"No matter how terrified you may be, own your fear and take that leap anyway because whether you land on your feet or on your butt, the journey is well worth it."
-- Laurie Laliberte
"If your dreams do not scare you, they are not big enough."
-- Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage."
-- Anais Nin

Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Writers Go Marching Two by Two

I have just finished editing a book that I hope to be a huge seller. I mean, I always hope they do well, but this one in particular hooked me. It wasn't so much the story, which is terrific, unpredictable, and sometimes a bit depressing; it was more the writing team with whom I worked. You see, Nathan and Derek Howe are two of the most endearing writers I've met.

They have gained my utmost respect for a few reasons. I won't go into the hows and the whys now; I'll save that for a future post. Just know that they, and their new novel, Aiden, have wheedled their way into my heart. And I've invited Nathan to join us today to tell us about his experience writing with his brother. He'll tell you . . . after you check out this cool cover:

Buy Aiden for Kindle on Amazon.com

Writing is generally a solitary art, and for me this is mostly true. I sit at home with headphones on, listening to music, blocking the world out. However, I don’t write alone; I co-write with my brother Derek. We’ve both tried to write stories on our own but never made it past a few chapters (in my brother's case, never made it past the first page). We both love to read and always wanted to write a book, but neither of us actually thought we'd finish one. 

About a year and a half ago, my brother came up with an idea that I really liked. He comes up with ideas for books all the time, some good, some bad, and some just weird. The idea he came up with stuck with me this time. As soon as he said it, I could see a story form in my head. I knew what I wanted to do with it. So as soon as I could, I wrote the first chapter. I sent it to him to see if he liked it. He made some edits, added some lines, and sent it back to me. Later we talked about the book and where I was planning to go with it. It wasn’t long before we were both knee deep in the book writing. 

A lot of people seem to have trouble writing with others; one seems to do all the work or they just fight over how they want the story to go. We’ve never had that problem, well maybe a little fight here and there, but nothing too serious. 

The reason co-writing works so well with us is we can play off of each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Derek is good at coming up with ideas and outlining. I’m good taking those ideas and outlines and putting them to paper. Because I know Derek is going to go over what I write and add what he thinks needs to be added, I gained a freedom I didn’t have before. I don’t have to worry about missing parts, or forgetting certain details, because I know Derek will find them and make it work. And if he can’t, well, we can talk about it and figure it out together. 

Before, if I got stuck on something, I would give up. With my brother, I know he is there to help me. We both push each other to become better writers. In the past year we have improved a lot and plan to continue the process. That is one of the best parts: we can challenge each other to become better. 

I could talk on and on about why co-writing works so well for us, but I won’t. I will give you the most important reason: we have fun. It is that simple. We love to see what the other one has added to the story and see what the other can do. If we didn’t have fun, we would have never finished Aiden. 

I've talked a lot about what works for us. All the advantages we gain from working together. But not all is perfect. I mentioned it can lead to some disagreements about where, or how, parts of the story should go. But that has been rare for us. Another problem we run into is that I write a lot. At such a pace that my brother can't always keep up. At times that can be frustrating for me, and for him as well. But it can be a good thing for us, too. It allows Derek to pick my best work, my best stories, to work on. 

I would like to thank Laurie for her great work on Aiden, and letting me guest blog. She put a lot into Aiden, making it a book that we are proud of, and I hope that you, the reader, will enjoy.

Happy Reading!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

A New Way for Kids to Eat Their Vegetables

This one is specifically aimed at the parents out there who have a difficult time convincing their littles to consume anything green. A friend of mine made this recipe for me last night and I scolded her for not making more. It's ridiculously easy and I can almost guarantee it will get your kids (and my BFF) to eat their green beans.

It's also a great dish to make when you're busy in the kitchen, maybe preparing chicken fried steak and mashed potatoes. Let's face it, you can only tend to so many pans at once. This one doesn't need tending. In fact, the less attention it gets, the better. If you stir it too often, your beans will fall apart completely and you'll end up with very tasty mush. The only reason you stir it is to get it to caramelize somewhat evenly.

