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Check out my science fiction series - The Fall of the Altairan Empire

Monday, January 31, 2011

Book Review - Once Upon a Dark and Eerie by A. F. Stewart

If you're expecting a full story, fleshed out and finished with everything neatly wrapped up at the end, this isn't it. Once Upon a Dark and Eerie is a collection of snippets and teasers, short bits that hint at dark and twisted stories and characters. Some were haunting, others disturbing, a few laugh out loud funny. The book is divided into sections with an overall theme: Dark Musings, Past Echoes, Creatures & Fairy Tales, and Grim Poetry.

I haven't been a fan of this type of work before. I refused to read it for years. I think I missed out on a lot of great reading, if this book is any indication. My only complaint is that the story snippets left me wanting more, much more. I wanted to see where the characters ended up. The very short writings caught my imagination and teased me with possibilities.

I will definitely be reading more works by A. F. Stewart. For now, go to Smashwords and download at least the free sample. Try this book. You won't be sorry.

I give this book 4.5 out of 5 stars and a rating of PG for disturbing content.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Thursday Recipe - Gluten-Free S'Mores Bars

Gluten is a protein, mostly found in wheat, that makes food chewy. More and more people are finding out that they are either Celiac's or sensitive to gluten. The gluten-free food section at our local store has exploded. Unfortunately, most of the foods are both expensive (over $1 per doughnut?) and nasty-tasting, according to my 7yo daughter. She gets GF foods because she is allergic to wheat. Most of the time, GF is a safe bet for her. BUT, she's also allergic to dairy products and soy, both are used to compensate for the texture loss when you cut out gluten. So we still read labels a lot and pick our groceries carefully. Most of the rest of us can't do soy or dairy, either.

This recipe is a great one. First off, it tastes really good. Second, it's fairly inexpensive, unlike most GF dishes. Third, it's so easy a monkey could do it. Fourth, it's really easy to change up and add whatever you want. Fifth, you can justify eating this because it's healthy. Well, except for the loads of butter and chocolate and marshmallows, but that's what makes s'mores so good.

Gluten-Free S'Mores Bars

1 13.8 oz box Honey Nut Chex (certified GF according to the label)
1 16 oz bag marshmallows (double check that your brand is GF)
1/2 c. butter or margarine
1 12 oz bag chocolate chips or other suitable substitute

Melt butter in large saucepan. Add about 2/3 of the marshmallows. Stir and cook over med-low heat until marshmallows melt and mixture is smooth. Add cereal. Stir gently to coat. Add remaining marshmallows and chocolate chips. Stir gently to distribute. Dump onto a sheet of waxed paper. Spread out a bit and let cool for at least 30 minutes, if you can. Break or cut into bars and enjoy.

Variations (check labels to make sure they are GF):
Add 1 c. mini gummi bears with second group of marshmallows. Omit chocolate.
Add 2 c. M&M candies with chocolate chips.
Add 1 c. small spice gumdrops with chocolate chips. Omit extra marshmallows.
Sprinkle 1 c. red hot candies over the top while the bars are still warm. Press gently into surface.
Substitute Rice Chex for Honey Nut Chex, add 1/2 c. peanut butter to the butter and marshmallows. Stir until smooth, then add chocolate chips and remaining marshmallows.
Sprinkle 1/2 c. smashed candy canes over the top while the bars are still warm.
Add 1 c. dried fruit, cut into raisin-size bits (cranberry, blueberry, raisins, cherries, etc) with chocolate chips.
Add 1 c. mixed nuts or peanuts with the dried fruit above.

Let your imagination run wild. It's fun and entertaining to see what you can come up with.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Excerpt Monday - Introducing Adrian Stevens

Once a month, a bunch of authors get together and post excerpts from published books, contracted work or works in progress, and link to each other. You don’t have to be published to participate, just a writer with an excerpt you’d like to share. For more info on how to participate, head over to the Excerpt Monday site!

This is a serial blog story, written just for fun. The rest of the story can be found here.

