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

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Thursday Recipe - Sweet Slice Pickles

And another wonderful pickle recipe from my awesome pickle cookbook. This one holds up well to processing. You can use little cucumbers or fully ripe ones or anything in between. It's pretty quick to do, too.

Sweet Slice Pickles

Cucumbers - enough to fill 5 pint jars once sliced
1 T. mustard seeds
2 t. celery seeds
whole cloves
3 c. 5% acidity white vinegar
5 c. sugar
1 T. pickling salt

Scrub cucumbers thoroughly. Slice off blossom end and stem, discard. Slice the cucumbers into 1/4 inch slices. Stuff the slices into pint jars, packing tightly.

Divide mustard seed evenly between jars. Repeat with celery seeds. Add 2-3 whole cloves to each jar.

Heat vinegar, sugar, and salt together until it boils.

Pour hot syrup over cucumber slices, dividing it evenly between the jars. If you need more liquid to fill the jars, just add some plain vinegar on top.

Process and seal as appropriate to your altitude.

Makes 5 pints of sliced sweet pickles.

You can add sliced onions or peppers to this if you want. Just substitute it in for some of the cucumber slices.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Thursday Recipe - German Pot Roast

My kids told me I had to post this recipe so I don't lose it. The meat was tender and flavorful and dinner was a great success. It was also really easy. The slow cooker did most of the work.

German Pot Roast

1 - 1 1/2 lb bottom round steak, thick cut
1/2 c. sliced onion
1 c. baby carrots OR carrot slices
1/4 c. chopped dill pickles
1/2 c. hot water
1 T. beef bouillon
2 T. brown mustard
1/2 t. salt
1/2 t. black pepper
dash ground allspice
1 bay leaf

Put steak in bottom of a small crockpot - I used a 1.5 qt pot. The meat should fill the crockpot about 1/3. Put onions and carrots around the sides of the meat. Spread the pickles over the meat. Mix water, bouillon, mustard, salt, pepper, and allspice together; then pour over the meat. Drop in the bay leaf.

Cover and cook on low for 5-6 hours or high for 3-4 hours, until the carrots are tender and the meat falls apart.

If you want to thicken the gravy -
30 minutes before serving, break the meat into chunks and stir everything gently to mix. Stir 2 T. cornstarch into 1/2 c. cold water until smooth, then stir into the hot gravy in the crockpot. Cover and let cook on high until gravy is thickened.

Monday, August 6, 2018

Happy Birthday to Me

It's my birthday week and yes, I'm trying to get back on schedule with the blog posts.

So I'm sharing some of my favorite birthday videos:










Thursday, August 2, 2018

Thursday Recipe - Guest Chef C Michelle Jefferies

Please welcome guest chef and author C Michelle Jefferies to The Far Edge of Normal! She also wrote the guest blog post today. So, in her words:

For as long as I remember, I have wanted to be an author. I’ve created stories, worlds and people in my head since I was young. Since learning my way around a kitchen as an older teen I have also had a love of cooking. My greatest love in the writing world is futuristic suspense, which I often times describe as “James Bond in the future”. While my two greatest loves in the culinary world are a traditional English tea, and Asian food. 

My two published series are Futuristic Suspense, with my most recent work being DESCENDING and the other books in the Ashes series. It follows the Chrysalis series main character Noble’s son Ashby as he navigates his teen and early adult years. 

All he wants is to fly.

Ashby Standing has it all planned out. Prove his ability to captain a starship in the simulator. Then enter the Star Captain Academy a year early skipping another hellish year of being bullied at school. 

When a new street drug proves fatal, taking the life of Elija’s son Nicolai. Noble has no choice but to step back into his role as an agent for Trinity. In spite of his age and his other duties. Including coordinating a twenty year celebration for the colonization of Caledonia. 

After losing Arial, Lyris is hyper focused on making sure all of her children are safe and protected. Even if it skirts what is legal or moral. 

Everything converges into a complicated mess as moral obligations, desires, and ego’s battle for dominance and for some, descending into the depths of dark is the option seems the best choice.  

Lately, my love of food has meandered it’s way into my stories and books. Finding that if I or my characters are hungry, bored, stressed, my characters make and eat what I am craving. 