This concoction is very much a southern dish. It's fried in a skillet and utilizes bacon grease, so it may not be an every week staple as is. My brain is already hacking at this recipe to make it more healthy and keeping it kid friendly, so I bet I'll have an alternative that you can serve guilt-free on a regular basis.

Meanwhile, however much you think you need when you make it . . . double that. We had five cans of beans collecting dust in the pantry, but didn't want to use them all up at once. Normally, three cans should be enough for six people, but we all wanted seconds and there was none to be had.

For now, however, I will stick to the recipe as it was given to me. Sorry, y'all! The beans didn't last long enough to take pictures.

Skillet Green Beans

4 slices (about 1/4 lb.) bacon, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1/4 to 1/2 medium-sized onion, chopped
3 (14.5 oz) cans cut green beans, drained
4 T butter
up to 1/4 c sugar
salt and pepper to taste

Brown bacon and onions in a large, nonstick skillet over medium heat then remove
Remove all but 1 Tbsp of the grease if you find it excessive (or leave it in, it's up to you)
Add beans
Drop butter on top and allow it to melt on its own
Stir occasionally, and gently, with a wooden spoon, while you tend to other things
When you're almost ready to take it off the stove, return bacon and onions to the pan, then add sugar, salt, and pepper, and stir to combine
Give it another few minutes to let the sugar caramelize

Do not panic if the edges of your beans or onions get dark; they should. However, if at any time, you fear they're getting away from you, or cooking too fast, reduce the heat. It's ready when everything else is. Just remove it from the stove, and serve.

This recipe is also budget friendly because canned green beans are often on sale. My local mom and pop grocery store has at least one brand on sale every week. That's probably why they ended up in my pantry. (I've never been a big fan of canned veggies.)

If onions are a deal breaker for your kids, then leave them out or use onion powder instead. That will give you that sweet, oniony flavor and the kids won't see it.

Rest assured, I will be playing with this in the near future and figuring out a way to make it a bit more healthy without skimping on the flavor. We could probably start by switching out the sugar for honey or agave nectar. In fact, I bet honey would taste even better than the yumminess I tasted last night.

Happy Cooking!

Sunday, July 13, 2014

I See You! (free crochet pattern)

Yeah, yeah, yeah...I know it's been a while since I've treated you to a new, free pattern, but I plan to make up for it. The prototypes for the book are basically made. The rough drafts of all the patterns are written. All that's left is a bit of spit and polish, and a whole lot of high quality picture taking. Until then, you get to reap the benefits of a newly finished project:

The Blog Collection
Eyeglasses Case

small amount of Color A
small amount of Color B
size G (5.0 mm) crochet hook
smaller hook or yarn needle for weaving in ends

Note: All instructions are in American terms. This pattern is worked in the round which may make your beginning stitch travel (as when working amigurumi). Instructions are given at the best places to correct stitch position so that color changes are obscured. There is no need to join and ch1 at the end/beginning of each round.

ch 15 w/Color A

Round 1: sc in second ch from hook and each ch across, turn, sc in unused loop of each ch across (28 sts here and throughout)

Round 2: sc in each st around

Rounds 3-10: repeat Round 2

Lay your project flat. If your last stitch is not at the side of the pouch, add or remove stitches until it is. Change to Color B.

Round 11: sc in each st around

Round 12: sc in BLO of each st around

Round 13: rep Round 12

Round 14: [sc in BLO of next st, dc in BLO of next st] rep around

Round 15: [dc in BLO of next st, sc in BLO of next st] rep around

Note: Yes, at the end of Round 14/beginning of Round 15, you will work two dc side by side.

Round 16: [sc in BLO of next st, dc in BLO of next st] rep around

Note: Yes, at the end of Round 15/beginning of Round 16, you will work two sc side by side.

Round 17: rep Round 15

Round 18: rep Round 16

Round 19: sc in BLO of each st around

Rounds 20-21: rep Round 19

Lay your project flat. If your last stitch is not at the side of the pouch, add or remove stitches until it is. Change to Color A.

