Check out my fiction - http://www.jaletac.com
Check out my science fiction series - The Fall of the Altairan Empire

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Thursday Recipe - Hibiscus Syrup, Take 2

I posted a recipe for hibiscus syrup a while back that used just dried flowers and mint leaves. This is another variation that makes an awesome Hawaiian punch.

Dried hibiscus flowers are available usually at Latino markets, at least that's where I've had the best luck finding them. Or you can order them online.

Give this a try. It makes wonderful punch. Or use it as a flavoring for frosting or pudding.

Hibiscus Syrup

1-2 c. dried hibiscus flowers
1/3 c. sliced fresh ginger
1 lemon, sliced
4 c. water
2 c. sugar

In a large saucepan, mix hibiscus, ginger, lemon, and water. Bring to a boil. Turn heat off, cover, and let sit for about an hour.

Strain liquid, discarding the solids. Pour liquid back into the saucepan.

Stir in the sugar. Turn the heat back on and bring to a low simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 1-2 hours until the syrup is reduced to about 2 c. of liquid.

Cool and store in the refrigerator. The syrup will keep for several months.

Hawaiian Punch

1 c. hibiscus syrup
1 quart pineapple juice
1 quart lemon-lime soda OR 1 quart lemonade

Mix all together. Add ice as desired. Serve chilled.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Author Interview - Brett Jamison

Today, I want to introduce you to a friend of mine. I've known him for years. We worked together at the Christa McAuliffe Space Education Center. He's been writing, acting, and producing simulator "shows" for many years. His body of work is quite extensive, but unless you attend one of the space simulators in Utah, you have probably never encountered any of his work. His mediums have been unconventional, to say the least.

He's got a lot of good advice to share, as well as a fascinating story. He's young and has years to establish himself as a writer. I can't wait to see what he comes up with next!

So give Brett Jamison a big welcome to the Far Edge of Normal! Here is his story in his own words:

I became interested in storytelling at a rather young age. My family was always into movies and television. As early as I can remember we gathered as a family to watch things like the Muppet Show or Due South or Malcom in the Middle. There was even a time my older siblings would cram themselves into my parents room weekly for the latest installment of 24. While I didn’t start writing until I was 18, I enjoyed several other storytelling mediums including acting and running interactive simulations.

I’ve since dabbled in writing for film, television, plays, short stories, poetry, video games, simulations, escape rooms, and have even done some novel work (though don’t expect anything in that medium for quite some time). Taking on each of these forms has taught me quite a bit about writing in general but there are a couple of interesting things I learned from the most obscure forms that I find important to share.

Writing for simulators: Traditional storytelling usually happens with little to no audience participation. Writing for video games and other simulations is altogether a different beast. In these mediums the audience is the protagonist. Characters, plot lines, locations, environments not only have to be compelling but they have to be adaptable. As I’ve tackled projects meant for spaceship simulators in particular, I’ve had to take a different approach to the story I’m trying to tell. Where, in my other stories I’m focused on the protagonist and creating a scenario based on their actions and reactions, with simulations I have to create characters with devices and decisions pre-rendered. Stronger motivations that will propel them toward achieving their goal whether they’re interacted with or not because the actions of the protagonist cannot be predicted. I can make some educated guesses and carefully plant evidence that will hopefully guide the participants in the direction I would prefer them to go, but for the story and the set and the computers to really give the feeling of authenticity and immersion, I have to allow those in the simulation the freedom to make choices as they see fit. 

This presented many challenges. I found myself writing failsafes into the story by way of clearer exposition or characters with higher clearance that could communicate with the audience if they’re asked any questions. I had to be more precise in my timing of the story, knowing exactly when specific things were going to happen and where so events of the story could continue regardless of where the audience decided to be at that same time. My scripts were more detailed, bigger, trying to account for every situation. The world I was playing in had to be as concrete as possible so if I had to tell the audience no, I could point to something specific that wouldn’t make it feel like I as the writer/director was cheating. 