It wasn’t until I was finalizing edits and formatting my books, I realized that I had incorporated several of my favorite foods into the stories I wrote. Enough of them, as I catalogued them, that the thought of making a “Chrysalis and Ashes series cookbook” was completely possible. 

So, if you want a great futuristic read with lots of good food mentioned, Check out the Ashes Series starting with Descending

Here is a recipe from Blue Moon, the novella in the Ashes Series. It’s a scene where Porter comes home to visit his mother and she is making squash (Zucchini) bread. Since it is summer, and the infamous green squash is pretty much everywhere, it felt like the most appropriate one to share with you. 
Chocolate Zucchini bread

3 eggs
1 c. oil 
2 c. sugar
2 c. grated zucchini
2 t. vanilla

Mix together, then add:

3 c. flour
1/4 t. baking powder 
1 t. baking soda 
3 t. cinnamon 
2 T. baking cocoa
 
Pour into greased bread pans and bake for 60 min at 325°F.
C. Michelle Jefferies is a writer who believes that the way to examine our souls is to explore the deep and dark as well as the shallow. To manipulate words in a way that makes a person think and maybe even second guess. Her worlds include suspense, urban fantasy, and an occasional twist of steampunk. When she is not writing, she can be found on the yoga mat, hand binding journals, dyeing cloth, and serving ginger tea. The author and creator divides her time between stories, projects, and mothering four of her seven children on the wild and windy plains of Wyoming.


Thursday, July 19, 2018

Thursday Recipe - German Potato Salad

Yes, I'm still on hiatus, but as I find recipes I've overlooked, I'll add them.

Thought I'd posted this one. It's a family favorite.

Hot potatoes, crisp bacon, sweet onions, all wrapped in a creamy, tangy vinegar sauce. How can you possibly pass it up? I get to, because I haven't found a good potato substitute and me and potatoes are no longer friends.

Enjoy!

German Potato Salad

4 medium potatoes, sliced in half lengthwise
4 slices bacon
1 medium onion, chopped
1 T. flour
1 T. sugar
1 t. salt
1/4 t. celery seed
1/4 t. ground black pepper
1/2 c. water
1/4 c. vinegar

Put potatoes in a saucepan with enough water to cover. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, simmer for 20-25 minutes, until barely done.

Cook bacon in a large frying pan until well-done and crispy. Remove bacon and set aside.

Cook onion in bacon grease until tender. Stir in flour, sugar, salt, celery seed, and pepper. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until mixture gets all bubbly. Stir in water and vinegar. Heat to boiling, stirring constantly. Boil and stir for one minute. Remove from heat.

Crumble bacon into sauce, then slice warm potatoes and add to sauce. Put back on low heat. Stir gently just until potatoes are coated and everything turns into a nice, starchy mess.

Serve hot.

Gluten-Free version:
Follow all directions until you come to adding the flour.
Skip the flour. Stir 1 T. cornstarch into the water. Stir into the onion and spice mixture with the vinegar. Cook and stir until it thickens and comes to a boil.
Continue with the rest of the recipe.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Hiatus, Again

My apologies to the few regular readers of this blog. Life is overwhelming right now. I need to pare down the things I commit to, and unfortunately, this blog is not a priority right now. It takes time and effort to write posts, even weekly ones, and I think I've about run out of my go-to recipes to post.

I might pick it back up in a couple of months. And maybe not.

I'm thinking of putting the recipes together in a cookbook. Anyone interested in a paper copy? Please comment. Ebooks are easy to throw together so I'll probably do those, but paper ones mean I need to go through a cookbook publisher to get the spiral binding and coated paper which means I have to order a whole pile to get a decent per-book price which means boxes stacked in my garage which is not necessarily a good thing at this point. And that was a very long sentence.

So, please comment if you want a paper cookbook. Please comment if you want me to keep posting stuff. Please comment if you read this blog regularly.

Have a great day!

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Thursday Recipe - Hibiscus Punch Take 2

Remember that hibiscus syrup recipe I posted a few weeks ago? I made punch out of it the other night. It was delicious - light, cool, refreshing, and a lovely shade of red. Try this instead of that kidney-stain punch mix next time you want a fun party drink.

Look for dried hibiscus flowers online or at a local Latino grocery store. They make a really fun syrup with a sweet floral flavor. If you want to make Hawaiian punch that tastes like the name brand, try the recipe with the Hibiscus Syrup Take 2. Or try this recipe. It's a lemon/lime/orange-ade with mint and hibiscus.

