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

Monday, April 28, 2014

New Release Monday

Winter semester is over. I've got a couple days before spring term starts. So what do I do? Release a few books in new venues.

So, for your reading pleasure, here is the new and improved Nexus Point in print (coming very soon on Amazon!) with a pretty new cover. If you've already read it, I only made a few minor changes, mostly to make the writing better. If you haven't read it, what are you waiting for? It's a fun, exciting adventure story. Nothing heavy like the tomes I waded through for classes this last semester.

If you're looking for something shorter and less of a commitment, Brain Candy is now available in any ebook format from Smashwords, which means it will shortly show up on a lot of other retailers, too. Nineteen short silly horror stories involving dyslexic witches, green gelatin blob monsters and church ladies, great-aunt zombie bridesmaids, bumbling vampires looking for healthier menu options, and lots more. Bonus! Use this code VV98M to get Brain Candy for only ninety-nine cents!

If horror just isn't your thing, even if it is light and fluffy horror, try Soul Windows, a collection of science fiction and fantasy short stories. Now available in all ebook formats on Smashwords. I can't put just one on sale - get Soul Windows for only ninety-nine cents, too, using the code AE37A.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Thursday Recipe - Foil Dinners

From a family trip a few years ago
Remember those camping trips? Sitting around the fire cooking foil dinners. The smell of the pine trees. The peace and quiet. It's getting harder to re-create those memories. Cell phones are everywhere. Electronics follow us wherever we go. We were at a campground in southern Utah a few years ago, just enjoying the peace and quiet, except the birds in the area were all mimicking cell phone ringtones.

But if we can't go camping the same way we used to, we can at least re-create the meals. These are simple and easy to throw together. They're also very easy to individualize. Feel free to mix it up whichever way you want.

Foil Dinners

For each dinner:
1/2 c. thinly sliced potatoes
1/3 c. hamburger
seasonings - salt, pepper, barbecue sauce, worcestershire sauce, cheese, onions, garlic, etc.
1/2 c. assorted vegetables - mushrooms, zucchini, carrots, bell pepper, etc - thin sliced
aluminum foil
cooking spray

Use a sheet of foil about a foot square for each dinner. Spray the foil with the cooking spray. Pile the potatoes in the middle, spreading out so they are thinner in the center than on the edges. Pat the hamburger into a patty and put it in the middle of the potatoes. Add whatever seasonings you like on top of the patty - onions, salt and pepper are the basic seasonings. Any sauces you like on your hamburgers would work here, even ketchup and mustard. Just spread them on top of the raw patty. Add whatever vegetables you like on top. Fold the foil together at the top, rolling it over a couple of times to make a nice seam. Fold in the edges to make a sealed packet.

Choose your cooking method -
Fire - place the packet on coals towards the edges of the firepit. You don't want a really hot spot. Let the packet cook for about fifteen minutes. Flip the packet and cook for another ten minutes. Remove it from the fire and let it sit for another ten minutes. Open it carefully to check for doneness - potatoes should be tender and the hamburger should be fully cooked. You may need a little less time based on how hot the coals are and how thin you make the packet. A thin packet will cook faster than a thick one.

Grill - place the packet on a medium grill. Close the lid and let it cook for about fifteen minutes. Turn it over and let it cook another five minutes or so. Remove it from the grill and open carefully to check for doneness. Potatoes should be tender and hamburger should be completely cooked.

Oven - bake at 375° for about 25 minutes. Check for doneness. Cook another ten to fifteen minutes if needed.

You can add shredded cheese and more sauces and toppings after it's cooked if you want more of a burger meal. Some shredded lettuce, fresh tomatoes, and pickles go really well on top.

Monday, April 21, 2014

FanX Salt Lake City, the off-season version of ComicCon

I feel so special. It even said I was special on my FanX super-dee-dooper dangly tag. Yep. I got in as a special guest. I got to sit on panels and talk about writing, characters, space opera, and more.

