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

Monday, April 29, 2013

Author Interview - Vonnie Winslow Crist

Please welcome Vonnie Winslow Crist to the Far Edge of Normal!
Born in the Year of the Dragon, Vonnie Winslow Crist has had a life-long interest in reading, writing, art, myth, fairytales, folklore, and legends. And having been a night person since infancy, she is quite fond of stars, moonlight, forests, owls, and other creatures of the darkness.

After attending Perry Hall Elementary, Parkville Junior High, and Perry Hall High, she earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Art Education from Towson University. She married, then raised three children, did freelance illustrating and writing, and taught poetry for the Maryland State Arts Council’s Artists in Education Program. Thirty years after graduating from Towson, she returned to her alma mater and earned a Masters in Professional Writing.

A firm believer that the world around us is filled with miracles, mystery, and magic, Vonnie still sees fairies amidst the trees, mermaids on jetties, and ghosts and goblins of all sorts in the shadows. Her garden overflows with herbs and statues of animals. Toadstool rings sprout regularly on her lawn. And she's found so many four-leafed clovers that she keeps them in a jar.

For more information, check her website or blog.  Find her books on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and elsewhere. Become her friend and fan on Facebook and Goodreads. And follow her on Twitter.

Tell us about your writing - What genre do you prefer to write? What books, stories, other publications that you've written are your personal favorites? Anything new coming up?
I prefer to write fantasy with a mythic or folklore feel to it. I've loved myths, legends, folklore, and fairytales since I was little, so my writing tends to be influenced by them.

My favorite book or story is the one I'm working on at the moment or the one I'm dreaming about writing next. That being said, if I had to choose a favorite published story, I guess it would be either “Blood of the Swan” or “Sideshow by the Sea.” Both won Honorable Mentions in L. Ron Hubbard's Writers of the Future Contests, were published by wonderful semi-pro presses, and ended up in one of my short story collections. Both tales are also filled with folklore and mythic creatures.

As far as new publications, my Young Adult fantasy, “The Enchanted Skean,” was just published by Mockingbird Lane Press. You can view its book trailer here. My second collection of speculative short stories (with a pinch of poetry and art tossed in for good measure), “Owl Light,” is due out shortly from Cold Moon Press. One of my paintings is due to be featured on the cover of “Bards and Sages Quarterly,” a dark fantasy poem should be in the next issue of “Paper Crow” magazine, and I'm hoping a couple of stories make it into anthologies due out later this year.

What about you as a person? What do you do to relax? Favorite movies or tv shows? Hobbies? 

I enjoy gardening, walking in the woods, cooking, needle-arts, history, painting, reading, and traveling. And of course, spending time with family and friends. My favorite movies are “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, the “Star Wars” movies, “Willow,” “A.I.,” the “Star Trek” movies, “Serenity,” and many other fantasy/science fiction flicks. As far as tv shows, “Firefly” (yes, I know it's no longer on, but it still rocks), “Grimm,” “Once Upon a Time,” “Revolution,” “Defiance,” and “Castle.”

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

Oddly, I rarely write to music, though I listen to music when I'm painting. I like to listen to Stevie Nicks, Enya, assorted Celtic music, Heart, the Eagles, Meatloaf, the Dixie Chicks... As you can see, it's a rather eclectic mix. When I'm writing, I like to listen to nature – the sound of birds, the wind, the buzzing of insects, sleet clicking against the window, etc.

"All writers must have cats, especially if they write fantasy or speculative fiction." Do you have a stand on this one? Any cute pictures of your kitty or other pet? 

I've only had one cat, Samantha, a stray that wandered into my life and heart. But I've had many dogs (all of them strays or unwanted animals) since I was a toddler. Currently, my dog is Sandy the Black-Mouthed Cur (the same breed as Old Yeller). I adopted her from the Humane Society, and she keeps me company when I'm writing.

What organizations do you recommend for those wanting to become writers? Any advice you'd like to share about writing?
As far as writers' organizations, I recommend Broad Universe for speculative writers, the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators for children's and young adult writers, and then, a local writers' group that is professional and positive for general writing support. In my case, it's the Maryland Writers Association.

As far as writing advice: Read, write, read, write, then rewrite. Find a helpful critique group. Research markets, submit work, and keep writing while you wait to hear back from editors. Don't be discouraged. Practice makes you better. Persistence will usually result is finally getting an acceptance letter. And always be polite and professional to editors, fellow writers, and readers.

