Thursday, August 17, 2017

How reading informs my writing

I'm one of these people who needs to learn by DOING, rather than by OBSERVING. 

Right now at work, I'm learning the core data entry tasks. While I have been working with our computer system for 4.5 months and have job-shadowed people for a couple of days, I am learning mostly by having to do it myself. It's nit-picking, detailed stuff. If you missed that the member ticked a box saying they receive SSI payments, or if you didn't check if the state verified the member's citizenship, it changes everything.

I have been a voracious reader for most of my life. It wasn't until I started writing books about ten years ago that I learned how a plot is supposed to work. Sure, I could identify a plot generally in a  book; we learned that in middle school and high school. Rising action, turning points, climax, denouement, all of that.

It wasn't until I had to figure out what happened next in my books and/or edit what I write in a messy first draft that I've started getting a handle on how to create it. It's still too big a job for me sometimes. I have great attention to detail, but making my turning points really dramatic and really, uh, turn-y point-y? That's hard. Knowing which scenes need to move or change or be deleted? That's SUPER hard.

But on the other hand, sometimes reading other peoples' books gives me clues on what NOT to do. 

I almost abandoned (gave up on, but eventually went back to and finished) a book with a sportsing hero (not gonna say what sport or the title or the name of the bestselling author).

First off, I am not a big sportsterating fan. I guess the ritualized combat plays some role in peoples' psyches, but the squashing of academics in high schools and universities in favor of plowing money into MASCOT PRIDE, the exploitation of thousands of young people in schools, universities and even the pros (because those few who make it might play a year or two and then are 'let go' and have no qualifications for anything else, plus in certain sports, they likely have brain injuries that will dog them for the rest of their lives), and the glorification of superstars 😎 all add up to me wondering where the bread is to go with our circuses.

All that said, I like quite a few of the sports romances I've read. (I blogged about sports and diversity a few months ago, even) There are hockey, basketball, baseball, football, and every other type of sportsy dude (not so often the sportsy lady - a reflection of the wider attitude toward women's sports, I guess).

So anyway, there's this sportster star guy who lives for his sport (but keeps showing up late to practice and getting suspended), only it's barely mentioned as something he does every now and then, mostly an inconvenience to going on a date with the heroine (though he had plenty of time to bang every other woman in the whole city and cause scandals). It is more like a check box to say he's rich and famous, but I don't really get the feeling that he's a sporty guy.

Then the heroine's personality is like the author looked up the trope file for Manic Pixie Dream Girl and ticked all the boxes. She works in the quirkiest coffee shop ever! She plays the ukulele! (And I just re-read the Salon piece by the guy who came up with the term - and who HATES the term and the sexist way it plays out in movies and public discourse) Anyway, I'm just not feeling the love for them.

So I am trying even more than usual to make my characters well-rounded. What does my character do for a living? Do they love it? Are they just getting by with it because it pays the bills? What is their dream job? Is it a realistic dream? What do they have to do to get that dream job? Does it involve a ukulele?

In one of my unpublished contemporary books, the hero is a botanist. He loves plants more than he likes most people. His dream job is to dig in the dirt of the botanical gardens, but right now he's making a good living as some sort of management in a company that works with a university doing botanical research for pharmaceutical companies (I need to figure out exactly what he does, to be honest. It's not his dream job - his parents are the ones who want him to succeed in business). He's not even in the lab. His office and apartment are humid and warm because of the hundreds of plants he's growing. The heroine is a high school English teacher. She goes to work every day, lives on a fairly small salary, has papers to grade, and she's bossy and creative and her ambition is to be a principal.

The novella I'm writing now is anchored on the family's secretary. He's ambitious and has made a name for himself putting other peoples' affairs in order, pulling nobles out of bankruptcy, and ruthlessly taming their expenditures. Now he's working for the de Bures family (The ones from Indispensable Wife) and they don't need all that much help as they are comfortably rich and competent as a couple in both estate management (the husband) and politicking at the king's court (the wife). Their son is good at the schmoozing stuff, but really needs to learn how to run the estate, though the father could live for a long time still. They've hired the best secretary around, who took the job to gain influence at court. He has ulterior motives and ambitions, too.

All this to say that part of creating a character is knowing them well.

And knowing your characters and making their lives hard is what creates plot. And making absolutely everyone charmed because she plays the ukulele? Come on, someone in there has to roll their eyes and not be labelled the villain.

The ukulele.

Come on.

------------
No ukuleles anywhere! Just some minor magical incidents and an overbearing Tartuffe-ian dad!

Melisande is out now!


Saturday, August 12, 2017

Work and school - the saga continues

I didn't get to work overtime this week and this weekend, because we finally caught up with the queue of tasks I was working from. It was great while it lasted (though a lot of extra work, time and a half is decent pay). The sad thing is that because I don't know the main data entry task, I have to learn that now. And not only do I have to learn it, but I got traded to another team, back in the big room of elbow-to-elbow data processors and had to give up my beautiful, spacious cubicle. The pay's the same, but until I know the data entry really really well, I can't work overtime, nor can I get myself back to the Research team. So I have motivation on two fronts to learn this stuff! It feels like a demotion, though. Sigh.

And now we have Nazis and KKK marching in Virginia and a certain president threatening nuclear war. So the world is even scarier than usual these days.

It's all a bit much for my attempts to write. I'm tired and bummed out when I get home and then I open the news or social media and.... yuck. But I'm starting to see my way through how the plot needs to go on the book I'm working on. It's definitely going to be only a novella  of 30-40K words. But it's going to be awesome :)

In other news, my big kids started back at high school this week and my 4th grader starts next Wednesday. Summer, while still hot, is over. And no, I don't get why they have to start in the first half of August. They get more breaks during the year, then get out in June though. Summer is about two months long.

My oldest son is a senior this year, which means we need to get serious about college search and finances and applications and stuff. He's also taking as many AP classes as he can squeeze in PLUS he's taking Calculus 3 at a community college. He's bummed because he can't get AP history on his schedule due to his other class choices and requirements. But he is taking AP literature and French 4 this semester and AP Biology and Honors Physics next semester. And looking at his schedule on the website, it looks like he IS in AP Government next semester. Is that the one he wanted? (Turns out it's not; he ALSO wanted AP history) I'm mostly worried that he's going to burn out part of the way through the year.

My middle child is a sophomore and I keep wondering where the time has gone. This is the kid I homeschooled through middle school. He struggled in some of his classes last year, but ended up with an excellent GPA overall. Maybe he learned what I've been trying to tell him that showing up all the time and doing every assignment and turning it in makes an enormous difference to your grades. He was jealous of his big brother last year at awards night because he was in the group that had higher than 4.0 due to all those weighted AP and Honors classes. Their actual unweighted GPAs are about the same, so he has hope. If desire to match his older brother (who doesn't struggle with dyslexia) means he works harder in school, I'm not going to protest.

We just finished the school supply shopping for the youngest this morning. Actually, Michael's didn't have red or white tempera paint in the 16 oz bottles, so we got the other 6 colors and not those. I try not to moan about the cost of it, because if we didn't buy the stuff, the teachers would end up buying it, but hey.... why don't we give the schools enough money to pay for that stuff? Surely buying paint and erasers in bulk would be cheaper than sending each family out?

I was going to buy her a few t-shirts when we were in Target looking for a headphone USB adapter, but she was so cranky by then that she refused to say yes or no about the shirts I found. So she's going back with some clothes too small for her. It's not like the stores won't exist next week, so I'm not worried. Or rather, if the stores don't exist next week, we're going to have a lot bigger problems on our hands than her not having shirts with sparkles.