No, I did not get any special privileges when it came to Nathan Fillion, Adam Baldwin, Patrick Stewart, or any of the other very special media guests. I did enjoy a nice lunch with Michael Stackpole, a very friendly author. We were on the space opera panel along with Eric James Stone and Julie Henderson. Great discussion of my favorite genre.

It was wonderful seeing so many friends. It's humbling to rub shoulders with so much talent and genius. Utah has a lot of world-class authors and artists.

I'd like to send out a big thank-you to the organizers and their army of volunteers who made the convention such a wonderful experience for so many people.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Thursday Recipe - Easter Bunny Cakes

My mom tried very hard to establish traditions. She tried to do the lemon easter egg cake but it never looked quite right. The cake usually crumbled. Frosting just doesn't work as glue to put it back together. Colored coconut doesn't hide it very well, either. We teased her about her ugly cakes, but they still tasted good. And we still loved her. The effort mattered.

Which leads me to my point of the story - it doesn't matter if you're a Pinterest queen or a total Pinterest fail, like me usually. What your family will remember is that you tried. You had fun with it and with them. That's what really matters.

Easter is a time to celebrate re-birth, new chances, and the resurrection of our Savior, Jesus Christ. Because of His sacrifice, we have the chance to be reborn and renewed and forgiven of our mistakes and sins. And He won't care if our cakes are Pinterest-worthy beauties or total disasters. What will matter is that we tried and did the best we could.

So here's my version of an Easter cake, just as a reminder that even imperfect ugly cakes taste as good as the pretty ones.

Easter Bunny Cake

Colored Coconut, aka fake grass:
1 c. shredded coconut
a few drops of green food coloring

Put coconut in a plastic bag. Add food coloring. Shake until coconut is all about the same shade of green. If it's too light, add a couple more drops of food coloring.

Spread on a plate or pie pan and let it dry for a couple of hours.

Cake - feel free to use your favorite cake mix or recipe, but lemon is traditional in our house for this:
2 c. flour
1 1/2 c. sugar
1/2 c. butter or shortening
1 c. milk
3 1/2 t. baking powder
1 t. salt
1 t. vanilla
2 eggs
2 egg yolks (set aside the whites to use for frosting)
1 t. lemon flavoring
1 t. lemon zest, if desired

Beat all ingredients on low speed just until mixed. Turn speed to high and beat for 3 minutes. Pour into two round cake pans that have been greased and floured. Bake at 350°F for 30 to 35 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool 10 minutes, then turn out onto a rack to finish cooling.

Fluffy Frosting - you can use whatever frosting recipe you want, but I like this fluffy marshmallow version. It's sticky and messy but very tasty:
1/2 c. sugar
1/4 c. corn syrup
2 T. water
2 egg whites
1 t. vanilla

Mix sugar, corn syrup, and water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil. Cook to 242° on a candy thermometer which is firm ball stage - a small amount dropped into a bowl of very cold water forms a ball that holds its shape until squished.

Meanwhile, beat egg whites until stiff peaks form. Pour hot syrup very slowly into egg whites, beating the whole time. This is a lot like making divinity except it won't get as stiff. Once you get all the syrup incorporated, keep beating and add the vanilla. Beat until peaks form and the frosting is thick and glossy.

To make bunnies:
Take a large serving tray or plate. Cut one round cake in half. Set the halves up on end on the plate to make a half circle, double layer cake set on its side. You can put some frosting between the layers to hold it in place or use a thin layer of strawberry or raspberry jam because it tastes good with lemon cake. Frost the cake with the fluffy frosting. Add two red or pink jelly beans as eyes. Cut ears from pink construction paper and stick into the cake towards one end to make a head. Sprinkle the green coconut on the plate to make grass. Add jelly beans as desired.

To make a cake like my mom's cake:
Crumble half the cake trying to get it out of the pan. Stick the pieces together on a plate, gluing with frosting. If it still looks like a round cake, drop it a couple of times. Glue it together with more frosting. It should be a lopsided weird looking pile of cake crumbs and frosting. Sprinkle coconut across the cake then dump a giant bag of jelly beans over the frosting on top. Set the cake aside somewhere the kids can sneak most of the jelly beans out of the frosting before you serve the cake.