“Admiral?” I cautiously stuck my head in the door. I hated having to deal with command officers, but my orders were specific.

The chair slowly swiveled, revealing a slightly balding head of dark hair.

I swallowed a nervous lump as I held out my orders. Fleet Admiral Williamson, the sign on his desk read.

He took my paper, barely glancing at it before letting it drift into his disposal unit. He leaned back in his chair, bouncing slightly as he looked me over. “Quartermaster Stevens, your reputation for trouble precedes you. You do know that you’re on the short list for dishonorable discharge? One more incident and you may even be doing prison time.”

I nodded, keeping my mouth firmly shut. This was my last chance. Another few years and I’d be able to leave Starfleet honorably. I’d spoken too freely in the past. I’d taken a few too many liberties. Admiral Williamson was the last officer willing to even consider me for a posting.

He tapped his chin as he thought, his chair bobbing back and forth. He swung one foot, the polish on his boots catching the light.

I shuffled my scuffed boots on his dark blue carpet. The window behind him showed space dock. A gleaming white ship rested gently in the cradle, shuttles swarming around her. The USS Voyager was a beautiful ship, graceful and elegant with enough firepower to intimidate just about anyone. I could only dream of a posting on such a legendary ship.

Admiral Williamson’s chair thumped forward, his boots thudding dully on the carpet. “I need volunteers for a dangerous mission. Classified, of course. I’m looking for those willing to risk everything if necessary. You have a choice, Stevens. Prison cook or Quartermaster on the Voyager.”

I stared at him, my jaw dropping. “Quartermaster on the Voyager, sir?” Had I heard wrong?

“Not glamorous. You’ll be on skeleton staff. You and two others will be responsible for all supplies, food, and the equipment to prepare it. I’m afraid the food replicators have been a bit off so you may be actually cooking for two hundred.”

“I thought the Voyager had three hundred crew, sir.”

“The support crew won’t be the only ones on short staff.” He smiled, benevolence with an edge. “You may not return, Stevens.”

“But it’s a chance to serve on the Voyager, sir. I accept. I’ve got no family, nothing to lose.”

“Except your reputation.” He stamped a paper and slid it across the desk. “Report immediately to the shuttle bay. You have less than four hours until the ship undocks.”

“Sir.” I snapped a salute then collected my new orders.

“Dismissed.” He turned his chair away. “I suggest you hurry, Quartermaster.”

I practically ran from his office, headed for the shuttle bays at a run. I couldn’t help grinning. So the mission was dangerous, that didn’t matter. I had a posting on the legendary Voyager!

The shuttle was crowded with officers headed for the ship. I hugged my duffle at the back, doing my best to avoid eye contact. I eyed their uniforms jealously. I wanted to be an officer but I couldn’t stay out of trouble at the Academy. Quartermaster was the best I could hope for. I shifted my feed, impatient to board.

The shuttle docked, landing gracefully in the shuttle bay. The hatch opened. The officers filed out. I followed, breathing deeply of the recycled air of the Voyager. Glory tainted every molecule. I stepped off the boarding ramp.

“Papers?” The security guard glared at my blue service jumpsuit.

I handed the papers Admiral Williamson had just stamped.

“Captain on deck!”

Everyone snapped to attention. I dropped my duffle, standing rigid.

Boots thumped on the metal decking. I risked a single glance, rolling my eyes to the side. My heart sank. Maybe Captain Herring wouldn’t remember me.

He stopped in front of me, breath whistling through his nose as he glared. “Adrian Stevens? You’re what they sent for my Quartermaster?” His lip curled. He leaned very close.

I swallowed hard, staring at a pulsing vein in his forehead.

“Don’t think I’ve forgotten the spaghetti incident. I’m watching you.” His eyes drilled into mine.

