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

Monday, July 29, 2013

Adventures with Harvey

I thought I got a picture of the shredded tire, but this was the only picture on the camera.
This was one adventure I'm glad I missed. My hubby took Harvey, a couple of our boys, and a few neighbors into the nearby mountains (only a three-hour drive away!)(we have mountains in our backyard, but they weren't the right kind of mountains with the right kind of trees) to collect lodgepole pine trees that are dead so he could have lots of logs to lash into things for Boy Scouts. He wanted me to go along so I could sit in Harvey and tell people where to go and how to get there. I mean, where to meet him and where to collect the trees. I had way too many things on my plate that weekend, like driving kids here and there and washing my hair and doing laundry and generally doing anything that was not camping that weekend. Really, I had legitimate reasons to stay home. So I did.

He left on Friday morning as soon as our one son finished summer school. He was supposed to be back Saturday mid-afternoon.

He finally rolled in Saturday evening. Harvey blew a tire.

On the highway.

When he was driving fast.

It took out the drivers side mirror, dinged up the side of the car, and left tread along the side of the road.

Before Harvey, we used this setup.
They spent an hour bashing the lug nuts with an axe trying to break the rust loose so they could get the tire off and swap it with the spare. This was after they had to figure out how to jack up a old RV that weighs a lot more than a normal car, or even our old 15-passenger van.

I heard it all second hand. I am very grateful that their guardian angels were working overtime that day. No one was injured. I am grateful they made it home without needing a tow truck. (But that's why we have a AAA membership with RV coverage.)

I am also very grateful I wasn't there. It would have been one too many straws that week.

And two weeks later, we are now the proud owners of seven new tires. And a big ole bill. All the tires showed signs of dry rot.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Thursday Recipe - Stir-fried Beef Strips

My mom used to make these and serve them with plenty of rice and vegetables although you could stuff it into tortillas with some lettuce and sour cream for a different taste. They aren't oriental, more like regular steak in flavor. Use a more tender cut for this recipe. Round steak will probably be too tough, although my mom used it more than once. A basic sirloin steak will work just fine. Don't get too extravagant.

Stir-fried Beef Strips

2 T. oil
1 1/2 lbs. good quality sirloin steak cut into strips with the big bits of fat trimmed off
1 onion, sliced into strips
1 T. worcestershire sauce
salt and pepper to taste

Heat oil in a cast iron frying pan or other very heavy pan until hot. (I flick a drop or two of water into the pan. If it sizzles immediately, it's ready.) Add half the meat strips. Stir around until the meat is seared on the outside. Remove the strips, set aside. Repeat with the other half of the strips.

Add the onions to the pan along with the seared meat. Douse with worcestershire sauce. Cook, stirring often, until meat is as done as you prefer. This usually takes less than ten minutes total.

Remove the meat, add salt and pepper to taste.

Stir 1 T. cornstarch into 1 c. cold water. Add to the drippings in the pan. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Boil and stir one minute.

Serve the meat with the gravy over rice.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Author Interview - Michelle Murrain

Please welcome Michelle Murrain to The Far Edge of Normal! Michelle Murrain is a science fiction writer who has published seven novels. Her novels are largely hard science fiction, but incorporate social, political, and spiritual topics. She lives in Northern California.

Author Website:
Twitter: @pearlbear

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 am primarily a hard science fiction writer, and enjoy writing novels that incorporate lots of social commentary, and explore all of the varied ways to live human (and not human) lives. One of my favorite novels is called “The Right Asteroid” which takes place about a hundred or so years from now, when there is asteroid mining, and colonies on Mars and other planets. It's a story of first contact, as well as of political intrigue, and personal struggle.

My other favorite novel is called “The Expedition” which is a science fiction novel set in the 19th century. Really. It's fun.

I'll be publishing a new novel, called “Friends with Wings.” It is about a woman who is stranded on a far away planet, and meets intelligent winged beings, and lives with them.

What about you as a person? What do you do to relax? Favorite movies or tv shows? Hobbies?
I mostly read to relax. Or sit by a river, or in a forest. I am a geek by nature, so I like to play with technology – building things, playing games. I don't really watch TV (I don't have one,) but I have, like many, been enthralled by “Game of Thrones.”

What organizations do you recommend for those wanting to become writers? Any advice you'd like to share about writing?
For women SF/F writers, I'd suggest Broad Universe, which is designed to promote women in SF/F. I'd also never underestimate the value of local writer's groups, whether it be for critique, or just support.

As for advice – follow what makes you happy. I've never been one to write what I thought other people wanted to read – I write what I want to write, and what I'd want to read. It might mean that I have a smaller audience, but it makes me much happier than writing what I thought the market wanted.

What writers inspired you to become an author?
There weren't any that specifically inspired me to become an author, but there are many that inspire me as an author. Ursula LeGuin, Octavia Butler, Maria Doria Russel, Sherri Tepper, and Guy Gavriel Kay all come to mind.

Great choices. If you could travel to any time in history, when would you visit?
I am fascinated by the 19th century, and if I could go disguised as a white man, I would visit. Otherwise the visit would be rather unpleasant.