This isn’t to say that other stories, good and bad, don’t have all of these world elements completely nailed down. In fact, I think most of the greatest epics in all of literary history have bibles they could publish about histories and timelines and events that happened outside of the actions of the main character. The difference here is that I had to be prepared, at a moments notice, to present these things to the audience. I didn’t just have to have it written down, I had to know it backwards and forward. 

Another interesting point here was that all of my stories had to happen within a set amount of time. Meaning, there wasn’t much leeway in terms of spreading the story across days or weeks. The action that the audience was participating in needed to be immediate and span the length of the simulation. Developing stakes and setting up scenarios where this sort of thing was possible made for some interesting hurdles. I think it all went back to building the world. With every story I told, I would go back and add more to the history of the world I’d created. If I wanted to invent a super villain, I’d edit a story I’d told before to add a character that would later become the super villain. That way, whenever someone would come back, the shock and awe would really hit them hard. I’d usually try to make whomever it was an ally of sorts. Those character arcs I think are the most compelling regardless of the medium.

The scope of my stories became quite a bit larger. In some cases, I’d have a storyline that followed one or two characters that spanned 10 or 15 simulations. Each of them ranging between two and a half to 18 hour simulations each. Different parts of the world would build onto histories of characters that were being interacted with and elements of the software would change based on upgrades they’d find throughout the story. The best simulation I think I ever wrote was an 18 hour mission called, “The Rise”. A story about an alien-fearing admiral and his wife who became so corrupt they almost destroyed their own people. The most interesting story I wrote was being told to 7th, 8th and 9th graders. Four two hour simulations for each grade level. The story spanned all three grades and included all sorts of scientific and mathematical problems that the kids had to solve all while visiting other dimensions and unveiling the universe’s darkest secrets. These each poured into after-school flights and set up some of the lore for simulations we’d tell during summer camps.

Similar to these space simulations, I’ve written a couple of experiences for escape rooms, the modern day entertainment phenomenon. I got into this platform because of the experience I’d had developing interactive simulation stories. After going to several escape rooms and feeling their presentation lacked a certain pizzazz, I realized adding story elements to each of the clues not only made the time in the room more interesting, if done correctly, it could give the audience a reason to want to come back and explore the other rooms because there were things they hadn’t solved yet.

These stories were similar to simulations in that I had to have time frames listed for all of the action regardless of where the attendees were in their progression of the room. There were also story elements that would trigger only when certain puzzles were solved. While I haven’t been able to spend as much time on this form in particular, I daydream regularly about the potential this type of immersive entertainment has to tell incredibly engaging and compelling stories. It’s definitely a challenge that I intend to return to some day.

I’ve most recently landed on playwriting. Finishing up my final semester of college came with a need for a senior project. I decided the best thing for me to do was put my storytelling abilities to one final test before tossing myself out into the professional world. I’m currently working on writing a full length play called, “It’s Radio Show Time”. A murder mystery melodrama set in the 1940s. Strange things are happening on the set of America’s most beloved Radio Show and one detective has to figure out what it is before time runs out.

I’ve always loved the theater. I’ve been trained in it and acting on the stage since I was 10. There’s something about interaction with a live audience that resonates with the excitement veins in my body. This is the first project I’ve tackled of it’s kind and it’s been quite the experience I think in part because of my work with simulations. In the other mediums I’ve had to have so much more going on, so much over-the-top world building, so many ties to so many different things just to make everything make sense. The world I was playing in had to be huge because it was the same world people were stepping into every time they attended a simulation. With this play, it’s much more intimate.

I’ve come to understand that this may be the only time the audience ever sees this world. I have had to cut so many unimportant ties to bigger pictures that didn’t do anything but overload the audience. I don’t have 15 people all running software during the time of this show. They don’t have the chance to dig around the documents discovered by the detective on the stage, they can’t access the police archives or the bank records. All they have is what they see and hear. Because of that, I can zoom in. I constantly have to ask myself, “why is this here?”. If the answer takes longer than 20 seconds to explain or branches outside of the realm of the main characters I have set up, it’s scrapped.