So much for wishful thinking. Which would be more dangerous? The mission or the captain? Only time would tell.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Thursday Recipe - Biscuits'n'Gravy

I stayed up far too late last night writing a new story. I wasn't planning on it. The idea for the title came to me during a chat. I fell in love with it but didn't know what to do or where the story was going, so I typed the title and left it while I finished chatting with friends. A while later the idea for an opening line slipped into my head. I added that. Before I knew it, the story was taking shape and I didn't want to stop. Then it was almost midnight and I was typing the end. I love it when that happens, although it wreaks havoc on my sleep schedule and makes it hard to get up for work the next morning.

What does that have to do with biscuits and gravy?

The older I get, the more things get difficult. I'm not ancient, not by a long shot, but I have enough health problems I may as well be in a rocking chair with my knitting. Except I don't own a rocking chair and I can't knit to save my life. So staying up late, something I would have never thought twice about when I didn't have to be up to go to work, becomes a rare event. Midnight comes and goes while I sleep. And biscuits and gravy no longer happen at my house.

I love sausage, but I can't have MSG and bulk sausage without MSG is very hard to find. I've also become very lactose intolerant, so milk no longer is part of my diet. And since I have issues with my blood sugar and insulin, white biscuits don't happen, either, and whole wheat biscuits just don't taste the same.

So, here is one of my favorite breakfasts. I shall drool and live vicariously through the recipe. And in case you are wondering, no, I'm not Southern. My mom introduced this recipe to me. Her mom used to make it for her. I can still smell it cooking in her big old cast iron frying pan.

Biscuits and Gravy

1 lb bulk sausage
1/3 c. flour
3 c. milk
salt to taste
cracked pepper to taste
2 c. all-purpose flour
1 T. sugar
1 t. salt
2 t. baking powder
1/4 c. shortening
1/4 c. real butter, softened
3/4 c. milk

Cook sausage in large frying pan, breaking it up into smaller chunks. When sausage is brown, remove to a plate lined with paper towels. Cover and set aside. Drain off grease, reserving about a third of a cup in the pan. Add 1/3 c. flour to grease. Cook and stir until the mix makes a smooth paste and is bubbly. Add 3 c. milk a little at a time, stirring constantly to keep from forming lumps. Cook and stir over medium heat until mixture comes to a boil. Reduce heat to low. Cook and stir for one more minute. Add in sausage. Add salt and plenty of pepper, to taste. Cover and set aside to keep warm.

Heat oven to 400° F. Mix 2 c. flour, 1 T. sugar, 1 t. salt, and 2 t. baking powder in large mixing bowl. Add shortening and butter. Mash around with a fork until mixture resembles corn meal or fine crumbs. Add milk and stir just enough to mix together. If it's not sticky, carefully pat out and cut out biscuits, placing on a greased baking sheet. If it is sticky, scoop it onto the sheet in lumps of about 1/4 c. I know it's traditional to roll it out, but the drop version are really easy and just as tasty. They don't flake, though, so if that's important to you, add just enough milk to make a soft dough.

Bake biscuits at 400° F for 12 - 15 minutes, just until nicely brown.

Serve gravy over hot biscuits with more cracked pepper sprinkled over the top. Savor the moment and enjoy it for me. I really wish I were eating biscuits and gravy this morning instead of my healthy oatmeal. *sigh*

Monday, January 17, 2011

Clarion Writing Prompts

I recently joined the Clarion blog. They do writing prompts. This is #2:

Go try it, see what you come up with. It's rather fun.

This was my entry:

Wings fluttered against the wind. Snow crystals caked on gauzy membranes. Shinea shivered as she fought to gain altitude. The wind pushed her into crazy dances with the blowing snow. Her thin dress, crafted from summer rose petals, wilted in the frigid air. Her skin faded from creamy pink to pale blue. Her tiny teeth chattered, like an insect's scratchy call.

One wing shredded under a blast of winter air. She spiraled into a pine, landing on snow covered needles that cut her delicate skin as she clutched to keep from tumbling to the distant ground.

More snowflakes danced across the night wind. They slammed into her face, like blows. Shinea curled into a tight ball, her remaining wing fluttering useless over her back. The petals of her dress blew free into the night, a crumbling remnant of a season long past.