What writers inspired you to become an author?

As a book-lover since childhood, I've been inspired by many authors. A few who come to mind are JRR Tolkien, CS Lewis, Andre Norton, Laura Ingalls Wilder, and Ruth Gannet Stiles.

Any special appearances or events coming up that you want to mention?

I'll be at Balticon on Memorial Day Weekend and I'll be speaking to several Maryland writers' groups in the next few months.

If you could travel to any time in history, when would you visit?

There are many moments in history I'd love to witness, but I must admit to liking modern day food, housing, education, medical care, and the equal rights women enjoy in the USA – so I guess I'll have to take a pass on going back in time except in books.

If you could have dinner with any of your characters, which ones would you choose? What food would you serve?

Voland, Glum, and Elke – Janepar warriors from “The Enchanted Skean.” There would be singing, tale-telling, abundant food and drink, and good humor. I'd serve a hearty stew, fresh-baked bread, and blueberry pie.

If you could travel anywhere, on earth or off, where would you go?

On earth, if it were safe to do so, I'd like to visit the remains of ancient societies in Europe, the Middle East, along the Mediterranean, in Central and South America, Asia, etc. (My interest in history is showing here). Though I'd love to explore a planet suitable for humans, it would be outside our solar system, and therefore if I journeyed to it, I'd have to give up years with my family here on earth. And, alas, I'm not willing to do that.

What color would you wear if you had only one choice?

Black. I know it seems grim, but I think it's because black reminds me of night.

Black also makes you look slimmer, right? *cheesy grin* Thanks for visiting, Vonnie. It's been a pleasure!

Friday, April 26, 2013

SFR Brigade Presents...

Once a week, a group of us from the SFR Brigade post snippets from our current writings (click the link to find the rest). Here's mine from Poisoned Pawn:

Luke Verity arrived at the restaurant a fashionable forty minutes late. The planet Kimmel boasted some very glamorous night spots. This wasn’t one of them. Luke could barely conceal his disdain for the dusty decor and bland food. He tried to be civil to his dining companion, but even that was difficult. The man dressed with no sense of style or fashion. He looked like an accountant. He smelled of sweat.
Ortel leaned forward. “I’m telling you, Hom Verity, this sector is ripe for the taking. You find a way to get the governer in your pocket and no one can stop you.”

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Thursday Recipe - Banana Oatmeal Cookies

I'm living in several alternate realities at the same time. It's the only way to explain what's going on. I swear I posted this recipe to the blog already, but when I went to look for it, I couldn't find it anywhere. I can't find any missing posts, so the only explanation is that yes, I *did* post it, but to a blog in another reality.

These are a great way to use up two or three very ripe bananas. The cookies bake up like banana bread, very soft and squooshy, but still cookies. The oatmeal adds a nice texture. I use the quick-cooking kind, mostly because it isn't as noticeable and I prefer it. So instead of OATMEAL in my cookies, I have oatmeal. It's there but doesn't shove itself in your face. The spices are the same way - very understated. Overall, these are just great cookies.

My old trusty Betty Crapper Crockbook comes through with the best inspiration.

Banana Oatmeal Cookies

1/2 c. butter, softened
1 c. brown sugar
2 - 3 overripe bananas
1 egg
1 t. vanilla
1 t. salt
1 t. baking soda
1 t. cinnamon
1/2 t. cloves or nutmeg
3 c. oatmeal
1 c. whole wheat flour
1 c. raisins OR dried fruit chopped small OR chocolate chips

Cream butter and sugar. Add bananas. Beat until well blended. Add egg, vanilla, salt, soda, and spices. Beat until very creamy. Stir in oatmeal, flour, and raisins. Set aside for at least 15 minutes. This lets all the flavors blend together and lets the oatmeal soak up liquid. The cookies will be better if you do this. Trust me.

Heat oven to 350°F. Generously spray a cookie sheet. Scoop out dough by heaping tablespoonfuls. Leave room for the cookies to spread while baking because they will. Bake 12 - 15 minutes, until top of cookie is no longer gooey. Let cool on the sheets for 15 minutes before removing so cookies can set up.

These are great as is, or you can frost them with cream cheese frosting or just cream cheese. They really do taste like banana bread.