Right. I'm off for a nap. I woke up at my usual 5-something this morning and couldn't get back to sleep. I am not a morning person. Or I wasn't. I guess I am by default now. Meh.

THIS WEEK IN PROMO:

Sorry, gotta put this somewhere.

I wrote a little scene of an interview with two of the characters from Mélisande and Bonnie Phelps put it on her blog.

So if you'd like to get a perspective on Lucas, my hero, but also a perspective on Monsieur Arbois, the stony-faced secretary who might or might not be on their side, go check it out!

Meet the Characters - An Interview with Monsieur Arbois from “Mélisande” by Philippa Lodge

Enjoy! Leave a comment!

And buy Melisande!


Sunday, August 6, 2017

Lazy Sunday

Hey... it's been a while, eh?

Today was supposed to be the day off this week. I've been working a lot of overtime while it was available, saving up for the weeks ahead when it won't be.

I'm tired a lot and I didn't achieve my 30,000 words for Camp Nanowrimo in July. I did write more than 20K, which is nice. I was rewriting a book I got stuck on and got stuck again at pretty much the same sort of point. So it's a bit stuck. All stuck. I'm going to write some scenes, some of which will have to be cut later.

So today I woke up way too early (like 4:30 kind of early), but managed to go back to sleep at 6:30 or so until 8:30. That was nice. Then I lazed around a bit. Then I took my teens to Target for a bike seat for one and a bike helmet for the other (and 2 pairs of jeans and a polo shirt for boys, and a computer mouse, and a Steam gift card my 2nd son paid for himself, and... I spent $146.) Oldest son can't figure out how to take off his old seat and insists it can't be done. So finally, a few hours later, my husband is helping him. I sure don't see how to do it and I leave things to the mechanically-inclined.

And then I went to lunch a friend I hardly ever see anymore. I swang by the drop box at the library. I did the grocery shopping while I'm out. So now can I have some quiet time?

And my computer is insisting that "swang" is misspelled. So my moment of self-doubt is that I went and looked up the conjugation. Uh, thanks computer, for dumbing me down, because it's the simple past, even though a lot of people say "swung" now. (and, of course, the computer doesn't recognize "dumbing" either)

RIGHT.

I'm off to do some writing!

Have a good last few hours of weekend and a great week!

(And go buy Melisande.)

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Today's search terms

History of Catalonia in the 17th century
Catalan Revolt
Andorra
Catalan nobility

Versailles pig farm (results were all Marie Antoinette's pretend farm, not 17th century home farm)

When was Quebec founded (1608)

Sacramento weather (I. Can't. Even.)

Restaurants near me (at a write-in this morning. Ended up coming home instead of going out to lunch)

baby pug (this was my nine-year-old daughter)

how big are alpacas
how much land do you need for an alpaca
how much land for a miniature horse
cassowary
echidnas
(all from a conversation with my daughter)

Sacramento library hours (too late now)

Sacramento weather (seriously?!!)

And I wrote 3000+ words. WOOT!

Go forth and google.

And pre-order Melisande.



Tuesday, July 4, 2017

More 17th century writing

I have one more Chateaux and Shadows book I want to edit and submit, but I haven't done it yet, so it will be quite a while until it gets published. If ever, because I don't know if I can really make that thing coherent. On the other hand, I am starting all over again, trying to write Dario's story (he's the sone of the couple from book 1: Indispensable Wife. Oh oops, spoiler alert on if they ever have a baby...), which I got halfway through. I'm only reaching for a novella on it.

I'm giving the dark, silent secretary from Melisande a point of view. I've been turning the name Apolonio over in my head for at least a year and a half, since I saw it on the name tag of the assistant manager at a Carl's Jr. I've been wondering who Monsieur Arbois really is for much longer than that. Well, no more spoilers, but I'm just starting to figure it out myself. I'm 5000 words in (2k today!) and parts parallel my earlier attempt, but some is new territory.

I really like this stage of writing a book, when things surprise me.

I'm trying to do a 30,000 word CampNanowrimo this month, which is a mere thousand words a day. So far so good, though it was only from last weekend and today. Regular work weeks might kill me too much to keep up.

Right. Off to get dinner ready. Maybe another writing sprint afterward. Nothing but party here, Chez Lodge.

She's not a witch...OR IS SHE?
15 days until Melisande!
 

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Organizational SKILLZZZZ

I just went searching for my teens' school calendar for next year so I can put it all in my online calendar. I'm marginally organized sometimes.

I got excited at a note I saw saying "new school hours" and thought that wow, they'd finally paid attention to all the studies and surveys saying teens' circadian rhythms were naturally later and a 7:45 school day was too freaking early.

Then had to laugh at the excited announcement on the high school home page that the new bell schedule means that schools starts.....

five minutes later.

That 7:50 start time is going to make all the difference in the world.



And now I'm trying to find their school-specific calendar instead of the district-wide one, but I'm having no luck. I can at least get that much on my calendar, I guess. No idea when they'll have minimum days and exams and stuff, but we'll figure it out eventually, right?

And all of this....

Yeah, I'm only organized when I'm procrastinating. I have my RWA chapter newsletter about half done, maybe more, since all I need to do is plunk in the articles, which is just minor adjustments to make things fit on the pages. Oh, and get release forms out to the authors who wrote articles for me. Rats. Better get to work now that the coffee is soaking into my brain.

Right ho!

And what I need YOU to do is to pre-order Melisande. She doesn't take orders all that well, though she really, really tries. But give it a go.

And yes, she is kind of pink.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Melisande - all the links


Melisande's pre-orders have begun!

Coming July 19th!

Paperbacks:
Amazon PAPERBACK
Wild Rose Press PAPERBACK (payments at Wild Rose now are done through Amazon Payments)

Ebooks:

The Wild Rose Press

Amazon US
Amazon France
Amazon UK
Amazon Australia
Amazon Canada
Amazon Germany

Barnes and Noble
Kobo
iBooks
Google Books


Châteaux and Shadows Book 5
Lucas de Granville—pious, respectable, impoverished, lonely—will do nearly anything for the godfather who raised him, even though his godfather doesn’t seem to want to do anything for him.

Melisande—mundane, illegitimate, dirt poor, lonely—will do nearly anything to make sure her mother and brother have shelter and food, even though they are critical of her lack of magical talent.

When Melisande’s father, a pious comte, sends his godson Lucas to bring her to Versailles and help him train her to be a fine, staunchly religious lady, their attraction is immediate, but so is their distrust.

Her eagerness to get as much money as she can as quickly as possible gradually changes into a wish for something higher, better, and holier. Something that Lucas can help her achieve: love.




Friday, May 19, 2017

Hellooooo Russia!

I have no idea why, but in the last two weeks, I've had a lot of blog hits from Russia. Honest, I don't know any state secrets. All you get if you hack me is romance novels and chick lit.

So...this week I've been thinking about names again.

Unique is a lovely name and I appreciate the sentiment, but do people realize how many girls are named Unique?  I'm Unique, just like everybody else!

And when I posted that, a friend said she's come across several girls named Neveah, which is Heaven backwards. I've come across a lot of those in my work, too. To me, Heaven backwards is Hell, but OK.

And then there was a refugee family with French/African names. I wanted to know more. And a family from what I'm guessing was somewhere in Asia who swapped the mom and dad's social security numbers (and was a couple of digits off on one of them) and messed up some other stuff.  And a family with two sets of twins and for some reason one kid - just ONE - was not in our database as being processed for a renewal. I searched high and low and finally had to send the letter saying we're not working on her right now and if you think that's wrong, call your local office.