Shinea's skin blanched white as the cold sucked the life from her. Her hold slipped, ice coated fingers too numb to hold to the pine needles. The wind swept her from her perch. She spun, like a snowflake, through the wintry forest.

And high above, white robes swirling in the winter wind, the Snow Queen laughed.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Thursday Recipe - Fish ideas and Mango Salsa

I had a friend ask me how to cook fish this week. That started me thinking. Fish is healthy, fish is good for you, and most people don't like fish. It can be tricky to cook. Overcooked fish is rubbery and nasty. Old fish tastes fishy and not in a pleasant way. So here are my suggestions and recommendations for cooking fish.

Buying fish: I live in Utah, nowhere near the oceans or commercial fisheries. My best bet to get great fish is to buy the individually packaged, flash frozen fillets. Tilapia is a great fish - firm so it holds up well to most cooking techniques, mild flavored so you can season it any way you want. Salmon is good, but it can be expensive. I wait until the stores run specials or I look for the flash frozen fillets. Salmon has a much stronger taste than tilapia. There are lots of other varieties of fish, but those are the two I usually buy.

Ways to cook fish:

Breaded and deep fried - go to your local fast food place that sells fish fillets. It's really the best way to get good tasting fried fish.

Pan fried - This is my favorite way. It's fast, easy, and healthy.

Melt 1 t. butter in a non-stick frying pan on medium heat. Add a frozen fish fillet. Yes, I said frozen. Don't bother thawing it more than needed to get it out of the packaging. Sprinkle with your choice of seasoning. Cook for 3-5 minutes, just until fish starts to turn opaque around the edges. Turn fillet over, cook another 2-4 minutes until fish flakes easily. If the fillet is thick, it may take longer. If it is a thin fillet, it may take a lot less time. You want the seasonings to brown just slightly. If you are cooking fish with skin, like salmon, you can cook the skin side longer until it starts to crisp on the edges.

Seasoning ideas:

Lemon pepper - sprinkle with 1/2 - 1 t. of lemon pepper seasoning
Curry - sprinkle with 1/2 t. curry powder, add salt and pepper to taste
Dill - sprinkle with 1/2 t. dill weed, 1 t. lemon juice, and salt to taste
Caraway - sprinkle fish with 1/4 t. caraway seeds and salt to taste. Serve with sticky rice and mandarin oranges (salmon is great with this)

When seasoning fish, remember that most fish is very mild in flavor. Sniff the spice or herb you want to try. If it smells like it would go, try a little. If the flavor works, you can make it stronger by adding more of the seasoning. Stronger flavored fish like salmon can stand up to spicier seasonings.

One of my favorite ways to eat fish is with Mango Salsa. Cook the fish with just salt and pepper. Serve it with the fruit salsa over the top.

Mango Salso

2 ripe mangoes, peeled and chopped into tiny bits
1/4 c. red onion, minced small
1 T. rice vinegar or white vinegar
1 green bell pepper, chopped small
1 t. salt
1/2 t. cumin
1/2 t. chili powder
1 t. dried parsley

Mix onion and vinegar in bowl. Let sit for at least 10 minutes. Add everything else. Stir gently to mix. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour to blend flavors. Makes about 2 cups of salsa.

Fresh pineapple can be substituted for the mangoes if you prefer.

If you like it, you can add chopped fresh cilantro to the salsa.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Book Review - Rotting Tales: A Zombie Anthology

Isn't this a lovely image? It's the cover art for the anthology. The call for submissions explained it. The cover art was for a different zombie book that never happened. The publisher, Pill Hill Press, loved it enough they wanted to use it. So they put out a call for subs asking for stories inspired by the cover art.

The resulting stories range from silly to disturbing to horrific. Most are quite short, only a couple of pages. The variety of stories inspired by the same picture is remarkable. A picture is truly worth a thousand words, or about 60,000 in this case.