And here is another version of the punch.

Hibiscus Punch Take 2

2/3 c. hibiscus syrup (the kind made with ginger and lemon)
1 quart ice
1 quart cold water
2 cans lemon-lime soda

Mix everything. Serve immediately.

Makes about 3 quarts.

Monday, July 2, 2018

Writer's Block vs. Burnout

"Writers write! If you aren't writing, you must not be a real writer."

"The only cure for writer's block is butt-in-chair, hands-on-keyboard."

I understand the sentiment behind these statements. I really do. If you want writing to be your job, you have to treat it as a job. If you sit around waiting for inspiration to hit, you're going to be doing a lot of sitting and not much writing.

Writing is a creative pursuit, though. If your job is manning a cash register, it doesn't matter if you are inspired or not. If your job is to create worlds and characters and adventures, you can try to force it but that usually results in crap on the page that not even heavy editing can fix. Getting in the habit of channeling your inner muse is great advice. You can train yourself to be more receptive, to be in the habit of putting words down. That makes for a much more productive writer.

But sometimes it just isn't working.

If it's writer's block, that usually tells me that something is wrong with the story. Or I need to dig deeper into the characters. Or I need to re-read things. Or move to another project. Maybe it needs abandoned completely. But the desire to write is still there. It's just that particular story that isn't working for whatever reason.

Burnout is a totally different ball game.

If I push too hard for too long, if problems and crises suck all my energy, if stress and depression eat up everything I have and still want more, I have nothing left for writing.

Burnout means I need to curl up on the couch and nurse my inner muse. I need to feed it books and movies and tv shows. I need to give myself permission to just relax. I need to take a break. When the well is empty, you can't keep pulling up water. You need to give that well a chance to recover and fill up to overflowing again.

Sometimes I make the mistake of not giving myself enough time. A few days might work some times, but when the burnout is severe, it may be months or even years before I have enough to give those projects again.

I've put out very few new things the last few years. I've got some short stories out there, but the novels are taking too much focus and more creative juice than I've got. But I'm slowly regaining that desire to spin tales, to tell stories, to create new worlds and let my imagination loose.

And I still consider myself a REAL writer.

Please keep your memes and platitudes. If they inspire you and make you a better, more productive writer, good for you! But don't push them onto me. Don't judge me for my output or lack thereof. My journey is different from yours.

And at the end of the day, all that matters is that we're kind to each other and we support each other and that we celebrate the triumphs no matter how small. Some days, we cheer for finishing a novel. Others, we cheer because we got out of bed. Each day, we do the best we can and let go of the guilt if we don't do what we thought we should.

Plan for the future, learn from the past, but live in the present. Be kind to yourself and your muse.

And when the words start flowing again, chase that muse and write that story.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Thursday Recipe - GF Chicken Pot Pie Gravy

So I wanted chicken pot pie, but I didn't want to bother with the crust. Or with turning the oven on. I ended up throwing everything in my crockpot. Delicious, easy, and bonus, no heat from the oven. I tossed rice in the rice cooker to go under it but you could do mashed potatoes or biscuits or whatever you want.

GF Chicken Pot Pie Gravy

1/2 onion, chopped
2 carrots, peeled and diced
2 chicken breasts, about 1-2 lbs, cut in bite-size chunks
1 c. sliced mushrooms, OPTIONAL
1 T. bouillon OR 1 cube
1 t. dried parsley
1/2 t. garlic powder
1/2 t. salt
1/4 t. black pepper
2 c. hot water
3 T. cornstarch
1/2 c. cold water
1 c. frozen peas

Dump the onion, carrot, chicken, and mushrooms in a medium crockpot, 1/5-2 quart size should be fine. Sprinkle parsley, garlic, salt, and pepper over the top. Pour the 2 c. hot water on top. Cook on low for 3-4 hours.

1 hour before serving, stir cornstarch into 1/2 c. cold water. Pour into chicken gravy. Stir well. Add peas. Cover and cook for another 45-60 minutes, until thick and hot. Add more salt and pepper to taste.

Serve over rice, mashed potatoes, biscuits, toast, quinoa, or whatever you like.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Author Interview - C H Lindsay

Please give a big welcome to C H Lindsay (who also goes by Charlie Harmon)!

