do not change.

This is a powerful story that teaches us to overcome ourselves, to see the joys in life beyond the hardships and troubles and disappointments, and to share that joy and compassion and impish good cheer with the people around us. There’s more to life than money (gain/success) — this is but one lesson Scrooge learns. Money doesn’t bring happiness, otherwise there would have been no need for the spirits of Christmas Past, Present, and Yet To Come to visit.

Money doesn’t bring happiness. Happiness and joy come from a far less material source, and once Scrooge realizes this he is reborn as an all-new person. This just goes to show that you’re never too old and never too far gone to change and turn a new leaf, try again. The journey may not (and usually will not) be easy or pleasant, but nothing worthwhile is every easy. True and lasting change comes from the depths of the heart where all the gunk we keep hidden there has dried up and stuck to the walls ─ it requires some serious scouring to clean it ─ but is it not worth it in the end?

Scrooge relived some very painful moments from his past, saw the struggling of good people in his present life, and knew the fear of a bleak future were he to remain on his path of destruction. When dawn came his eyes were opened and he received a second chance.

And by George he took it! The hope he now has makes him positively giddy. He now finds joy and happiness in giving to and serving others, not hoarding for himself. He finds love, and that it was always there waiting for him. The Spirit of Christmas has awakened in his soul, and nothing remains as it was

But Scrooge isn’t the only character in this story. We have his nephew, whose joy in life is untainted by his uncle’s grouchy attitude. His love and faith in Scrooge is admirable. Then there’s Bob Cratchet and his family, poor and content to be so, for they have each other. Despite his less than stellar treatment, Bob Cratchet remains grateful to Scrooge for the job he holds and the provision it provides for his family. These men go to show that, no matter how wretched we might be, no matter how many others despise or couldn’t care less about us, there is always someone who wishes us well.

This is a story about hope, which is an absolutely perfect theme for Christmas, the holiday we celebrate hope coming into the world through Jesus Christ.

May you all find hope and joy this Christmas!

NaNoWriMo Finale and Excerpts

Happy December!! Tis the final month of the year, 2017’s last hurrah, the season of giving ─ and taking a deep breath after the marathon of NaNo! The race has finally come to a close, and so many of us have crossed the finish line exhausted, sweating, bloody and bruised from the trials . . .

Okay, maybe not sweating, but who’s looking at details, right?

Right?

The month of November has brought into this world innumerable brand new, beautiful, bursting-with-promise-and-potential words. Magic has happened. Blood, sweat, and tears have been shed. Caffeine has been consumed in excessive amounts (really, I think November is the month coffee and other caffeine containing beverages spike in consumption). And the result has been the genesis of many brand-new stories well on their way to spread inspiration, wonder, adventure, and marvelous characters across the globe to eager readers everywhere. How mighty the word!

 

Book, Old, Clouds, Tree, Birds, Bank, Rush, Landscape

Over here in the Writing Corner we’ve contributed 64.5k to the pot, and over the next month and more I plan on adding to that as this new project progresses.

Now, because I know you’ve all been as thrilled as I am about this project, I’m going to give you a few short excerpts of the rough and unrefined, raw first draft.

•  Roscha didn’t respond. His teeth were welded together, hardly allowing even a grunt to escape his throat, let alone an answer.

•  That had never stopped him from accepting Shyloh’s challenges. It had never once deterred him from climbing trees, or the cliff by the lake, or the church turrets. “I must be a sucker for punishment,” he muttered.

•  Roscha lifted his head to find Shyloh standing in the doorway, a lantern in one hand and a bulging satchel in the other. “What are you doing back so early?”

“What, do you want me to leave?”

“No, but . . .”

Shyloh smiled in the corner of his mouth and walled in. “You didn’t show up and I was getting bored of waiting.”

•  Roscha’s attention zeroed in. This is it . . .


Also, if you’ve been curious about what this new world and theme of the story looks like, check out my board on Pinterest dedicated to the project!

Thanksgiving and Feasting Contemplations

Hello, everyone! Thanksgiving has already come and gone (for many of us, anyway), yet the season of thanksgiving should last far longer than a single day, don’t you think? We are given so much every day, ought we not then give thanks every day for these things? And I have often wondered, while we celebrate Thanksgiving and adopt this theme of giving thanks for all that we have and love ─ to whom are we thankful?

All that aside, the passing of this feat-ive holiday reminds us of the fact that November is almost over ─ which means so is NaNoWriMo! I have been busting my rear quarters and head quarters on this challenge of writing a novel in a month, and while at times it may not seem like such a good idea, it’s also fun to test your limits and see just how far you really can go. So far my top daily word count is 6,681, and you can keep track of my daily word counts right along with me from my Twitter account.

Since we’re in the season of Thanksgiving and everyone is practically salivating over thoughts of feasting on crispy skinned roast turkeys, creamy mashed potatoes, sweet and tangy cranberry sauce, steamy-hot rolls, and so on and so forth, I thought I might share on the subject. But today, instead of going into detail about the history and meaning behind the holiday (a worthy tale, to be sure) I wanted to take a different route and go into the subject of feasting itself ─ historical and fantasy feasting, to be more precise. I want to share with you a blog post by Sara Gailey on the Barns&Noble Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog, titled On Feasting. I read this and found it eye-opening and insightful. There’s little better than reading and learning something new that you didn’t know you didn’t know.

So, without further adieu:


On Feasting

by Sarah Gailey

 

You are a character in a fantasy novel. Congratulations: you have been invited to a feast.

The first course is already on the table when you arrive: strange, small fruits and pungent cheeses, goblets brimming with wine, tiny salted fish, smoked meats.