Round 22: sc in each st around

Rounds 23-24: sc in each st around

Stop here and slide your glasses into the pouch. You should have about ½" of space from the top of the glasses to the end of the case so your glasses don't easily slip out on their own. If not, continue to add rounds of sc until you do.

Lay your project flat. If your last stitch is not at the side of the pouch, add or remove stitches until it is.

Optional Hanging Loop: join w/sl st in next st, ch 10, join w/ sl st in same st, sl st in each ch back to first ch

Optional Button Closure: Find the middle front of your project and mark it for attaching your button. Find the corresponding stitch on the back of the project and mark it for the button loop.

sc in each st stopping at marked st on back of project, ch12, attach in same st w/sl st, sl st in each ch around loop, sc in next st and each st around

finish off, weave in ends

This pattern has been tested only by me. If you find a mistake, please leave it in the comments below and I will make the necessary corrections. If you need help, feel free to post any questions in the comments and I will get to them asap.

Any pattern I design and post here is my property. Please do not duplicate my patterns for any reason especially to sell. Instead, please link to my blog or to the pattern page when referencing one of my patterns.

You are more than welcome to offer finished items made from my patterns for sale. I see no reason why you should not profit from your hard work. However, I'd really appreciate it if you gave me credit for the design; please reference my blog or the pattern page.

If you do make any of my patterns, I'd love to see your finished items; please feel free to email pictures to me.


Happy Crocheting!

Sunday, July 6, 2014

The Bloody North

Well, we've done it again. Tony Healey wrote it; I edited it, and now it's available for your reading pleasure. The first title in Tony's The Fallen Crown series, The Bloody North, is now live on Amazon. It's also only 99 cents for the e-book right now, so grab it! Anyhow, Tony has a bit more to say on the subject, so I'll let him do the rest:


My first exposure to fantasy was The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis. I saw the old BBC adaptation of it (which I still think stands head and shoulders above both the animated movie and the more recent Disney motion picture) and then found a copy of it in paperback at a car boot sale. I was about nine at the time. I spent months afterward trying to track down copies of all the others. I succeeded, never paying more than about fifty pence for each one. Eventually I had all seven Narnia books lined up on my shelf, each one from a different edition.

A year or so later, I found a box set containing all seven, with cover art to match their respective BBC adaptations. I used that as my excuse for reading them all again from scratch. I still have that same box set now.

In my teens, my uncle loaned me a copy of Spellsinger by Alan Dean Foster, and I proceeded to bug him for the other five, tearing through them at a rate of knots. A few years back, I had the honour of having a short story of mine published alongside Mr. Foster. In that anthology (see: Resistance Front by Bernard Schaffer, Alan Dean Foster, Harlan Ellison, et al.) I dedicated my story to Alan, thanking him for Spellsinger.

If the work of C. S. Lewis had introduced me to fantasy as a genre (at the age I was when I read it, I honestly didn't pick up on all of the religious notes – it was just a good story), then Spellsinger showed me you could take traditional fantasy and inject it with facets of modern life.

From a very early age, we'd had three films on VHS I'd constantly watch, over and over again. The first was The Goonies – recorded off of the TV with commercials included. The other two were Watership Down and The Lord of the Rings.

After reading Spellsinger, my mind turned to those two cartoons I'd watched as a small child. So I read my way through Watership Down, and then tackled The Lord of the Rings at about the same time as The Fellowship of the Ring came out at the cinema. With Watership Down, I got to see world building on par with Narnia, but done in an entirely different way. Set in the world of rabbits, with their own language, their own beliefs, their own mythology. I found it completely fascinating.

The Lord of the Rings was a slog most of the time, but I have happy memories of the experience. It was a long work to tackle in my teens, but I managed it, just about. A recent attempt at a reread failed miserably. I simply lost interest. A lot of that comes from the books I am used to reading now as an adult. They're faster, more concise. To my mind, Tolkien's opus is a must-read for anyone. But I don't think many will delve back in for a second go. It's a huge undertaking. The Lord of the Rings is a classic work of fantasy that truly established a gold standard for the genre at the time. And there have been many attempts by other writers at recreating Middle-Earth in their own work, to varying degrees of success.