As I’ve gone through my training and development as a writer I’ve learned a lot about my authorial voice, pushing boundaries and inventing new characters. I want to do that. I do that as often as possible. Writing in so many different mediums has taught me the importance of understanding what each of these mediums has to offer and how they communicate. The better I understand that, the more effective my storytelling can become. And what writer doesn’t want to tell a great story?

Thanks for stopping by, Brett. You have a lot of great insights to share with other writers. Best of luck on your play and your future writing endeavors!

Friday, June 15, 2018

Thursday Recipe - Fresh Mint Iced Tea

Technically, this would be a tisane - a brewed drink made from herbs. But who's counting semantics? It's iced tea without the tea.

I have lots of mint in my yard of several varieties including spearmint, sweet mint, pineapple mint, and chocolate mint. It exploded this summer into huge green bushes. They smell great.

My daughter has a thing for iced herb teas, so we decided to try making some from fresh mint. It has a light, fresh flavor, more than dried mint teas. And it was very tasty.

Fresh Mint Iced Tea

1 c. of fresh mint leaves
4 c. water
1 c. sugar
4 c. ice

Rinse the mint leaves to remove any dirt.

Bring water to a boil. Remove from heat. Add mint leaves. Cover and let steep for about 30 minutes, stirring a couple of times.

Remove mint leaves. Stir in sugar until dissolved.

Put the ice in a 2qt pitcher. Pour the warm mint tea over the ice. Let sit for ten minutes or so. Stir to mix, and serve.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Author Interview - Lindsey Duncan

Please welcome Lindsey Duncan to The Far Edge of Normal!

LINDSEY DUNCAN is a chef / pastry chef, professional Celtic harp performer and life-long writer, with short fiction and poetry in numerous speculative fiction publications.  Her contemporary fantasy novel, Flow, is available from Double Dragon Publishing, and her science fiction novel, Scylla and Charybdis, is now out from Grimbold Books.  She feels that music and language are inextricably linked.  She lives in Cincinnati, Ohio and can be found on the web at http://www.LindseyDuncan.com


Other places you can connect with me:
(I don’t use my official FB page too much, so you’re also welcome to check out my personal page …)
@LindseyCDuncan on Twitter

Tell us about your writing - What genre do you prefer to write? What books, stories, other publications that you've written are your personal favorites? Anything new coming up?
I write speculative fiction – an umbrella term for fantasy and science fiction – with a focus on secondary world fantasy … that is, fantasy set in a world not our own.  It’s what you will mostly see if you read my short fiction.  That said, my currently published novels don’t follow that pattern.  Flow is contemporary fantasy (http://www.double-dragon-ebooks.com/single.php?ISBN=1-55404-936-9).  Scylla and Charybdis, which was just released last month, is science fiction (https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07B54QJYL/).

I couldn’t possibly pick a favorite among my short stories, but one I’ve always had great fondness for, “Bird Out Of Water,” can be found in the Trespass anthology (https://www.amazon.com/Trespass-ebook/dp/B00AVP5MPM).  The story was inspired by the saying, “A bird and a fish may fall in love, but where would they live?” and features the unlikely daughter of a merman and a harpy.

No new projects to crow about:  Scylla and Charybdis is my big news for the year (so far).

What about you as a person? What do you do to relax? Favorite movies or tv shows? Hobbies?
As mentioned above, I am also a professional harp player and a chef.  I play the traditional lever harp - more familiarly known as the Celtic harp, though the instrument has a much broader range than the Celtic lands.  Regardless, it is distinct from the pedal harp played in orchestras, primarily due to the mechanism for achieving sharps, flats and key signatures … and with a history going back to the seventh century A.D. (that we know for sure), it’s much older.

I have both Scottish (including Scots-Irish) and Welsh ancestry, so Celtic music is in my blood.  My given name is two Scottish clan names … and as I found out years ago, Clan Lindsay and Clan Duncan have been feuding for centuries over a pig.  This explains so much about me.