Charlie is a writer, poet, housewife, and mother, but not necessarily in that order.

While she hasn't worked at a regular job since her kids were born, she spent thirty years as an event planner, organizing and running science fiction, fantasy, and horror conventions. She also spent a decade acting in musicals. Now she prefers to stay at home with her family and write novels, short stories, and poetry. She runs a fleet of online text-based roleplaying simulations.

Mostly blind due to a degenerative eye disease, she collects print books for her library and audiobooks for herself.

She is a member of SFWA, HWA, SFPA, and LUW. She is a founding member of the Utah Chapter of the Horror Writers Association.

She lives in Utah with her "seeing-eye husband," youngest son, two of his friends, and two cats, who also consider themselves to be children.

website: chlindsay.net

twitter: @softcomfychair

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? What I prefer and what I end up writing can be very different. lol I prefer fantasy, light or dark. But sometimes I write more horrific tales because that's where the story wants to go.

I have three stories coming out in anthologies this year.

"Looking for Love" is a short story about a single zombie female who doesn't have the best of luck. "Mottephobia" is a poem about killer moths. Both are in "The Hunger: A Collection of Utah Horror" from Twisted Tree Press. It came out in April.

"Cowchip Charlie and the Giant Brine Shrimp" is a tall tale about a short little man who is half horse and his adventure saving a Western town from a giant brine shrimp. It will be in "Weird Wasatch" coming out soon from Immortal Works.

Another story about Cowchip Charlie and the Tumbleweed Gang is in "Wandering Weeds: Tales of Rabid Vegetation" on Amazon.

'Sagittarius Rising" is about an artist who begins to paint her nightmares, and the dark path they lead to. It will come out in August in "A Year of the Monkeys" from the Infinite Monkeys Genre Writers.

My stories come from whatever idea strikes my fancy. Sometimes, I hear about an anthology, or a writing opportunity, and I get an idea. Sometimes, it's something I see or hear. So my writing tends to change based on what the story dictates.

I don't know if I have a favorite story. I like different stories for different reasons.

I'm working on two novels (when I'm not writing short stories or poetry) that I'm quite enjoying. Both are fantasy and both take the female protagonist on a journey of self-discovery. I'm quite pleased with the worlds and the characters. We'll see how they shape up as they go.

I've submitted a short story and a poem to two anthologies. I'm putting the finishing touches on another story I will submit to a third, and I have ideas brewing for two more short stories.

Oh, and I submitted a short story and two poems to a writing contest. We'll see how that goes.

What about you as a person? What do you do to relax? Favorite movies or tv shows? Hobbies?
In college, I got involved in the science fiction and fantasy community. I joined the club, the committee for an annual symposium, and the speculative fiction magazine. I decided I wanted to be a writer. I started writing short stories and poetry on a more regular basis. But then, I got married, had three kids, spent a decade acting in community theatre with my husband and later my kids. I continued to work on the writing symposium (LTUE). That, and raising kids, took up much of my free time. Writing came in spurts. I sold a story to an anthology edited by M. Shayne Bell. Sold him a poem for a magazine where he was the poetry editor. I sold a few other poems. Then, I got wrapped up in other things, and the writing slowed.

I have a degenerative eye disease that is causing me to slowly go blind. When I became too blind to act on stage, I got involved in a text-based online roleplaying game. That got me writing again. I sold two short stories to two anthologies,

Then, in 2016, I officially "retired" as a conrunner after 30 years. Suddenly, I had less stress and more time, and I started writing more regularly. I completed my first NaNo last year.

Writing is both hard work and fun. When I'm not writing, at least a little bit every day, I feel the need to DO something, to WRITE something. After two or three hours, I need to do something else. lol

Simming, the text-based roleplaying, is for fun. I get to write with other people and play in other people's worlds. I enjoy the camaraderie of the simming community.

I listen to TV, since I can't really watch it. Perry Mason is a favorite. The plots and characters still work and I find them relaxing. My husband and I collect old TV series. We try to get one a year for Christmas. Usually, they're series my husband and I loved when we were growing up. We've introduced our kids to Burns and Allen, M*A*S*H, The Andy Griffith Show, and many others.

I also love old radio shows like Danny Kaye, Burns and Allen, and Bob Hope. I'm now listening to the old Danny Kaye TV show that runs on cable.