Coming out of my teens, The Dark Tower series and J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter were hugely influential to me. What Stephen King accomplishes with The Dark Tower is something he has tried often and succeeded at rarely. That is, telling a long story and holding the reader's attention from start to finish. Some – novels like The Stand and IT – have worked brilliantly. Others . . . ugh. But for whatever reason, The Dark Tower grips you from the first tantalizing sentence ("The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed . . .") and never lets go. It's a little crazy, it's a bit of a mash-up of multiple genres and sources, but that's okay. You take it in your stride. The Dark Tower is King's greatest work. A rich, hugely entertaining epic.

The very same can be said for Rowling's Potter series. I read them one after the other (luckily the last, The Deathly Hallows, was just coming out as I finished The Half-Blood Prince). My habit with those was to sit on the kitchen floor at night, cup of tea by my side and read into the early hours. I lived in a house with six other siblings at the time, so really the kitchen at night was about the most peaceful place for reading.

She did a fantastic job of world-building, of plotting each book out so that it was its own self-contained story, yet progressed the overall plot piece by piece. Readers were literally spellbound (forgive the pun) by the interactions between the characters and the relationships that developed along the way. By the progression of a plot that grew steadily darker and darker – and by what had happened in the past, before the books take place. Certainly the greatest, well-rounded character of the series is not Harry Potter himself, but Severus Snape. Dumbledore's machinations become somewhat omnipresent by the end, whereas Snape comes into his own in what is a truly heartbreaking series of revelations.

Recently, I found myself browsing the kindle store for something new to read when I came across The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie. I got the sample, devoured it in one sitting, and bought the rest of the book.

The next day, I found myself in town buying the whole trilogy in paperback and proceeded to read them one after the other. Abercrombie takes the conventions of the genre and turns them on their head. First of all, he does away with the stilted writing of the past and brings his contemporary voice to Fantasy – complete with swearing, sex, and some of the most complicated characters I've ever come across. Each and every one of them broken in some way.

Glokta, broken in body but not in spirit. Logen Ninefingers, broken inside as he tries (in vain) to turn away from the man he used to be. These two characters begin the story broken and end up whole by the end (though not necessarily better people as a result) whilst the character of Luthar begins whole and is steadily broken first in body, then in spirit. Abercrombie writes a kind of fantasy that critics and readers alike have come to coin "Grimdark." I guess it had its beginnings in the work of Robert E. Howard way back when, and I reckon there were the seeds of it in the dark deeds that went (mostly) unseen, in the background, throughout The Lord of The Rings. If Aragorn and company spent the majority of those books fighting nameless, faceless hordes of Orcs with little repercussions for their deeds, Abercrombie makes every kill resonate.

Men fight men, with all the horrific slaughter and detail involved. And when the fight is over, when most of them have died, the survivors are left with their guilt and their shame and their hurt. Left to deal with it all on their own.

It's no wonder, in Abercrombie's fictional setting, that Logen turned out the way he did.

But what some reviewers of The Blade Itself have criticized it, and its sequels, for is its lack of hope, and I have to disagree there. I found plenty of hope in The First Law trilogy. It's there, trust me. What Abercrombie does is to counter-balance these moments, these flashes of characters achieving the positive, with the darkness. If a character is winning in one chapter, the next time we meet them, their luck has taken a turn for the worst.

Is that fair? Probably not. But is it realistic to what we experience in real life?


I took a similar approach in The Bloody North, by having a character consumed with grief to the point where he'd almost stopped living. He just existed – until, that is, his company is slaughtered in front of him and he's left on his own. What ensues is a bloody path of vengeance as Rowan comes to terms with all that he's lost and his quest to destroy the man who took it all away from him. Along the way we get to know some of the world in which The Fallen Crown series takes place.

This just the first small chapter in a truly epic story. If you think The Bloody North sets the stage, well . . . wait till you read Book 2. Boy, oh boy, is it going to blow your socks off.

Next level doesn't cut it.

Thank you, Tony.
Happy Reading!