Also, I find myself very lucky to be on the team of the supervisor in charge of this side task project, because it means I've had it easy as far as asking for help from him and from other teammates. Some of the others who were assigned to the task were also new and are sitting with their teams wayyyyy on the other side of the big room. So some are still making errors after more than a month. But then some of my teammates who've been there a while but who haven't done this task in a while are going sooooo slowly, but acting superior because they're not making mistakes. (Though at least one is trying to do the task in the older way that was more time-consuming and unnecessarily precise, instead of following the updated manual) Well, I think I'm not making many mistakes, but I'm flying along. The woman next to me does even more than I do and is getting good scores.

But yes: lucky to be on that team. Besides which, two people brought donuts this week, which means it's going to be my turn soon. And they're silly goofy from time to time, so it's a mostly cheerful little tribe. We're getting some new team members Monday and they moved the sweet young girl who sits behind me over to another team, so the dynamic will change.

Also this week, I have done no writing at all, but I'm suddenly thinking about my work in progress again, which is a good sign. I have book club books to read this weekend and tomorrow is booked almost solid, so it won't be this weekend that I'm back to writing. But soon.

So overall, a good couple of weeks. I'm cautiously optimistic.

Here's to a good weekend!

News soon on the next book in my historical French series! This one's slightly off the beaten path of the others, as the de la Brosse siblings are very minor characters. But there's a witch....maybe a witch. And a zealot or five.

In the meantime, catch up with the first four books.


Sunday, May 7, 2017

A slump

I'm in a writing slump right now:

  • with the new job
  •  with how tired I am at the end of the workday
  • with April having ended and I didn't even manage 25K words in Camp Nanowrimo
  • with my birthday having just happened and I always get down on myself around my birthday
  • with my newest Work In Progress being stuck because I feel like I'm not the right person to be writing this story and yet I wish very much to be able to pull this off
  • with my published books not selling well and a new one coming out soon
  • with the only editor or agent reactions I've had to my current projects "New Adult? NO WAY"
  • with watching the world and my country slip and slide around, ever closer to wars and to destroying anything moral
  • with my only light in recent days being that the French managed to not elect a fascist (and I'm not just making up that she's a fascist, she actually sued when someone called her that and it was demonstrated in court that she is literally a fascist. And still 35% of the French electorate voted for fascism, so there's a solid turdnugget of disappointment.) 

I'm tired right now. Always tired.

So really, it's an all-around slump, not just a writing slump.

Is it any wonder I'm doing a lot of re-reading and comfort reading and not reading hard stuff? Or even unfamiliar stuff that might disappoint me? Or writing things that are definitely disappointing me?

Anyway. I'm off to read.




Saturday, April 29, 2017

The face of bureaucracy and the face of poverty

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that I had started a day job and briefly commented that their business model is based on temps who they may or may not hire on later. So that aspect is at least percolating in my head, trying to come up with what I really think of it.

One thing is that the work force is one of the most diverse I've worked with, maybe ever. And yet my supervisor is a white guy from the same corner of Ohio that I am. (Most supervisors aren't, from what I can see, so it was just by chance that I ended up with him). But I thought "Hey, this is cool" about all the colors and accents around me and immediately realized that because this job relies on hundreds of temps, paid above (not a lot above) the minimum wage, it's definitely not like having minorities at the helm of a company. If we relied entirely on my income, our family of five would be below the poverty level. (Though I got approved to do overtime and worked an extra six hours this week at time and a half, which would bring us up into low income...maybe. But there's also an aspect of exploitation in making it so you can only climb out of poverty by working overtime). Which has given me other things to think about.

So anyway, the face of nameless, faceless bureaucracy is....me. And all these other human beings who are working for wages that are not going to make them rich. We're impermanent with no benefits or pension or anything. Well, there are some minimal benefits through my temp agency and I guess the company has benefits once you become a real employee (sounds like Pinocchio: I want to be a real employee!), but it's certainly not the idea of government employees hanging on, being surly, impossible to fire, waiting until they retire.

Our division within the company is processing Medicaid forms for a state east of the Mississippi. I won't say the state, but it's not California (though this company has done some work for Covered California, too).


Sometimes people send in a note with their packet (like one I got yesterday on flowery note paper, saying they didn't get the packet and tried to call but didn't get through, please send a packet - and the first time anyone is thinking about what to do with the note is me and by now they're past their reconsideration period and have gotten an automatic letter and will have to contact social services to re-enroll). Sometimes, there's a little narrative we could call "My Hard Times" which talks about losing jobs, people dying, and getting surgery. Most often, there's a "I guess I did this right, but I got confused. Call me if it's wrong." Some feel a compulsion to bless us.

I want to help them. I really want to call up a nice-note lady who totally bollixed up her kid's packet and tell her they're going to lose coverage before we can get it all straightened out, so here's what to do to make it right. And to call up the nice, elderly lady and make sure she has enough money for food and check she's OK.

In any case, we have to shuttle through these things in a few minutes (we need to average about four an hour for the people who are doing the actual decisions on who gets to keep Medicaid, about ten an hour when sharing the packets, and twenty-five per hour for the thing we've been doing this week. That's 200 cases a day. Though I hit more like 300 a day by the end of the week.), so we don't have time to write a note back. There are some circumstances in which we refer them to the call center and they get a call. But mostly, we're at a literal and figurative distance, treating them impartially and efficiently. Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead. Ours is but to do and die.

And while I don't know about the attitudes of everyone there, I actually do care about the people whose forms I'm handling (handling in a virtual way: everything is scanned and in PDF format by the time it gets to me). This week, we've been doing a thing where we flip through the forms, make sure they're signed, and set up a task for later if there are more than one person named in the packet, so I've spent less time than before on thinking about the people involved. In fact, I only care if there's more than one person listed and if there's a signature and I barely retain the first name just so I can see if the next name is a different person. Yes, people fill out their own names on every page instead of putting down Person Two and Additional Family Members. And I get pretty mad if there isn't a signature on the correct signature line, because that process takes longer. (So double check all your documents to be sure you sign them, OK?)


I'm on the Research Team and our main task in between the side tasks is to look through the forms and make sure everyone in the family-slash-household is linked together and has the renewal packet and all the bits of info that have been sent in.

On usual days (which I guess I shouldn't call usual, because I've spent as much or more time on the side tasks), we have to move quickly, but at the top of the blank page open on my screen that I use to copy and paste salient info, I always put the Applying Member's name. I don't believe that saying a person's name or praying it or doing anything other than actually contacting that person to lend support does anything, but just thinking of their name and not a number reminds me that these are human beings who need health insurance. I keep in mind that I'm not there to judge them. I keep in mind that I've had government assistance, too - not limited to roads and bridges and education and the CDC.

And let me tell you, some of the stories are heartbreaking. 
  • The foster kids and the kids adopted by the grandparents and the ninety-year-old lady who has no property and almost no income and whose checking account is nearly empty at all times. 
  • And the family relying on income from a part-time job at WalMart and a pittance from babysitting the neighbor's kids. 
  • And the one that drew a collective gasp when we were in training, in which a waitress was getting paid $2.13 per hour plus tips. Her dad was delivering pizza part time. Combined, they were making about $300 per week, which comes out to $15,000 a year for a family of four.
  • And the 20-ish year old guy who gets his mail at his grandma's but is couch-surfing with friends and family. 
  • And the people in hospice or nursing homes who have social workers or care home staff filling out forms for them. 
  • And the paperwork received back from an organization that I guess helps the homeless, who lost track of the guy on the papers over a year ago - and that's the only address we have for him. 
  • And the woman who sits behind me having a conversation with a supervisor about how to figure out the designation on a packet for a married couple who are sixteen and eighteen and have two kids and live with the wife's parents. Whose income is taken into consideration to decide eligibility? Will she get Medicaid as a minor? This is known as the cycle of poverty, by the way, kids.