There are several shows I follow on network TV. I'm drawn to good characters and good storytelling.

I listen to audiobooks. I have a large library of print books I've collected over the years. I still collect print books, but now I also get them on audio or ebook so I can listen to them. I love turning out all the lights at night and laying in bed with a good audiobook. I've recently listened to a lot of Anne McCaffrey (The Dragonriders of Pern series, The Tower and The Hive series), Shannon Hale, Mary Robinette-Kowal, David Farland (Runelords and The Golden Queen). I quite enjoyed the Sisters Grimm books by Michael Buckley.

I find listening to audiobooks to be very relaxing.

What gets your creative juices going? Do you write to a music, and do you want to share your playlist?

I often have something playing in the background when I write a first draft. What it is doesn't matter. I have mild ADD, so having something helps me focus.

However, when I'm editing, I need something really soft, without words, or silence. Gregorian chants work well.

I find that giving myself time to daydream, or just let my thoughts wander, helps with the creative juices. That's when I get ideas for where a story should go, or how to tweak a scene. If I'm not near my computer, I set myself a reminder for the next day. And then I write a list of things I need to do in the story or poem.

But the thing that works the best to get my juices flowing is to go over the last page or two, if it's a short story, or the last chapter or half chapter of a novel (I like to edit novels a chapter at a time, if I can). That gets me back in the story, it gets the ideas going, and it gets me ready to start editing the next section.

If I get stuck, I free write. I simply start typing and see where it goes.

"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 have no stand on this. But I do have two cats. They have their humans well-trained. One of my cats knows to lay on my keyboard when she wants attention. She will also jump from the bed to my hand and then across to the desk and back just to get me to stop what I'm doing and pay her attention.

I will most likely grow into an old cat lady one day. :)

What organizations do you recommend for those wanting to become writers? Any advice you'd like to share about writing?
It depends on where you live. I live in Utah and highly recommend the League of Utah Writers.

If you're serious, look at the professional organizations. SFWA, HWA, SFPA, RWA, SCBWI. Connect to other writers. Go to writing conferences and conventions. Utah has a ton of them. Meet other writers, take workshops and classes to hone your craft. Learn.

I belong to five organizations. I also follow a number of people and groups that send out writing tips. I highly recommend David Farland's Writing Tips and Writing Excuses podcast.

Even if you live out in the bush somewhere, you can connect to writers online.

What writers inspired you to become an author?
So many... Primarily, Orson Scott Card, Tracy Hickman, Michael R. Collings (for his poetry), Anne McCaffrey, David Farland, Madeleine L'Engle, Patricia C. Wrede, and Jane Yolen.

Any special appearances or events coming up that you want to mention?
I'll be at Spring Into Books on June 2 at the Viridian Library in West Jordan, Utah. I'll also be at Fyrecon June 21-23 in Layton, Utah.

If you could travel to any time in history, when would you visit? Ooh... Good question. I would love to go to stratford-on-Avon around 1600. 

I would also love to visit ancient Central and South America long before the Spanish "discovered" it.

If you could have dinner with any of your characters, which ones would you choose? What food would you serve?
Mel, from the book I'm writing. We'd have pizza in the palace.

If you could travel anywhere, on earth or off, where would you go? Scotland, Machu Picchu, Teotihuacán, Tikal, Romania.

What color would you wear if you had only one choice?
Green. But I like to wear red when I'm at conventions because it makes me easier to spot.

Describe your dream writing spot.
A house with good lighting, thick carpet, a comfortable writing desk and chair for my computer, and a great view of woods out the back window.

Sounds perfect! Thanks for stopping by. Good luck with your writing. It sounds like you keep busy.

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.  ClichĂ© 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.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Author Interview - Scott E. Tarbet


Please welcome Scott E Tarbet to The Far Edge of Normal!
Multiple award-winning author Scott E. Tarbet writes with great gusto in several speculative fiction genres, sings opera professionally, teaches middle school, loves Steampunk waltzes, slow-smokes thousands of pounds of Texas-style BBQ every summer, and was married in full Elizabethan regalia. He makes his home in the mountains of Utah. 

Follow Scott E. Tarbet online at http://scotttarbet.timp.net/
on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/ScottETarbet/
or on Twitter @SETarbet. 

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 find this graphic very useful in discussing the range of genres and sub-genres beneath the broad umbrella of “speculative fiction.”