I'm not usually a fan of anthologies. This one only had two stories I skipped. There are a few with lots of profanity, but the majority of them are well-written and enjoyable. Most of them are disturbing, but it's a zombie anthology. You expect disturbing stories about the dead rising and eating the living. They don't disappoint in that regard.

My story, Always a Bridesmaid, is light-hearted and silly. I meant it to be that way. That's how I tackle horror. I find a way to laugh with it and gentle it. Brother Barry had me laughing out loud. I loved A Willing Ear. Not everything has to be serious when it's creepy.

Overall, Rotting Tales is a fun take on zombies with a lot of great stories. If you like zombies, not sparkly love-hunky ones but gooey rotting corpses, this book is full of them. It's another great read from Pill Hill Press.

From Amazon:

From the publisher:  (scroll down to Rotting Tales)

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Thursday Recipe - Beef Stew

This is one of my favorite recipes. To do it right, it does take all day, but that's cooking in the crockpot or simmering on the stove. The actual prep time is fairly short, mostly chopping vegetables.

Cooking the beef in grape juice tenderizes it so you can use the cheap cuts that are on the tough side. Look for a roast or large steak marked "For Braising". That means cooking in liquid which is exactly what you're doing with this recipe. I look for the least expensive lean roast I can find. Rump roast and round steak are perfect. The grape juice also makes the meat turn brown and look more appetizing. The stew has a slightly sweet taste, like French roast beef, not the traditional tomato tang of beef stew.

So pull out your stew pot and try something a little different. You might be surprised how easy and delicious it is.

French Beef Stew

1 beef roast, about 2 lbs
1 large onion, chopped
1 T. dried oregano
1 t. dried sage
1 t. ground black pepper
1 t. garlic powder
1 T. salt
3 c. purple grape juice, unsweetened
3 c. carrots, peeled and cut into bite size pieces
6 c. potatoes, scrubbed and cut into bite size pieces
2 c. frozen petite peas

Put roast into large crockpot (5-6 quart). Add onions and spices. Pour grape juice over top. Add just enough water to cover. Cook on high for 3-4 hours. Remove roast and cut into bite size pieces. Return to crock pot. Add carrots and potatoes. Add just enough water to cover vegetables. Cook on high for 3-4 hours until vegetables are tender. Add peas. Cook on low for an additional 20 minutes. Stir well and add salt to taste.

For stove top: Follow the recipe, except cook on med-low heat on stovetop for 1.5 to 2 hours instead of the 3-4 in the crockpot. Add vegetables and cook another 1-2 hours. Add water as needed during cooking time.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Thoughts on Rejection

My first story rejection of 2011 arrived Saturday before noon via email. Yep, Jan. 1, first rejection of the year. Sounds like a horrible way to start the year, doesn't it? But it didn't bother me. When I first decided to start submitting my work to real publishers, the thought of all that rejection really bothered me. How would I deal with it? I'd done phone sales before, briefly, and know what true rejection is. But I swallowed my fear, stuck my courage to the sticking place, and sent my stories and novels into the publishing world.

Most authors say, "Expect to have 85-95% of your work rejected, if not more." My rejection rate is about 15-20%. You'd expect even that much to sting, but it doesn't. I've gotten everything from the form letter "We don't want your story" to some very nice, detailed "This is why we don't want it" letters. I expected them to hurt, but they don't. I can shrug and move on to the next submission.

I love my stories, I have to, I'm the author. But I know not everyone else will love them. Most people won't care about them. And it's okay.

Maybe it's a lesson I learned ten years ago when I was diagnosed with cancer, or eighteen years ago when I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia. Life sucks sometimes, but groaning and complaining won't accomplish anything but driving away people. You choose your attitude. I look at story rejections as a learning experience. The ones that got rejected were ones that I was iffy about submitting to that market in the first place. Most of them I found another market that loved them. A few are still sitting in my "to be submitted" file. But it's all good. I have stories published, stories I'm proud of. Rejections mean I'm not perfect and my writing still needs plenty of polish.

Choose your attitude wisely. It makes all the difference in your life.