The face of poverty in America, at least in the unmentioned state:
  • Single parents and families with two biological parents and families with step-parents. 
  • It's families with one child and the one with twelve kids who instead of filling out the forms for everyone made a spreadsheet of names, birth dates, and social security numbers and answered the questions for them all (they're all white, none are foster kids, no one's pregnant, and they have names like Hallelujah and Hezekiah, except they all start with the same letter (that's not H)). 
  • They're lifelong residents of the state and they're naturalized citizens and the kids of undocumented immigrants. 
  • They speak English and Spanish (because those are the only languages the forms are available in), but also Arabic, Russian, and other languages from all over the world. 
  • We can't see their faces, but sometimes I glance at the answers on the race portion, and there are some of everything, but lots of White, quite a few Black, and many Hispanic.

Names are an interesting, sometimes hilarious thing:
  • There's a trend among African Americans to name boys things with -ious at the end. Markevious. Zacarious. And another trend to name girls (and sometimes boys), things with apostrophes. De'Shelle. La'Shonda.
  • There's a little girl named Fantasy and another named Exhilarate.
  • There's an elderly lady named Fairy. (Which, according to searching the Social Security baby names site, was a thing back then. The name was in the top 1000 until the 1930's: "The year when the name Fairy was most popular is 1905. In that year, the number of births is 32, which represents 0.010 percent of total female births in 1905." Those crazy kids!
  • There's a dad named John Smith who didn't put any other identifying info on his kid's packet. There are 200 or so John Smiths in that state who have Medicaid and who are in the reapplication process right now. I couldn't find him by address, which means he is probably not getting Medicaid, though his kids are.

TL;DR is that I care.
And don't give me the "all people on Medicaid are scammers" crap, because some people work full time and still can't afford health care. Also don't give me the "Welfare Queen" crap because I will have to smack you. Oh, and: the people who are processing the forms are probably barely scraping by, either.

And this was 1700-ish words that I did not put into my latest novel. Get back to work, Philippa Lodge.

And go buy my French historical romances. 


Saturday, April 15, 2017

Rough draft....keeps getting shorter

I know when you're writing a rough draft, you're supposed to keep going, never throw anything away. Damn the torpedoes.

Or anyway, if you're a pantser and working under deadline, that's how you should do it. I guess a pure plotter would have worked out the twists in their heads and their outline before starting the book. Though I've heard enough stories about people who plot before they write and then what they write ends up veering in a completely different direction and they have to change their outline.

There are many roads to Oz, as Jennifer Crusie says in amongst all her other writing advice.

I had the clear vision of a scene in my mind where two young women meet. They are both lesbians, but each doesn't know the other is. One is young and arrogant and, if not beautiful, then well-dressed and coiffed and seemingly perfect, along with being a bit smug about how smart she is. The other is a few years older, ex-Army mine sweeper, average looks and tired and stressed, still finding her feet and needing help with her academic writing. And in my mind, they clicked. On the page, they didn't. So as I was writing this first chapter, it was OK, but not grabbing me.

Then I wrote the other part of the first chapter, the part where some of the guys from my semi-fictional small college go to a protest in a nearby city and my other main character meets a beautiful young woman -- or meets her again, because they knew each other slightly in high school when he had a crush on her older sister, who is now a politician and speaking at the Black Lives Matter rally.

And that's where the story is.



My soundtrack is U2 this time, Best of 1980 - 1990, so I've moved into the Eighties. The first song is "Pride (In the Name of Love)" and is about Martin Luther King Jr. So yes, it's a tumultuous time in my book.

Maybe 60s girl groups for the next one. So far, I've been choosing albums that are sort of iconic in their own right in one way or another. (The Big Chill because it was Baby Boomers with 60s nostalgia, Rolling Stones Hot Rocks, and now the greatest hits from U2 from what's probably their most iconic years.) I don't know if there's an iconic-in-its-own-right album of the Supremes or Motown Women or something. Or stay in the 80's and use Madonna songs? On the other hand, I might use Simon and Garfunkel's Concert in Central Park.But I feel like I haven't been giving women artists their due.

All right. I need to go fix lunch and start Chapter Two, "New Year's Day," about the Solidarnosc protests in Poland. So yeah, more protests.

October 2016 and forward from there, so it's going to be depressing. Cathartic too, I hope.

If a certain 'winner' doesn't get us all blown up.

Oh god. I'm depressed again.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Galley Slave: Keep Rowing! Squirrel!

I have started reading through my galley for copy edits, proofreading, and all those last-minute, tiny edits.

I have spent the last couple hours clearing off the top of our TV stand/bookshelf.

Massive procrastination.

But my living room looks slightly better.





Just, you know, don't look at the rest of the room. Or even slightly lower than this picture. Or even the pile on the right side of that, which is NOT MY STUFF.

And my daughter (who's nine) just came in from the backyard to say she thought she saw a snake and there's a snake skin. So I went out and we retrieved the skin with a stick and it was this:
which, you might notice, has legs and is not a snake skin. We have big, nasty alligator lizards in our yard (and yes, they are called that and yes, they look like alligators, though their snouts aren't so long. I found them right away when we were first trying to identify them by googling "lizard looks like alligator"). So we're going to hope that's what she glimpsed and heard and that it's not a rattlesnake. Because those scare me.

In tidying, I found my old camera with its fabulous zoom and flash and need for actual film. My kids are messing with it now. The battery still works and everything. I should go get them some film.

Oh wait, I need to update my book spreadsheet with the book I finished reading this morning...

And now my middle child's bestest buddy just showed up, so I had to show him the picture I found of them when they were six. The flame jacket is my kid and the boy next to him wearing red and blue and swinging a stick is bestest buddy.
With other buddies, too. And my oldest on the right (who would have been almost nine, given that these were taken near Christmas 2008 and I know that, because there was another picture of us moms and I'm carrying my tiny baby girl in a sling), giving them bunny ears.

Oh, and it's the anniversary of Young Cat's finding day. The day he was trapped under my friend's mom's deck and came to live with us (and for a while we had his two sisters, too).

This is him two years ago, when he weighed less than half a pound and half his weight was fleas. He weighs fifteen or so pounds now and beats up on Old Cat.


My oldest is reading to me from the California Driver's Handbook. He's supposed to have already finished his online driving class and have his license. AHEM, BOY.

We're sitting around chatting, because I take almost any moment to chat with teens who aren't always communicative. Even if we're all talking nonsense today.


Bestest Buddy Iz Ded.



And now they're spinning on office chairs. Because reasons.

I worked for a little bit while they went outside to hit each other with foam swords. Then my daughter tripped on the retaining wall and cut up her feet, so I helped wash and put band-aids on her and generally got sidetracked.

Right. Buddy had to leave because his mom came across a stray dog. Or something? And my kids have settled down to play some online game in Minecraft.

It's quiet again.

OK. I can work for forty minutes, right?

Procrastination train is leaving the station.

GO READ MY FOUR BOOKS WHILE I WORK ON THIS ONE, OK?