In any event, I also play Renaissance music and some pieces even older, more contemporary tunes with a focus on musicals / show tunes (I adore Andrew Lloyd Webber), a bit of classical, and whatever else strikes my fancy.

As to the chef part, I work both as a pastry chef and on the savory side.  I work in catering, which has a different flow and style than the restaurant industry.  The company I’m currently working for does custom catering, which means that some events are designed from scratch, as well as personal chef services, which means that every week holds something new.  For someone like me (can you guess by all the “ands” in the previous sentences?), that’s a wonderful thing.

With all that, I need some downtime!  I enjoy reading, playing computer games – strategy “worldbuilding” games like Civilization are a favorite – and, regrettably, zoning out in front of television shows.  Right now, I’m addicted to Timeless, which does a nice job of making its approach to time travel *feel* accurate and touches upon some SF concepts like plastic time (the idea that history is intended to happen a certain way, and that some changes will self-correct; another hero steps up, the shooting happens in another city, etc).  The character interactions and humor are wonderful.  The team grew a lot in the first season, and it’s great to watch their dynamic continue to evolve.

"All writers must have cats, especially if they write fantasy or speculative fiction." Do you have a stand on this one? Any cute pictures of your kitty or other pet?
Well, I have to take exception to that, not because I object to the concept of cats, but because I’m violently allergic.  No way I can have cats in my house!  I am, however, a devoted dog-mom to two Bichon Frises, Lexi (“protector” in Greek) and Peri (“nymph,” also Greek).  It’s nearly impossible to get a photo of the two of them together, because Peri is a queen of photobomb.  She runs up to the phone, and all I end up with is a fuzzy white blur.  That said, here’s a few shots.

What writers inspired you to become an author?
I’ve been writing for so long that I don’t clearly remember getting the inspiration from a specific author.  I just always wanted to, and as a child, I simply assumed I could.  (The reality has been a lot more complicated!)  I do remember the books that opened my eyes to fantasy, though:  Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain Chronicles.  Those books not only plunged me into the realms of fantasy, they started a fascination with Welsh mythology before I really knew I had those roots, and introduced me to a strong, smart-mouthed female character in the form of Eilonwy.

If you could travel to any time in history, when would you visit?
I can just hear the eyerolling from here, but I honestly would love to visit the late Renaissance era – specifically what is referred to in England as the Elizabethan era.  Cliché response for a secondary world fantasy writer, I suppose, where so much of the genre is based on a dubious mash-up of the Renaissance and early Middle Ages feudalism, but I have a long connection with the time period.  I performed for years in a Renaissance song and dance troupe; we started at the local Renaissance Festival and then expanded to educational programs for schools.  Each member had an authentic (mostly!) character to go along with full costume, so in some small way, I’ve become a part of that time.

This particular part of the Renaissance is also at the tail end of the European witch craze and the Black Death.  (Of course I want to avoid those!)  The latter brought about a labor shortage that in part sparked the Industrial Revolution.  It’s the beginning of a time of invention.  Which, as a fantasy writer, is exactly where I want to be:  I enjoy the occasional sprinkling of nifty gadgets, but mechanization and automation turn me off.  Even in Scylla and Charybdis, the focus is definitely on the human elements, social consequences, and the less conventional aspects of technology.

Of course, I also know enough not to romanticize the time period:  it would be great to visit and experience the world I’ve read so much about, but I wouldn’t want to live there.  For one thing, bodices are laced ridiculously tight, though hoop skirts are surprisingly comfortable outdoors when a cool breeze sweeps by …

What color would you wear if you had only one choice?
 Purple.  Purple, purple, and more purple.  You don’t know how it happy it makes me that purple (okay, ultra violet) is the color of the year.  In fact, when my publisher and I decided on an abstract cover for Scylla and Charybdis, one of my few parameters was (if possible) that it be purple.  And the artist delivered.

Thanks so much for stopping by! Good luck with your writing!

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Thursday Recipe - Knife Skills

Okay, it's not really a recipe. I've been teaching my cub scouts how to use pocketknives safely. They did soap carving with them a couple weeks ago. This week we decided to do something different. We carved radishes, carrots, and cheese. And watched some amazing videos of knife skills.