Serve with a spoon since the frosting isn't holding it together. It won't matter because everyone will enjoy it anyway.

Monday, April 14, 2014

The State of Education

I read a very interesting book over the last week. The Smartest Kids in the World took a critical look at education, not just in the US but in Finland, Korea, and Poland, mostly through the eyes of three foreign exchange students. I expected it to be dry and more of a chore to wade through than a pleasurable read, like most of the non-fiction books I've been reading for class. I was very pleasantly surprised, not by the topic but by the readability of the book. The narrative flowed easily and the concepts were presented clearly. One idea led to the next in a logical, easy to follow manner.

The author's findings left me more than a little agitated, not because she's wrong but very, very right, in my opinion. Our school systems have major issues and the trends I see trouble me deeply, one of the reasons I'm pursuing a graduate degree in educational design.

SPOILER ALERT - If you want to discover her findings yourself, go read the book. It's easy to read, but it will leave you unsettled and unsatisfied, especially if you have children in the public schools in the US. We could do so much better. Change will hurt, mostly because it's change, but a few smaller changes can renew our entire system for the better. Other countries have shown it can be done and that change can happen fairly rapidly. But it will take work and commitment to make it happen.


First, change the teachers. Education is only as good as the teachers. If they don't understand math and science, or worse, are afraid of it, their students will also not understand and be afraid. But instead of punishing current teachers by shoving requirements onto them, start where teachers start: at college admissions. Make teacher education more rigorous. Raise the requirements to be admitted to a good teaching college. Create a national teaching license that actually means something and requires a solid understanding of the subject matter, not just teaching but the subject being taught. We do this type of licensing with lawyers and doctors and even electricians, why should teachers be something less?

But no one will want to teach if we do that, will they? All that hard work for no respect and low pay. So pay teachers a salary more in line with a college graduate salary instead of a fast food manager. The respect will fix itself if we require more from our prospective teachers.

With smart, hard-working, well-trained teachers in the classroom, we just need to get out of their way and let them teach. The Common Core is a good idea, maybe not in its current form, but it's at least a start towards accountability for the students. Let the teachers teach in the way that works. Good teachers will find a way if we let them.

Second, change the schools. Make the graduation test an actual measure of real-world skills. I recently took the GRE to get admitted to graduate school. It would work fine for high school. If a student can't do pre-algebra, pass a basic English exam, and write three persuasive essays, they aren't ready for the world. Really. Think about it. The GRE wasn't that hard.

One point in the book that stuck with me was the focus of schools on sports. The one area US schools excel in rigor and quality is the sports program, particularly football and basketball. Schools focus on sports more than anything else, to the detriment of education as a whole. I'm not saying take out sports entirely, kids need play-time and exercise and recess. Kids learn good things from playing sports, but not everything they need to know in order to succeed in today's world. I'm saying make the focus on schools on teaching not coaching. Let the after-school sports programs be that and only that.

Whatever we choose to do to fix our educational system, it's going to be painful for everyone involved. It will take people with vision. It will take flexibility. But it won't take long. If we take the steps necessary.

But we can't be tentative. It will take boldness. It will take commitment to a higher ideal of what education can and should be.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Thursday Recipe - Creamy Broccoli Cheese Soup

I've been obsessed with cheese soups lately. This is a good one for spring when you're tired of heavier starchy soups and want something lighter but still with plenty of body for those snowy days.

I'm also in love with these: Mrs. Cubbison's Crispy Onions
The list of ingredients is short and sweet and doesn't include things like MSG. They are also very tasty and go great on top of the soup.

So try a batch of this soup. It's fast, easy, and very satisfying.