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Keeping a Day Job

I started a day job this week. It's a temp-to-perm job doing data entry. It's not straight up "Here's the form, enter it and click on all the answers to the questions," it's more puzzling out if all the info is there and what the people need and running it through two different complicated systems with an 84-page instruction sheet (and side instruction sheets for various aspects).

And we'll be shadowing current "Application Specialists" for the next couple weeks, too. This is serious business, y'all.

So anyway, it's been a long week.

Not as long as it has been for April and her overdue giraffe calf....

She's got her tail up right now. Is she pooping or pushing?

Sorry, I had to toss that in.

The company where I'm working appears to hire most of its staff - at least the data entry and call center staff - as temps, then whoever makes it for a while has a shot at a permanent job. And I'm talking hundreds of people. Some of the people who started in the training didn't make it all week. One poor woman, who I bet will be back because she had made it that far, had minor surgery the weekend before training started and was there on Monday. She had to leave halfway through Friday because she was suddenly in pain and had to go for a CAT Scan.

I have a lot of thoughts about a business model that's based on the impermanence of workers and nonchalance about them and their benefits. But I will wait and see, because this actually seems to be a good job with some advancement opportunity. At the very least, I can do it for a long time and use that on my resume to get something bigger.

But right now, I need to get to work on all the stuff that I haven't been doing all week because I've either been at work or too tired from the unaccustomed schedule. (This weekend: groceries, child to buy a birthday present, then to a birthday party, do layout of RWA chapter newsletter, make kids mow the lawn, find birthday present for husband and make his birthday pie, trying to make up for the few hours of my kids' lives I miss by going to work (Mommy Guilt!), maybe shopping for a couple more nice blouses for work...

Oh. And of course I'm blogging and I just cleaned out some old emails.

Ready to get to work now!

The anniversary of the publication of Book 2 of Chateaux and Shadows is coming up very soon. It's one of my favorites in my series (which.... there are 4 out and they're all my favorites. They're siblings, so I'm not allowed to play favorites, right?), because the couple are both quiet and reserved and have such a strong core of decency and of hidden passion. No, it's not super sexy, except all the smoldering. And I introduce Marcel Fourbier who has been one of my favorite people to write.

So go forth and read!




Sunday, March 26, 2017

April the Giraffe

So the world waits with bated breath. Well, the world is tired of her teasing and started breathing again a while ago. Wake us when she starts pushing, OK?

Who, really, can empathize with poor April the Giraffe? Well, she probably doesn't realize that millions of people keep sneaking peeks at her webcam, she just knows that she's been confined to her (relatively) tiny indoor pen. Partly because it's been cold in New York, partly because that baby's coming annnnyyyyy time now.

There are fake websites and fake YouTube channels (at least two today in top results that claim she was giving birth) trying to pull in the viewers and get ad revenue by copying footage, so I accept only the best: AprilTheGiraffe.com. From there, click on the button to the Giraffe Cam.

But it's not just a moment for pregnant women who've reached the last couple months of pregnancy or gone past their due dates, it's really about Hurry Up and Wait.

Who else has been given a strict deadline, a time to get somewhere, a precise moment when you have to do something....and then you get there, flustered, and there are 100 flustered people in line ahead of you. Or you turn in your whatever-it-is in to your boss, editor, teacher, potential boss, whoever and then sit for an age, eagerly awaiting a reply.

And awaiting.

And awaiting.

AND AWAITING.

Of course, when it comes time for me to have to turn something in, I have reasons why I have to keep someone else waiting. It's all in the perspective.

So why are we fascinated by April? Some other giraffe had a baby and that was more "related news" than news in itself. We can find other YouTube videos of giraffes giving birth.

Maybe we're fascinated precisely because we're waiting and checking in on her.We've invested in her. It's become a joke, a meme, and a collective interest. There are copycats and parodies (Did you see the very pregnant woman pacing around her house wearing a giraffe mask?)

98,425 people are watching with me right now as she is doing...something with her head just out of the shot below the camera. Fasssssssscinating.

So just remember.

Patience.

Don't forget to breathe.

Once it's out of your control, you have to remain calm. Observe it instead of letting it tie you in knots. The vet and the zookeepers are checking on April. Check on your family and friends. Let them check on you.

And hey, look! The giraffe in the next pen is lying down! And she just walked across her pen and seems to be looking out a window!

Thursday, March 23, 2017

A little more about bread

Thanks to my high school freshman, we might have had a step forward in our bread. He informed me Tuesday night that he had to do a short presentation in French I about some cultural aspect of France. He's known for a while now that he'd have to do this, of course....

He wanted to do some kind of food. So we went through all the things I knew how to do and we could put together  before Thursday morning.

He rejected Trader Joe's croissants (you get them in the freezer case, let them defrost and rise overnight and they're the closest I've found to fresh French croissants).

So we ended up with baguettes. Because I'm always about the baguettes.

We added a bit of sugar. Just a tablespoon-ish for the triple recipe (it was the last bit in the sugar bag, so I dumped the rest in). I've been avoiding adding sugar because authentic French bakers don't. But the bread ended up just a bit fluffier, so from now on I will.

We also brushed egg on the tops so they ended up browner and crunchier. Water in pans making it steamy and oven set at 450.



We made a triple recipe instead of a double one, so we'd have bread for supper. It didn't really fit in the mixer.

 The blob after rising. It's a lot of dough.


DS2 rolling the loaves out like playdoh.

Baguettes for school and a round loaf for us. Tops slashed even too deeply. Note the shiny egg. I left the round one in longer, but it still wasn't all the way cooked in the middle, so next time I'll lower the oven temp a bit and let it cook another 10 to 15 minutes instead of just 5.


Post baking, he cut 3 of the loaves in servings so he could share with his class. He took the 4th loaf as the demonstration baguette. I told him that if they needed more servings, he could be authentically French and tear it apart with his hands. RAWR!

His dad told him he should have got up at 3 a.m. to be able to take the bread in fresh from the oven and be even more authentic.

And then he asked what was important to French culture about bread. Well, they want it to be good bread. They have it at every meal, no matter what else is on the table. It's.... just what they have. Every day. (OK, not so much anymore maybe, but it's really importantly traditional.)


Saturday, March 18, 2017

Kids and their play dates

How long am I allowed to call my kids' hangouts with their friends "play dates"? Can I keep doing it as long as I have to drive them around for it to happen? Or, like today, talking to my friend, trying to figure out when our teens can hang out together?

Not this weekend, as it turns out.

When we have those friends over, it's all about the Nerf guns and PVC/pool noodle/duct tape swords and then some quiet time playing Settlers of Catan. If we're lucky, most of the loud times are outside. If it rains or they stay until after dark, it gets pretty loud in my house.

My nine year old daughter (how did she get to be nine?) is at a birthday party today and scheduled to stay (and spend the night!) after everyone else leaves. It's really quiet around here already and it's only early afternoon.

In the meantime, my middle child (who's fourteen) has once again produced the miracle of lunch. It was grilled cheese, but with slices of leftover turkey. Really delicious. He needs to work on his timing and sequencing while making a meal, though, because I ended up buttering half the bread and slicing the the cheese, then setting the table and getting out fruit and vegetables. Of course, if I would butt out entirely, he would have to step up even sooner. On the other hand, there are nights that I get the main course and maybe a carb-y side going and completely forget about fruits and vegetables until the last moment.

Maybe when a kid can cook for me, he no longer should have "play dates."

The main consideration, though was if I would let him have potato chips. I bought a big bag of store-brand chips on sale over a week ago and hadn't gotten around to having them as part of a meal....and these chips were making him insane with food lust. They taunted him each time he opened the Carb Cupboard (it holds all the bread, crackers, rice, cereal, sugar, cake mixes, etc.)