Monday, April 22, 2013

I Love Being an Author Some Days

So, I was chatting with my writing group Wednesday night. This is harder than it sounds. My writing group lives over 1200 miles away. I tried to finagle a way to move to their town, really I did, but the fates conspired to keep me where I'm at. I'm just glad the internet is so accessible. I fit so well with this group. They're fantastic people. They aren't all published pros, but they're very supportive and helpful. And did I mention diverse? Yeah, it gets tangled and messy sometimes because opinions and personalities clash, but that's a great thing. Who wants to hang out with a group of people just like you? Where's the fun in that? I love having my preconceptions challenged. It keeps me thinking.

Back to my story. We're chatting away and things start getting silly, because that's what they tend to do. And next thing I know, I've got this great new character talking in my head. One of my friends has been really into fairyland stuff lately. She's got several series going that deal with the Fey and magic and all that fun stuff. They're great books. I highly recommend them. Go check out if you're looking for books to read. I'll wait.

Yeah, I'm a fangirl of most of her stuff. It's okay. Authors can be fans, too.

So now I'd like to introduce you to my little friend, soon to be introduced in a brand-new story. And if he's as much fun as he promises to be, he may start his own series of stories and silliness.

Without further ado, may I introduce...

Señor Howitzer and his trusty steed Doogie. Now to invent his elven sidekick and start decorating his undercover vehicle, The Taco Truck.

Hey, being a writer is tough. This is what I have to live with in my head. ALL THE TIME! Now don't bother me, I'm busy following Señor Howitzer into trouble...

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Thursday Recipe - Orange Spice Drink Mix

To celebrate my new book release, here's a great hot punch mix with a different twist on the taste. The mix will keep for several months. I'm planning on making a batch of this for the RV. It's a great alternative for cocoa or spiced cider.

How does it relate to my book? It doesn't, not really. Although it does make a brief appearance in book five. And I plan on relaxing with a cup of it this weekend, although I'm not supposed to have citrus or sugared drinks. Once in a blue moon won't hurt.

So sit back, put your feet up, and enjoy it yourself while you read Poisoned Pawn. (Or download Nexus Point, book one in the series, for free with this code: AA47G)

Orange Spice Drink Mix

2 c. sweetened orange drink mix (like Tang or orange Gatoraid or anything similar)
1 packet unsweetened lemonade mix
1 c. sugar
1 t. cinnamon
1/2 t. ground cloves

Mix everything together. Store in an airtight container.

To use: Mix 2-3 t. with 1 c. hot water. Sip and enjoy.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Poisoned Pawn Release Date This Week!

Book number three, Poisoned Pawn, arrives this weekend. I'm thrilled with the release. This is my third book! Eight more to go in the series. Eight more book launches, at least, in the future. (Go here for links for the whole series.)

This whole journey of writing and then publishing my stories has been enlightening. Why do I do this? Most days I don't know. Writing a book is very personal, at least for me. I get tangled up in my characters, to the point they become real to me. When I send that story out for others to read, it's almost like releasing my most secret diary entries in public. I learn more about myself by writing than I have any other way.

For those who have taken a chance on me as a new author, thank you. For those who have sent me emails and notes, thank you. It means a lot to me to know my story resonates with you.

Here's Chapter One of Poisoned Pawn.
Here's a deleted scene from the book. (The plot needed to be tightened up and quite a bit ended up in the virtual trash bin.)

And here's Chapter Two:

I sat in the cell on Viya Station and fumed. The last time I’d been on Viya, I’d left a trail of destruction and almost caused a war with the Sessimoniss. Most of it hadn’t been my fault, but the station authorities still held it against me. I wouldn’t have come but the only cargo we could get on Tebros was for Viya. The pilot we’d hired, because regulations insisted on two, had gotten into a nasty brawl in the worst bar on Viya. When the authorities showed up, they arrested me. My pilot ducked out and disappeared. If she ever showed her face at the ship again, she wasn’t getting back on. Her contract was void.
I kicked the wall a few times out of frustration. The guard yelled at me to quit or be fined even more. I quit.
Another long hour passed.
The guard appeared, keys jangling. He opened the door and waved me out. “You made bail. Don’t come back.” He gave me a look that promised lots of pain if I did.
“I’m not planning on it.”
Jasyn waited in the foyer area, tapping her foot impatiently, but still gorgeous even though I knew she hadn’t had any sleep for almost two days. Next to her I was short, dumpy, and mussed. She didn’t do it on purpose, she was just so naturally beautiful that I couldn’t compete.
“We’re broke now,” Jasyn said as we approached the airlock of the ship. “We have barely enough to pay docking fees, if we leave in the next few hours. It’s a good thing the cargo I managed to find is pay on delivery. No deposit. What were you thinking?”
“I was getting Letha back,” I said, slapping the controls for the hatch.
“So where is she?”
“I’d like to know myself.” We stepped through the hatch.
“What happened, Dace?” She turned to face me, dropping paperwork on the small galley table. “You’ve got a black eye.”
“Letha was in a bar, drunk and starting fights. I tried to stop her.” I touched my cheek by my eye and winced.
“You were the only one they arrested.” She rummaged in the locker behind her for the small med kit. We had a more complete medical bay in the back cabin, one I hoped we would never have to use. With my luck, I’d spend more time in it than out, I thought sourly. Jasyn put the kit on the table. “I’m the one who’s supposed to get in fights with men who don’t understand no.” Her voice was gentle, taking the sting out of her words but not out of the antiseptic she dabbed on my cheek.
“Letha wasn’t saying no, either, which is where the problem started.”
“I take it we’re short one pilot?”
I nodded while she put the kit away. “You get to hire the next one. I’ve had lousy luck.”

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Thursday Recipe - Nutmeg Logs

I've been playing with spices lately. I love the different tastes and smells. These cookies always remind me of Christmases when I was growing up. We would always make a big batch of nutmeg logs and hide them away. They're better after a few days. The hard part was waiting those few days for the spices to blend and mellow.

This post also kicks off another book launch. Poisoned Pawn releases next Thursday! Jasyn, a character introduced in book two Priestess of the Eggstone, loves to cook. She's always playing with spices in the tiny galley of their ship. When I pull out my spices, especially for cookies, it reminds me of her.

So mix up a batch of these goodies and set them aside for a few days. Then enjoy them while you enjoy the latest adventures of Dace.

Nutmeg Logs

1 c. butter
3/4 c. sugar
1 t. nutmeg
1 egg
2 t. rum flavoring
2 t. vanilla
3 c. flour

Cream butter and sugar. Add nutmeg, egg, rum flavoring, and vanilla. Beat until very creamy. Stir in flour, just until mixed. Handle the dough gently or it will get tough and nobody likes tough cookies. Shape into rolls about 3 inches long and about 1/2 inch across. Place on lightly greased cookie sheets. Bake at 350°F for 15 minutes. Cool on wire racks. Frost with Vanilla-Rum frosting.

Vanilla-Rum Frosting

1/4 c. soft butter, use the real stuff
3 c. powdered sugar
1 t. vanilla
1 t. rum flavoring
2 T. cream or milk
nutmeg for sprinkling

Cream butter until very light and fluffy. Add powdered sugar, vanilla, and rum flavoring. Stir gently until mixed. Add enough cream to make a soft frosting. Whip for at least 5 minutes to get a light texture.

Spread frosting over cookies. Use a fork to scratch markings down the sides of the rolls, like bark on logs. Sprinkle lightly with nutmeg. Set on racks until frosting hardens and sets.

Store in tightly closed container for 2 or 3 days before devouring. Goes great with egg nog.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Grammar Matters

I learned to diagram sentences many many years ago in high school. This website will walk you through the basics. Why does it matter? Why learn how to do it at all? I've got grammar checker. That's all I need. Right?

Wrong. Tools are only useful if you understand them. Would you try using a router when you had no idea what it was supposed to do? A multimeter is just a weird device until you understand what it's measuring and how to use it. Grammar checker is only a tool. When you understand how grammar works, you understand how limited a tool grammar checker really is.

Diagramming sentences is also a tool. It can help you better understand language. It can help you construct sentences that are more clear and more elegant. It will improve your writing.

Why bother? Because language is communication. Writing is a method of transferring ideas from my head to yours. If my writing is unclear, because of poor grammar or spelling or misuse of commas, the idea isn't going to transfer correctly. What I say and what I meant to communicate are at odds with each other.

Language and grammar are the tools a writer uses. If you improve your understanding of the tool, you improve the end product.