I write speculative fiction across the entire range. The only sub-genres I haven’t written in (so far) are High Fantasy and Mythic Fantasy. One of the reasons I really like Hard SF, especially Call To Action, is that it often deals with pessimistic situations in an optimistic way, pointing the way out of pending problems through science. My recent Gold Quill-winning novel, Dragon Moon, is just such an adventure: the governments of the U.S. and the other participants in the space race of the ‘60s have, in actual fact, given up their lunar launch capabilities. But China is catching up and surpassing them. What might happen if the peaceful efforts of the ‘60s yield to the blandishments of world power? I am afraid that if we are not careful, we will soon find out. Dragon Moon is a call to action. 

I am particularly proud of a call to action short story, another award winner, entitled Amahl. I was called upon, on very short notice, to write and perform a piece of horror. I do not read or—usually—write horror, and I chose to place my story in real-world horror: with a little boy in the rubble of a Syrian village. 

My current WIP (Work In Progress) would most probably fit into the Mythic Fiction sub-genre, though I consider it more nearly a work of historical fiction. It is the origin story of a group of Book of Mormon youth known as “the stripling warriors.” In my version I assume that they are Meso-American, immersed in pre-classic Mayan culture. It’s a lot of fun fleshing out what little Mormons know about these kids with speculative details.

What about you as a person? What do you do to relax? Favorite movies or tv shows? Hobbies?
As my bio mentions, I sing opera at the professional level, with the Utah Opera Company. It is intensely pleasurable for me, so I count it as a hobby, but it is also a very time-consuming paying gig, so it is also pretty much a second job. I also have a BBQ catering business that dominates my summers, when neither the opera nor the middle school are in session.

Wow! Opera singing is awesome. What gets your creative juices going? Do you write to a music, and do you want to share your playlist?
I listen to a Pandora station called “Writer’s Trance,” which was put together by Orson Scott Card. Highly classical instrumental in nature.

"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?
Yeah, I don’t buy this one. I don’t have a cat or any other pet, although I would probably wind up with a dog if either my wife or I were at home full time.

What organizations do you recommend for those wanting to become writers? Any advice you'd like to share about writing?
I am a huge fan of the League of Utah Writers. It is a collection of like-minded story-tellers, striving to buoy, educate, and sustain one another.

My advice on writing can be boiled down to an acronym: BIC/FOK: Butt In Chair/Fingers On Keyboard. If you want to be a story teller, you have to put in literally thousands of hours of BIC/FOK. You have to power past the point where it becomes an effort to make yourself do it, and just keep at it like the Energizer Bunny.

What writers inspired you to become an author?
Both my parents were writers, with varying degrees of success, mostly in non-fiction. They inspired me. But both of them also inculcated me with a true love of science fiction from the Golden Age. I literally learned to read on stories by Asimov, Bradbury, Clark, etc.

Any special appearances or events coming up that you want to mention?
I have been accepted into the upcoming Futurescapes writing workshop. I will also be signing at Fyrecon.

If you could travel to any time in history, when would you visit?
I would love to visit Cliveden, Buckinghamshire, when Sir Winston Churchill was a frequent guest and active antagonist of the hostess. Now that would be a dinner party to be remembered.

If you could have dinner with any of your characters, which ones would you choose? What food would you serve?
It is tempting to type “see above” for this question, since Sir Winston plays a prominent role in my novel, A Midsummer Night’s Steampunk (AMNS). But that was Winston the young lover, not Winston the politician.

If I could dine with any of my own characters it would be Dr. Lakshmi Malieux, the genius philanthropist of AMNS. I would be fascinated to put any number of questions to her. Since she is the daughter of the Maharaja of Golkondah, the fare would be vegetarian.

If you could travel anywhere, on earth or off, where would you go?
Tahiti Nui. I have been fascinated with the place since I first read Mutiny on the Bounty at about the age of ten. It’s on my bucket list to free dive there before I die.

What color would you wear if you had only one choice?
Black. Most of my wardrobe already is.

Describe your dream writing spot.
My office is so completely me that I cannot conceive of doing the bulk of my writing anywhere else. It is piled high with books, art, swords, costumes, hats, multiple large computer screens—the general detritus of an ADHD speculative fiction author’s life.

Thanks for stopping by!