Someone needs to mow my front lawn. The tall parts right now are all foxtails, not even nice grass. My oldest (who's seventeen) did the much bigger, terraced, more complicated back yard last week, so I think middle boy should do the front. Since they're not busy with a play date or actually doing homework, I bet one of them could do it.

It's supposed to rain next week, so it will grow even more. Which is good, except for the mowing part.

Maybe if they can mow my lawn, its not a "play date."

And speaking of kids, this juvenile (she still has a fuzzy head) female turkey is wandering around alone these days. She definitely needs a play date. All the grown-ups are off making babies in the woods and she's lost her flock. Last weekend she (or another just like her) was with a crowd of females when the males were on full display and almost getting run over in the street. When they're acting macho, they don't want to step aside for anyone. At all. Not even an SUV.

Turkeys are pretty smart as far as birds go. Which means they're not exactly smart smart.

Like some teenagers I know. (*rim shot*)

The answer for me, is that I don't usually say "play date" out loud except when I am teasing my teens so they will roll my eyes at me, which is one of my favorite things (the lighthearted eyeroll is, anyway. Not so much the one where they are actually mocking me.). My nine year old is still fine with it, though.

-----------

Of course, I want you to read all my books, but the one with the most play date-like scenes is The Chevalier, in which Emmanuel, the youngest sibling and only twenty-five and unmarried, is dragged back into the family and exposed to the insanity that is a gathering of his nephews and their friends, all between ten and fifteen. Except the only girl, who's eight and has to keep up with all this crazy boy energy.

In other words, it's a bit like my house, only with swords and cards instead of Nerf guns and Settlers of Catan.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Blueberry Pi Day

So today is March 14th, which in the US way of writing dates, is 3.14.

PI DAY!

As a family of nerds, my kids have known what Pi is from a young age. My nine year old can't calculate anything with it yet, as she hasn't started working with decimals, but she knows what it's for and the first few digits. My high school junior was watching a YouTube video yesterday about something complicated with 120-sided dice and co-primes and it averaging out to somewhere around Pi. Or something. Yes, dear.

But I know how to find circumference and area and the volume of a cylinder. I'd have to look up volume of a cone and sphere, though.

And I know how to make a pie!


Sometimes, I am organized and make a pie from scratch. Or almost from scratch. I almost always start with a pre-made crust. I'm not a huge fan of most types of pie crust, especially when I have to make it myself. Usually, I use the rolled up crust from the store and then I leave most of mine on my plate and give the crunchy outer part to whichever kid wants it. If I don't LIKE it, why would I consume those zillion calories?

Facebook informs me this is from four years ago. But this year, I have no canned pumpkin. I don't have extra apples. I don't have pie crust. Except...wait...in the back of my cupboard...


Graham cracker crust is excellent, though too much trouble to make myself.



Note that it says 9" pie crust and not that it's a 9" pie plate.That's not how you really measure a pie plate. It isn't even quite 9 inches from one edge of the aluminum to the other.  And yes, I know what diameter is and how big nine inches are.

<Insert size joke>






Anyway, the can of blueberry pie filling (found dented on the clearance table at the back of the grocery store) only filled it about halfway.

<Insert insertion joke>

Go ahead and calculate the volume of the crust and of the tin. I'll wait here. Let me know if you actually care and I'll give you the measurements.

<Insert measurement joke>

I got out the container of blueberries from my freezer that's been in there since last summer, being used a handful at a time in pancakes, etc. I used about a cup of those and mixed them in.

I crumbled two stale graham crackers over the top. Hand crumbled, so it's mostly chunks.

I baked at 325 degrees for 30 minutes, just to make it settle and make the top crackers crunchy. I'm not sure this does anything and I should have baked hotter and for longer. My idea was to get the sugary stuff to cook and bind together, but I'm pretty sure I'm just messing around here. Besides, we're not going to eat it until tonight, so it's not going to still be warm then.

Oh shoot, tonight is registration night at the high school. We can have this after, though that's pushing into my youngest's bedtime. I also need to think about what we're having for supper this morning, because I don't think there are enough leftovers for Every Human For Him/Herself Night. Though they can have quesadillas and sandwiches. Maybe I'll make some bread.



And of course, nothing at all to do with Pi, but you should be reading my books.


Thursday, March 9, 2017

Du pain - more about French Baguettes

The thing with making bread is that it's not all that hard, especially with a good mixer, it just takes all day. 


A few weeks ago, I posted about my ongoing saga of my attempts to get French bread right.

The saga is ongoing.




Basic recipe: 
20 fl. oz water (2 1/2 cups)
1/2 tsp salt
6 cups flour
4 tsp bread yeast
a splash of oil. Maybe a Tablespoon or so (after it's all mixed, just to coat the outside so it doesn't dry out while rising)

Yesterday, I used 5 cups of unbleached all-purpose flour and 1 of cake flour and with a few other tweaks, got the closest I've come. Next time, I'll use a bit more cake flour. Remember, we're trying to not use a lot of gluten. Bread flour has more gluten. Don't use it. I'm going to experiment some more with whole wheat flour, but when I tried before, the bread didn't rise well.

I use a KitchenAid stand mixer with a dough hook. Fancy.

Put water and salt in mixing bowl.
Plop all the flour on top.
Mix on low until the flour is pretty much all wet (NOT LONG)
Cover and let sit for a while. I don't know why, but the French website I got the recipe from said to and it might make a difference. Maybe.
Meanwhile, put the yeast and I dunno, maybe 1/8 cup water, plus a little blob of the dough in a bowl or something (I used the measuring cup) and let it get wet and get started.

Half an hour later:
Scrape the yeasty, viscous, bubbly liquid out of the cup and dribble it all over the dough in the mixing bowl.
Mix until everything comes together in a big ball o' dough. (I dunno. A minute or two). If it's super sticky, add a bit more flour. If it's just averagely sticky, don't. (Yes, this is the part that's going to be left up to your own judgment). Added water or flour at this point is really hard to mix in without going for full-on kneading either by hand or in the machine. Since we're not kneading this dough, be judicious with adding stuff.

Pour your splash of oil down the side of the pan and turn on the mixer for a couple of seconds, then scrape the dough off the hook and sort of roll it around in the oil so it's oily all over. Or if you're mixing by hand because you're a historical re-enactor or you haven't discovered the joy of KitchenAid, put some oil in the bowl and flop it around.

Cover and let rise for a good, long while. Mine sat in the cold oven for over 4 hours yesterday. It hadn't risen enough after 2.5 hours and then the school run happened.

A few hours later:
Cut the dough into 4 fairly even pieces. Roll out on a floured surface like a kid making a PlayDoh snake. Or dangle and tug and roll between your hands like a... um, I'm not going to finish that thought. Anyway, you're making long, skinny baguettes, so make them as long or longer than your bread pans, because when you let go, they're going to shrink a bit. Let's not finish that thought either, shall we?

I have the fancy pans that look like 4 parallel gutters with holes (completely useless as gutters). So lay your 4 floppy phallic loaves in the pans and -- oh shoot, I wasn't thinking the "phallic" thing through -- use an extremely sharp knife to cut 4 or 5 evenly spaced slashes on the tops. Make the cuts deep, like 1/4 to 1/3 of the depth of the loaf.

Preheat the oven to 400 F. The only second rising time this bread gets is the time for the oven to preheat, then it goes POOF in the oven.