I doubt I'll ever reach this level or even get close but I can do a decent radish rose and make cute carrot flowers.

So, sharpen your knives and practice your cutting skills.

On the food.


Monday, June 4, 2018

Author Interview - Graham Bradley


 Please welcome Graham Bradley to The Far Edge of Normal!
I’m a blue-collar guy, making a living as a truck driver. Writing and drawing keep me up at night. I love sci-fi, fantasy, and adrenal adventures!

How can we find you? 
Website: dreadpennies.com 
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram: @GrahamBeRad 

Tell us about your writing - What genre do you prefer to write? What books, stories, other publications that you've written are your personal favorites? Anything new coming up? 
I straddle the line between sci-fi and fantasy a lot, though I do try to give pseudo-scientific explanations for the fantastic elements in my books.

My Engines of Liberty trilogy is my flagship series—Dave Butler described it as “Harry Potter versus guns”—but my most recent release, THE HERO NEXT DOOR, was probably the most heartfelt of my books.

I’ve got a fantasy story billed as “Blast Crew goes to Mordor” that I’ll be narrating and releasing via podcast starting this summer. It’s the most fun I’ve ever had while writing a book.

What about you as a person? What do you do to relax? Favorite movies or tv shows? Hobbies? 
Ha! I wish I was better at relaxing, but it bugs me when I’m not working on something. Sometimes that’s a bad thing. But when I do find time to sit back, I’ll binge a few episodes of something.

Lately I’ve been catching up on Supernatural, per Lisa Mangum’s recommendation. The Lost In Space reboot was much better than I thought it would be. I’m a huge fan of Marvel’s movies and Netflix shows.

And when the NFL isn’t in season, I occasionally catch American Ninja Warrior or Ultimate Beastmaster. My wife and I just started training for another mud run—her second, my fifth. So I spend evenings in the gym or running outside when the weather permits.

What gets your creative juices going? Do you write to a music, and do you want to share your playlist? 
I definitely write to music, and my quickest default is Thomas Bergersen or Two Steps From Hell. Audiomachine is another one in that vein, they do cinematic instrumentals. Other times I’ll pick a movie score; John Powell is a personal favorite on that front.

As to what gets my juices going, I find a lot of ideas and inspiration from my work as a trucker. I used to do long-haul, then worked with cranes, then did drilling-and-blasting (best job I ever had) and now I deliver rental equipment. I’ve gotten a lot of story ideas from the adventures I’ve had at work.

"All writers must have cats, especially if they write fantasy or speculative fiction." Do you have a stand on this one? Any cute pictures of your kitty or other pet? 
I’m allergic to cats, and even if I wasn’t, they’re all jerks, and this house isn’t big enough for two of us. I’m definitely a dog person.

We have a mini Australian Shepherd named Bo Duke. He was hit by a car earlier this year, messed him up pretty bad, but we could rebuild him. We had the technology. He is now RoboBoBo. 

This is him as a tiny little puppy, distracting me from writing. He’s gotten bigger.

What organizations do you recommend for those wanting to become writers? Any advice you'd like to share about writing? 
I got my start with the LDStorymakers in Utah back in 2006, and from there I have networked and made friends in other groups like the League of Utah Writers, and the LTUE folks. They’ve all been great for my visibility and helping me to meet readers.

As for writing advice, I have very little for you beyond the basics: write as much as you can, and if you ever get feedback, shut up and listen to it. Also, an indispensable resource for me is EDUCATION OF A WANDERING MAN, the autobiography of Louis L’Amour. I had to read it for a college class and it changed my whole worldview about who I had to be in order to be a writer. 

What writers inspired you to become an author? 
I guess you’d go all the way back to R.L. Stine in the third grade, because that was when I started writing my own stories. From there I graduated to Michael Crichton, and eventually worked my way into the wide world of YA spec-fic, epic fantasy, and so forth.