Besides, sentence diagramming has its own kind of beauty, almost like poetry or math. I'm thinking of drawing a nice big diagram of a very complex sentence and framing it for my wall.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Thursday Recipe - Anise Shortbread

I've got a thing for licorice. I love black licorice. Anise seed has a mild licorice flavor. It's a great addition to spice mixes, both sweet and savory. A lot of Middle Eastern and Indian recipes use anise seeds.

This recipe is adapted from a cookie recipe in an old spice cookbook (Spices of the World from McCormick 1964). The poor paperback is falling apart. But it has some fantastic recipes that are worth saving. I updated this to be a bar cookie. I also cut the fat and sugar and added whole wheat flour for a healthier treat. They are still very tasty. If you let them sit for a day or two, it will enhance the anise flavor. My kids devoured them when they were barely cooled.

Anise Shortbread

1/2 c. butter (the real stuff tastes much better in this recipe)
3/4 c. sugar
1 egg
1/2 t. salt
1/2 t. vanilla
1 t. baking powder
1 1/2 t. anise seed
1 c. whole wheat flour
2/3 c. white flour

Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add egg, salt, vanilla, baking powder, and anise seed. Beat until very fluffy. Stir in flours just until mixed. It will be crumbly. Spray a 9x13 baking dish. Heat oven to 350°F. Spread crumbs in pan and pat smooth. Bake for 15 minutes, just until very lightly browned and slightly puffed. Let cool. Cut into small bars. Makes about 32 small bars.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Picking apart a story or three

I recently saw two movies I'd been anticipating for a long time - Puss in Boots (yeah, I know it's been out a while but life sometimes interferes with my movie plans) and The Hobbit. One was a complete disappointment, the other was good but not as great as it could have been.

When my family goes to the movies, we end up dissecting them afterwards, what worked and what didn't and why. This is one way to improve as a writer - take apart other peoples' stories. Why movies? Because you can focus on plot and characters and because they're relatively short and easy to experience. Writing mechanics are a completely different topic. You never hear someone say, "I hated that movie because it had so many typos and the grammar was atrocious!" Besides, I can sum up my position on how writing mechanics make or break a book in one word: communication. Grammar and writing are structured forms of communication. Learn the rules and why they exist so you can communicate effectively. If you stink at it, find a good editor who knows it inside and out. Then, listen to them when they tell you to fix your grammar and sentence structure. And if you can find someone who still remembers how, get them to teach you to diagram a sentence. It will do wonders for improving your clarity.

Back to movies. Why do so many reviews dwell on the negative aspects? I don't know about you, but I find it much easier to pinpoint why a story didn't work than why it did. When a movie gels and becomes something greater than its parts, it can be very hard to take it apart to figure out why. When it has flaws, they're noticeable and easy to examine.

Puss in Boots was a tremendous disappointment, so much so that I regretted spending a few dollars on the DVD. Here was my favorite character from the Shrek franchise in his own movie. What could possibly go wrong? Pretty much everything. The characters fell flat. The storyline was overly simplistic. The jokes were much too adult for the intended audience (I'm assuming it was supposed to be a kids' movie). It didn't gel. All the parts were right on their own, but together, they didn't work.

The Hobbit, on the other hand, was a good movie. It was funny, exciting, all around enjoyable. Except, it could have been not just a good movie but a great one. I don't know about you, but it really dragged for me. Good scenes went on so long they became annoying. Do we really need twenty minutes of trolls telling fart jokes, or dwarves doing dishes? Does Radagast the Brown really need that long of an introduction? Yes, he's a fun character, but he wasn't central to the story. I'm not saying cut any of the scenes or characters, just edit them tighter. Take out some of the saggy bits. If the movie were an hour shorter, it would have been a great movie. At least in my opinion.
The last movies I saw that really pulled me in and kept me captivated were Voyage of the Dawn Treader and The A-Team. Compare those to the movies I just pulled apart. Voyage of the Dawn Treader had a few saggy scenes, mostly at the end, but they fit with the overall pace of the story. The story kept moving, kept me intrigued. The characters worked well, separately and together. None of the elements of the story overpowered the others. It was balanced and well-told. The A-Team took a pretty cheesy tv show, one of my favorites by the way, and smartened it up. The characters were more real, more everything, as they should be on the big screen. The story was even more wild than the tv show. They flew a freaking tank! Totally wrong according to physics, but it fit the story.

What movies have you seen lately that really drew you in to the point you lost track of time and your surroundings?