I had been using a large jellyroll pan with water on the bottom rack, but wasn't very happy with how the bottoms of the bread weren't getting very brown. So yesterday, I used 2 bread loaf pans with water and placed them near the sides. They're aluminum pans and so don't heat as hot as the steel pan I used before, so there was less steam. Still working on this part.

Anyway, when the oven is hot, put the gutter pans on the middle rack and set the timer for 35 minutes, then warn your teenager middle child that since you'll be off taking your oldest kid to karate that he'd better listen for the timer and take the bread out. Maybe you could set an alarm on your iPod, hmmm?

Come home to a house that smells divine and to half your dinner ready and cooling. Good job, middle child!

My family is now officially spoiled (and my husband not supposed to be eating as much wheat, since it has a fairly high level of oxalates, which is one ingredient in kidney stones), as they only ate two of the loaves for dinner. 

I still didn't get the huge bubbles I really want, but the crust was pretty near perfect. I'm going to think about doing an egg wash on top to get it shinier and browner.

Needs bigger bubbles, but witness the cracking on the side, even with the deep cuts in the top.


As I said at the top, it's not hard, it just takes all day.

So go read some books about France.

They do eat bread in the Chateaux and Shadows series. I don't think they had long, skinny bread yet, then, but it's not clear from the small amount of research I've done. My next experiment will have to be with the big round loaves, les boules.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Hidden Figures

Saturday night, I went with a couple of friends and saw Hidden Figures. FINALLY. It's been out for a couple months and now is only playing in a few theaters around here. Heck, last Monday when we talked about setting this up, Google wasn't telling us about ANY theaters showing it after Wednesday. Which sort of surprised me, because reports were that it was still earning a lot of money.

So after we all got to the place a good half hour drive from my house, we settled in. The theater it was showing in was pretty small - like maybe 150 to 200 seats - and was mostly full except for the front rows that are about two feet from the screen.

And what an amazing movie! I think my favorite part is how supportive the families are - with some qualms and conflict, of course, but how, when it comes down to it, their husbands and friends and kids and parents are behind them. And Dorothy Vaughan "borrowing" the book on Fortran from the white section of the library and being the first to figure out the giant computer. And not only that, but teaching the other African American women "computers" how to use it, too, instead of all being laid off.

Some aspects of it were kind of facile and trying to hard to portray some of the white people as heroes of sorts just for being baseline decent and wanting to let the black women work for them. I'm still mulling this thought. Dissecting my white privilege is not really best done with a headache.

One interesting thing was that several people in the audience applauded at the end. As if the actors could hear them, you know? I mean, I can sort of see it on opening weekend, but it's really awesome, but slightly weird, to clap for something in its third month.

Also, it's quite interesting to read the Wikipedia article about it, pointing out the historical inaccuracies, fact-checking the movie (Like: Mary Jackson didn't have to go to court to take engineering classes *and* she was already an engineer by the year the movie is set in. And the Costner character is a composite and no one took a crow bar to the Colored Only restroom signs.). So the movie conflates time and events and people for the sake of drama.

Overall, it was a very good movie with laughing and crying and cheering (internally. This is not a sporting event. See above comment about applauding.). And thinking about the brilliant minds which are discounted and who battle for every step up. Whether it's constant racism and jingoism faced by minorities and new immigrants or all the belittling crap women have withstood since forever. Or the disdain and abuse faced by LGBTQ+ people. All the micro- and macro-aggressions out there can sure mess up your education and career prospects.

Or what came up this weekend:
Q: What did Watson and Crick discover?
A: Rosalind Franklin's notes.

And then multiply that by ten for every societal stigma and voting right taken away.

And celebrate the fierce, brilliant ones who lead the way, but also think about why white men are still the first to get hired and promoted. Just think a bit.

And leave a comment.

-----------------------

ALSO, go out and buy my 17th century French romance/historical fiction.

Here's my Amazon page. 

And they're available from many, many other ebook publishers.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

March coming in like a lion with a short attention span

For me, the lion is all in the tree pollen. And runny nose. And increased tinnitus. And headaches.

I assumed over the last few years that it's the cherries and peaches and all those fruit trees that make me sneeze, but apparently, it's fairly rare to be allergic to those as the pollen is bigger and less likely to be blown around. Apparently then, I'm allergic to whatever is blooming the same time as those. Pollen.com says Juniper, Alder, and Poplar/ Cottonwood are high right now. And hey look: my pine tree out front is pollen-ing away. Definitely a lion in my head.

So yesterday morning, I woke up at 4 am and nothing was going to get me back to sleep. I turned on my phone at about 4:30 to read a book and discovered that most of Ohio - the place that I am from, not where I live now - was having school bus/commute tornado warnings. That sounds pretty lion-y to me.

But out here in the Inland Valley of California, the weather has finally cleared up and it's spring. I had my teen boys drag my rubber tree plant outside yesterday, because the risk of frost is over.
Poor Whoops is in need of sun and water. Also note at the right: the big dump truck the neighbors' contractor has left in their driveway for a couple of months with the promise of paving the driveway, only it was too wet....So obvs they had to leave the truck there.
Anyway, new month. It's almost time to sign my big kid up for some AP tests. Junior Prom is coming in April, but he's made nary a peep about it. They should be signing up for next year's classes soon, too. Maybe I should start reading the school newsletter more closely.

I'm waiting for comments back from my critique partners on the last bit of my book.

My cat is shedding like cheap faux fur and has also developed dandruff of the back.

The bright sunshine is making me notice I realllllly need to clean my windows. (Or make my kids do them)

And as usual for the last few years, our health insurance situation that we thought was all worked out and seamlessly going from last year to this year, is still in the air. So that adds a certain level of tension.

So anyway, today I'm amping up the conflict between the friends in a book, not going for a walk (I need the exercise, but really don't want to go outside), and making French baguettes (AGAIN. It's been about a week since the last time and they turned out heavy and slightly wet inside). Plus, my daughter's having a friend over this afternoon. I might take them to a park, though I won't be able to breathe much when we're there.

So anyway. My whole work day's gone and so far I've applied for one job online and flitted here and there in my book, in the query letter draft, and on the internet. And still no exercise. And yet I still need a shower.

March came in like it has a short attention span.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Depression and writing

Well, it's been a crazy few months in the USA and inside my head. It's always crazy, but with our new "president" [political opinion redacted, but not exactly hard to figure out], I've been pretty much dragging through molasses ever since the election. And eating.

Now that Spring is Springing here in Inland California (brag...brag...watch out for flooding), I'm hoping to pull myself out of my writing slump and my editing slump and my exercise slump and my need-a-job slump and my everything slump.

The slumps are the hard parts. I have a history of depression and this time through hasn't been as rough as some, but it still left me in despair and reading a lot of comfort reads. (You should see my list of re-reads from the last 2 months!)

I'm about a month behind in the schedule I set for myself, so need to look at my goals again.

I'm almost through an editing pass of my Big Chill not-quite-a-romance-maybe-chick-lit book and my critique partners are reading it in sections as I finish editing. I'm going to be querying a bunch of agents who have said they're interested in New Adult and Chick Lit. I spent a few hours searching for them the other day and need to get my query letter in shape.

THEN I want to edit Françoise, which is book...uh... six? Yes. Book 6 of Châteaux and Shadows. The bones are there, but it's going to take some work.

ALSO, I should be getting my galleys and then planning my publicity for the Wild Rose Press release of Mélisande, whenever that happens.

I also want to edit Harriet (contemporary romance with a beta hero) to give her more conflict (sorry, Harriet, it's just too easy). That will probably be late March.