The second course arrives before you’ve had time to sample everything in the first: small birds cooked in cinnamon and pepper, rum-soaked buns studded with currants, eels in a pie with a flaking brown crust. Olives so salty that they make your tongue curl. More wine.

The third course comes along quickly, and it’s a beautiful one: peacocks with the tails still attached, their bodies stuffed with figs and ginger, their beaks flaking with gold leaf. Huge joints of boar. Good brown beer, or more wine, whichever you want. A whole suckling pig with an apple in its mouth, its skin dripping with molasses and pepper. A huge fish served on a bed of squid and salt.

This is like nothing you’ve ever experienced before. Most of the food tastes strange (wonderful, but strange). You don’t know the names of half the things you’re eating. In the corner, musicians play familiar songs, and there are several rounds of raised glasses at particularly good choruses of songs you remember from your time in the army.

There is no respite. Food bows the table. You try to taste everything, but it’s all whisked away so quickly to make room for more. At the end of the night, dessert: sweet wine and tiny glasses of strong anise liquor. Huge bowls filled with grapes and oranges and lemons and kumquats and huge green fruits that you don’t know the name of, with centers like custard. Cakes, a dazzling variety of them, all sparkling with sugar. This one is filled with a banana cream; that one is dotted with strawberries. Spiced sugared nuts, tasting like nutmeg and clove and honey. At the center of the table, towering and beautiful, a croquembouche: puff pastries piped full of sweet cream, stacked into a tall pyramid, and strung with threads of caramel. Half of them are filled with vanilla cream, and half with chocolate.

After dessert, as everyone tries to find buttons to undo so that they won’t feel quite so full, coffee and tea and brandy and pipes.

No one is murdered at the feast. You stagger home sated and drunk and groaning and certain that you won’t need to eat for months. You sampled everything that you could reach, but you’re sure that there was more you didn’t get to try. You hope you’ll be invited back.

What a nice story. Nobody died, the food was all delicious. Perhaps this is a children’s book. Perhaps it’s a happy ending, a wedding feast. All is well. How pleasant this is.

You can stop reading now if you’d like.

A parade is more than just a show, and a feast is more than just a meal. The feast to which you were invited was more than just a collection of important people eating as much as humanly possible. It was a display of wealth and power. It was a subtle, quiet threat. It was a bribe. It was a conversation.

Fantasy feasts are modeled after real-life feasts, and those feasts were conversations, too: between those who had power, and those who did not. Every dish that graced the table at a lush, overwrought feast was a line in a victory speech.

Nutmeg and cloves, from Indonesia.

Tea and oranges, from China or India.

Bananas and cocoa, from Central or South America.

Coffee from Ethiopia, or maybe from Central America.

Sugar and rum and molasses.

Lemons.

Peacocks.

Tobacco.

You and a hundred others are sitting in a dining room, arrayed in your fineries, and every new platter that emerges from the kitchen is there to remind you of how you got where you are. Look around you: who is wearing silk? Jewels? Gold? Silver? These are the people who know where the food comes from. The food is a prize, a trophy that you are being allowed to see and touch and feel part of.

Some of the people at the feast are responsible for bringing back the goods, others for ensuring the people who grow and harvest them don’t change their minds about who has the right to their goods, to their land, to their lives. Still others are responsible for nothing but feasting, enjoying the novelty and variety of the evening, and being pleased with the results of whatever regime they support.

Consider the journey of the tiny salted fish: packed in barrels aboard a ship that also carries peacocks in cages, or crates of bananas, or a precious orange tree with its roots shrouded in burlap. Consider the people whose hands touched the bananas before they were sent to you. Consider the origin of the spun sugar that is draped over the croquembouche. Where did it come from? Who wielded the knife that cut down the cane plant? Who choked on the smoke from the burning of the cane field?

Do you know?

Do you care?

Or is your belly full?

It is easier, isn’t it, to enjoy the feeling of your belly being full? If you think too much about the display you’ve witnessed, about what it means, about the empire you live in—the sugar might turn to ash in your mouth. It’s easier not to think about it, or to imagine that the display you’ve just witnessed is a celebration of free trade. Your kingdom sends ships and caravans and armies out to map the far reaches of the world, and to bring back whatever it can. And if people leave the feast—the parade of wealth and power—wanting more? And if they decide to send more ships and caravans, and if they decide to claim the land that the tea grows on, the land where the peacocks are fed, the land where the gold rests waiting in the earth for ready hands to take it?

So be it. There will be more ships, and there will be more armies, and there will be more feasting. Go to sleep, for now, and wake up with a headache from the wine, and remember the feast. Remember the silks and the jewels. Remember the tobacco and the lemons. Remember the strange fruit you don’t know the name of.

Remember that, and forget the rest. The rest is ugly. The rest is hard.

You have been invited to a feast.

Will you attend?


Isn’t that fascinating? I never knew that feasting ─ at least back in the day ─ was such a display of power and influence. Like the ignorant attendee, I never even thought about it.

So, now that you are more aware of the unspoken words behind the myriad of dishes presented at grand banquets, will you consider more the origin of where such dishes came from? Granted, a traditional Thanksgiving feast is comprised of foods that can all be grown nationally here in America, but have you considered the ‘trade routes’ all of these had to travel in order to reach your local grocery store? The same goes for all sorts of different foods we have available to us today. Here in Upstate New York, we wouldn’t have things like bananas, mangos, citrus fruits like oranges and lemons, shrimp, tuna, pineapples, a vast majority of common spices like cinnamon and ginger, COFFEE, TEA ─ the list just goes on . Without trade, we would be eating (and wearing) only that which we could produce in our local environment (apples, anyone?). And it all started long ago and far away.

What are you serving, and where did it come from?

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.