Creamy Broccoli Cheese Soup

1/4 c. butter
1/2 c. chopped onions
1/4 c. flour
2 c. milk
4 c. chicken stock (or 4 c. hot water and 3 T. Better-than-Bouillon Chicken)
1/4 t. nutmeg
1/2 t. ground black pepper
1 t. salt
dash of cayenne pepper sauce, if desired
2 carrots, chopped up small
1 large bunch fresh broccoli, chopped small (I put the stems in one bowl and the tops in another)
2 c. shredded sharp cheddar cheese

Melt butter in a large saucepan. Add onions. Cook until onions are soft, about five minutes. Stir in flour. Cook and stir until flour mixture is smooth and bubbly. Stir in milk, a little at a time, until mixed. It will thicken up and come close to boiling, that's fine. Keep stirring to keep it from forming lumps. Add chicken stock, seasonings, and carrots. Bring to a slow boil. Reduce heat and cook for ten minutes, stirring frequently. Add broccoli stems. Cook for another five minutes. Add broccoli tops. Cook and stir for five minutes.

Using a stick blender, blend the soup until very smooth and creamy. You should see flecks of broccoli and carrot but not large chunks. (You can use a regular blender, just do it in small batches and be careful. It's very hot.)

Keep on a slow simmer until ready to serve. Stir in cheese. Let sit for about five minutes to make sure it melts completely. Stir again and serve.

Garnish with extra cheese, crispy onions, croutons, or whatever you like with your soups. We also used hard rolls to make bread bowls for the soup. Very tasty!

Monday, April 7, 2014

Two New Books from James Wymore

My friend, James Wymore, has TWO books coming out soon. Check them out!

Book 1: Salvation

Release Date: May 16, 2014

Book Blurb:

A man wakes on a frozen battlefield when a scavenging couple finds him among the dead. As they nurse him back to health, he is struck with the horrible realization he can’t remember who he is or anything about his past. Taken in by the kind pair, he begins helping with their farm. She even takes him to meet her family, especially her single sister. The ideal life offered in the high mountains of Winigh is shattered when he sees a transport bringing enemy monsters to the shores below. Cut off by high snow on the pass, their fate will soon be the same as the town his company failed to protect in the last battle, if this estranged soldier cannot help them fight off the next wave of invaders. Even worse, the people of the town don’t trust this Selene soldier. He has a strange resistance to their folk magic which some say make him as dangerous as the enemies preparing to destroy them.

Book 2:  Exacting Essence
Release Date: June 12. 2014

Book Blurb:

Remember waking up late in the night after a nightmare?  Your mother holding you tight and whispering everything would be all right?  She lied.

Evil clowns haunted Megan’s dreams for years.  Even though nobody ever said she was crazy, she knew they were all thinking it.  With her life falling apart, she turns suicidal until a new therapist suggests the impossible: dreams are real.  Nightmares are living, breathing predators, feeding off dreamer’s fears by exacting essence.

Most, of course, forget theirs as soon as they wake up.  Megan is not so lucky.  She is also not so powerless.

But is even a power nurtured in her dreams enough to fight off the horrors lurking just beyond the veil of sleep?
Author Bio:

On a lifelong search for fantastic worlds hiding just out of sight, James Wymore writes to explore.  With three books and six short stories in print after just one year, he continues to push the boundaries of imagination.  Journey with him at


Twitter: @JamesWymore

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Thursday Recipe - Old-Fashioned Taco Salad

Can't beat good old taco salad. This is the cold version, where everything is tossed together. It's a bit different than the taco stack version. It would be great for a picnic sometime.

Cold Taco Salad

1 lb hamburger
2 T. taco seasoning
2 green onions, sliced up
1 head iceberg lettuce, shredded
1 tomato, chopped
1 c. shredded cheddar cheese
2 c. fritos corn chips
1/3 c. ranch dressing
sliced avocado
sliced olives

Brown hamburger. Drain off grease. Stir in taco seasoning. Set aside to cool.

Toss lettuce with tomato, onions, cheese, and fritos. Add hamburger and dressing. Toss again to coat. Garnish with avocado and olives. Serve immediately.

If you want to serve it later, keep the fritos out until ready to serve.