I'm going to be giving my critique partners a workout.

April is a Camp Nanowrimo and I really need to finish Dario (Book 7, Châteaux and Shadows), then put it on the back burner to percolate for a while.

And in all this, I REALLY NEED a job. With actual income. Right now, I'll take about anything full time, preferably paying more than minimum wage and preferably not on my feet the whole time, but something temporary so there is income while I'm looking for some other thing is fine.

The writing will take more time when I get a job, but at least I have goals.

And now that the fog of depression is lifting, I can probably do all these things. Let's get cracking!

Thursday, February 9, 2017

French Baguettes: a work in progress

Off and on over the past few years, I've been trying to figure out how to make a nice, authentic French baguette.
You know: with giant bubbles and a crunchy-chewy crust.
You know: almost completely unlike the "French" bread you can buy in most grocery stores.
Exception: the organic baguette from Trader Joe's does a darn good job of approaching perfection.

This year, I decided to get serious about it. What I've learned so far: most recipes I've seen for it have ended up with something that just doesn't really resemble French bread. It's not so much the recipe, which is basic: flour, water, salt, yeast. It's all in the instructions.

I've been working from this recipe from a French women's magazine. Lookit me all reading French and stuff!

I'm on attempt number 7 or so and have about 20 minutes until I can tell you the result of this latest trial, so here's what I know so far:

1) Use flour with LESS gluten, not more. That means cake flour, not bread flour, which seems counter-intuitive, which is why it's taken me so long to crack this. Today's attempt is half Softasilk cake flour and half all-purpose unbleached. I've tried whole wheat pastry flour and will definitely start working it back into my mix once I have white bread down.

2) Get the actual French baguette loaf pans that look like gutters, but with a jillion holes. This upped my game considerably. I got mine at Amazon, but they have them all over the place, like Bed Bath and Beyond and JC Penney's and so on. Some recipes I've seen, they use pizza stones. Which is fine if you don't mind the bottom of your loaf being all flat, which shouldn't affect the flavor.

Right: so here's the recipe:
6 cups flour (low-ish gluten, finely ground)
2.5-ish cups warm water
1/2 tsp salt
4 tsp yeast

That's it. It's basic. That's also a lot of bread. I have five people in my family and two of those are teen boys, so we tend to finish it up by the next day. Last time, I gave a loaf to a sick friend, so we ran out really quickly. If you don't have loads of people with hollow legs, make only half that and get a pan with only two gutters instead of the four I have.

Mix the water, flour, and salt until it forms a ball (I use a KitchenAid stand mixer with a dough hook, which takes less than a minute).

3) Just barely mix it. Get the ingredients stuck together and then leave it alone. No kneading. No leaving the mixer running. Just get the flour mostly wet and let it do its thing.

Cover it and let it sit there for half an hour or so. Mix the yeast with a bit of water, then mix it in, maybe adding a little more flour if you have to. I find that having the dough a bit on the sticky side ends up with better results than having it too dry.
(I'm still deciding if I need to wait this extra time or if putting the yeast in right away is fine)

Roll the ball in oil (I add a bit of oil to the mixing bowl and run it for a couple seconds, then roll the ball over once I've scraped it off the hook) and cover. Let rise in a warm, dry place for an hour or two. You want your yeast replicating and flourishing and a good store of "yeast farts" in there and the ball of dough at least doubled in size.

Turn out on floured surface (I use a cloth) and knead just enough so the oil is kneaded in. You'll lose quite a bit of the air, but I'm always happiest when some of the bubbles are still in there, unpopped. Add a bit more flour if it's still super sticky.

For my pan, which is a bit over a foot long and has four slots, I cut the dough into four equal pieces, then roll and stretch and dangle and roll them until I have four worms. (yum!) Lay them in the bread pan.

Another two big hints:
4) Sharp, sharp knife to cut the slashes in them. Cut fairly deep, like deeper than you think you want to. This lets some of the steam in the loaves escape. I have this scary bread knife that we bought last year online because I couldn't find an actual bread knife with sharp teeth for slicing loaves without crushing them. It's scary-sharp and I've cut myself a few times with it, but its razor-sharp teeth allow me to make deep, clean slashes. And my darling husband gave it to me the day after Valentine's Day. *Cue music from Psycho*

5) Hot, hot, hot and steam, steam, steam. Preheat to 450 degrees (which Google tells me is 232.2222 C). I put a jelly roll pan on the lowest rack and pour a cup of water into it while the oven heats, then add another cup when I put the bread in to bake. Today, I also brushed the tops with water.

I leave my bread pan sitting on top of the oven while it heats to give it a head start.

When it's hot, open the oven and get a face full of steam. Add another cup of water to the pan, then put the bread in and close the oven door, refusing to open it for any reason for the next 25 to 30 minutes.

And that's it.

Today's loaves. Note the pan. Note the slashes. The ones on the left are upside down.

STILL not quite fluffy enough. The batch two days ago was a bit better with more all-purpose flour. But it also rose for longer. Hmmm... 
The best thing about it is that even when it's not quite right, you can eat the mistakes and they still taste good.

I'm still working on this. Maybe I need my oven hotter? I don't know how much hotter it goes and if it would explode or something. And maybe even more cake flour and less all-purpose? And like I mentioned above, I'd like to get some whole wheat flour into this.

I'm still trying to get it exactly right. And taking suggestions.

While you're waiting for your bread pan to be delivered, you can read about really old-time French people. Because I can't NOT tell you to buy my books.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Monday Morning

I got all the kids to school this morning on time. It's rainy, so I even drove the high school boys. I'm not sure what they're going to do when I get a new day job and can't necessarily drive them. Of course, the oldest is 17 and doesn't have his driver's license yet, in spite of my gentle urging (nag? moi?).

I've been scoping out jobs on job sites since I got home and having a Messenger conversation with a friend who's getting medical stuff done today. And watching the goldfinches mob the feeder. Real high-level stuff.

So if you know of any office jobs in my area, let me know (that's Sacramento area, for those of you who don't know me).

I finished the edits for Book 5 of my Châteaux and Shadows series. It's titled Mélisande and is a tangent from the first four. The hero, Lucas de Granville played a minor role in The Chevalier, as a friend to Emmanuel. Manu and Catherine have minor roles in this book. 

Mélisande is the daughter of a comte and of a palm reader, but didn't inherit any magical talent. The comte reformed from his misspent youth a long time ago and is now an extremely pious, rigid, and dictatorial man who uses religion as a means of power. It was inspired in part by Molière's Tartuffe, but the Comte d'Yquelon isn't quite as hypocritical. He does think all magic is the work of Satan, though.

Lucas is the comte's godson and was handed over to the comte by his parents who are all about the glamour and party times of King Louis XIV's court and not so much about earning money or caring for their seven sons. Lucas was raised strictly and tried to please his godfather, all while watching the godfather's actual son pretend to be pious and go out and be debauched. Lucas is learning to be a secretary and/or estate manager and hoped the comte would hire him. When he didn't (instead choosing the dark, intense Monsiour Arbois), he started thinking about working for someone else.

SO ANYWAY. Mélisande should be out in a few months. My editor has threatened me with galleys soon. I mean promised me galleys. 

Off to edit my contemporary New Adult book in the meantime!

You have plenty of time to read the first four in the series before the next one!

Or at least The Chevalier!

It's my book with the prettiest cover (and the book inside is darn good, too). In fact, the cover's so pretty, I'd appreciate a vote in the Judge a Book by its Cover competition! Mine's the second one down. SO PRETTY.