Nowadays I’d have to say that any writer who wrecks my head as a reader is the kind of writer that inspires me to keep going. Neal Shusterman is definitely on that list. Aprilynne Pike is another one who has written some sneaky good mashup stories. I’m very impressed with Jennifer A. Nielsen’s books, and Pierce Brown’s Red Rising series is the best sci-fi out there right now. Someday I want to be as good as they are.

Any special appearances or events coming up that you want to mention? 
Keep an eye on my website, I’m supposed to be managing a workshop at Fyrecon the end of June but I don’t yet have my schedule. 

If you could travel to any time in history, when would you visit? 
The day before the Library of Alexandria burned down. Though the American Revolution is a close second. 

If you could have dinner with any of your characters, which ones would you choose? What food would you serve? 
I would sit down with Nick from THE HERO NEXT DOOR. We have a lot in common, only he is a lot more self-aware at 17 than I was. I’d want to ask him about that, how he got that way, what he sees in his future as he heads off to college in Kansas. Also, will he keep playing the part of a vigilante, fighting invisible monsters? And since we’re in Kansas, we’d head over to KC for some legit barbecue.

If you could travel anywhere, on earth or off, where would you go? 
I want to go somewhere between the tropics of Cancer and Capricorn, preferably closer to the equator, where there is plenty of wide open wilderness, and nobody for miles. I want to sit down and study my surroundings and enjoy the silence. And when the sun sets, I want it to be so dark that I can see stars nobody else has seen yet.

What color would you wear if you had only one choice? 
Blue. In its many shades.

Describe your dream writing spot. 
There’s a town in northern California called Weed, just a few miles south of the Oregon border. Next to Weed is Mount Shasta. It’s massive, it’s wide, it’s frequently crowned by clouds, and it’s serene like you wouldn’t believe. Many times when I was parked at the truck stop in Weed, I’d try to get a spot where I could open my window and stare out at that mountain. I wanted to hike up there, build a lean-to, sit back with my computer, and just disappear. It’s beautiful.

Thanks so much for stopping by, Graham, and best of luck with your writing!

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Thursday Recipe - Greek Gyro Meatball Sandwiches

First off, I can't stand lamb, so if you're looking for authenticity, it isn't here. Second, this makes a great substitute and the flavor is still pretty close. This is my version of a recipe in the good old Betty Crocker cookbook from the early 1980s.

If you don't want a sandwich, you can do the meatballs with the sauce on it's own with the coleslaw on the side.

Greek Gyro Meatball Sandwiches

Meatballs:
1 lb hamburger
1 c. oatmeal
1 egg
1/4 c. finely diced onion
1 T. lemon juice
1 t. salt
1 t. dried parsley
1/2 t. cumin
1/2 t. oregano
1/4 t. black pepper
1/4 t. garlic powder

Mix everything together. Shape into meatballs about the size of a ping pong ball. Bake at 400° for 15-20 minutes, until browned on the outside and no longer pink inside.

Tzatziki Sauce:
1 c. plain yogurt
1 c. cucumber, peeled and chopped small
1 t. lemon juice
1 t. dill weed, not seeds
1-2 cloves fresh garlic, minced OR 1/2 t. garlic powder
1/2 t. salt
1/4 t. black pepper

Mix everything together. Set aside until ready to assemble sandwiches.

Coleslaw:
1 egg
1/4 c. sugar
1/4 c. vinegar
2 T. water
2 T. butter
1 t. salt
1/2 t. mustard powder
4 c. finely shredded cabbage

Beat egg until thick and lemon colored. Set aside.

Heat vinegar, water, butter, salt, and mustard powder to boiling, stirring constantly.

Slowly add boiling liquid to egg, beating all the time. Pour it back into the saucepan. Cook over medium low heat, stirring constantly, until thickened, about 5 minutes.

Pour warm dressing over cabbage. Toss to combine.

Sandwiches:
meatballs
tzatziki sauce
coleslaw
chopped tomatoes
chopped cucumbers
pita bread
fresh mint leaves, chopped fine

Make sandwiches, adding everything as desired. Garnish with fresh mint. Serve immediately.