I'd imagine it could be unpleasant for you. An unfortunate fact of history. If you could have dinner with any of your characters, which ones would you choose? What food would you serve?
I'd love to have dinner with the main protagonist of my novel, “The Expedition” - a human named Jam'elo who wasn't raised on Earth. I'd serve him my goat cheese lasagna.

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

What color would you wear if you had only one choice?
Dark Blue.

Describe your dream writing spot.

Thanks so much for stopping by, Michelle. I haven't heard of your books before, but they're on my to-be-purchased list for certain now!

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Thursday Recipe - Oriental Casserole

This is one of those oldie-but-goodie recipes out of those old neighborhood cookbooks. The only reason it's called oriental is because soy sauce is the main flavoring. Try it sometime. It's quick and easy and not too expensive.

Oriental Casserole

2 c. rice
4 c. water
1 t. salt
1 T. butter
1 lb ground beef
1 T. soy sauce
1 t. ground ginger
2 16 oz cans green beans, drained
1 8 oz can sliced water chestnuts, drained
Chow mein noodles or chopped peanuts (optional for garnish)

Put rice, water, salt, and butter in a 2 quart saucepan. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for 20 minutes until rice is done. (If using brown rice, it usually takes 35-45 minutes to cook.)

Meanwhile, crumble ground beef in a large frying pan. Cook over medium-high heat until meat is cooked through. Drain off excess grease. Stir in soy sauce and ginger. Cook for a minute to let the meat absorb the seasoning. Stir in green beans and water chestnuts. Stir just until hot through. Serve over rice. Garnish with chow mein noodles or chopped peanuts if desired.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Flash Fiction Award!

Announcement! Soul Windows is now available as a print book as well as an ebook - 137 pages of great SF/F short stories by yours truly, including three brand-new ones.

I entered a flash fiction contest a couple of weeks ago. For those who don't know, flash fiction is really short fiction, usually 100 words or less. For this contest, it was even shorter. I won an honorable mention for my romance story - 69 words or less to tell a complete romance story.

Here's my entry:

April Fool’s, honey.” Bill laughed as Carol spit out the salty cake.
“Forty years of marriage, you’d think I’d learn.” Carol rinsed her mouth with water. Except the glass had been laced with vinegar and pepper.
Bill giggled at his deception.
Carol leaned over the sink, gagging at the taste. She waited until she heard him walk over to the coffee pot before smiling. It took two to play.

Check out the other entries here.
My other entries didn't place, but it was still fun to write them. What do you think? Could you write a complete story in less than 69 words? I'd love to read what people come up with.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Thursday Recipe - Greek Salad My Way

This is not authentic. No way, no how. But it's very tasty and satisfying on a hot summer day. It's easy to whip up, too.

Greek Salad My Way

1/2 c. red wine vinegar
1/3 c. oil (this is salad dressing so go ahead and use that olive oil or other fancy oil, I just use canola)
1 T. fresh parsley leaves OR 1 t. dried parsley
1/2 t. salt
1/2 t. ground black pepper
1/2 t. paprika

6 c. mixed salad greens (I love the baby spring mix)
1 large cucumber, peeled and sliced
1 sweet bell pepper, red or yellow are prettiest but green works, too
1 c. pitted olives, black or kalamata
1 c. crumbled feta cheese

Put first six ingredients in a blender or small food processor. Blend until smooth. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

For the salad - put greens in a bowl, arrange cucumber, bell pepper, and olives on top. Sprinkle with feta cheese. Serve with the dressing.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Romance vs. romance

It's a nebula, not a Romance cover. But I love this picture.
It's weird how life gives you coincidences. I just started graduate school and the only class I'm taking (started last week!) is discussing academic writing, i.e. the thesis and dissertation, in context as a genre. Many of the differences between genres can be reduced to a difference in style - what is accepted within the audience for that genre. The whole situation that triggered this post could have been avoided if both parties had been clear on what genre they were writing and editing.

I don't write Romance with a capital R. I'm not sure I could. I was involved in a situation a couple of months that really brought home the differences between Romance and other genres. It's a matter of style.

Long story short, I had a story accepted for an anthology. I thought the anthology was for the whole spectrum of writing, from other genres with a strong romantic element all the way to Romance. My story was definitely on the romantic element end of the spectrum but it wasn't written as a Romance. It wasn't intended to be.

The editor wanted to rewrite my entire story. She didn't want me to add sex-plumbing scenes or anything erotic. She wanted me to change the focus of the story from the action to the inner monologue and emotions. She wanted me to change my word choices and sentence structure. My writing wasn't bad. The story had a few plot problems that needed addressed. But those weren't mentioned. I had neglected to make the characters' inner voice and emotions the main thrust of the story. I had written it as a science fiction adventure story, not as a Romance.

Lessons I learned from this include some stylistic differences when writing Romance:

1. The attraction between characters should be the central focus of your story. Everything else that happens is supporting or conflicting with that emotional connection.

2. Inner voice monologuing is appropriate and expected.

3. Emotions are more important than action or description.

I also learned I don't enjoy writing Romance. For me, a good story has a solid plot and lots of external action. It was a tough decision to pull my story from the anthology, but ultimately I have to do what is best for me and my writing. I wish the editors and authors in the anthology all the best of luck with the endeavor. We just didn't see eye-to-eye about my story.

Most of the people involved in the project are from the Romance side of publishing. I'm coming to the group from the opposite side. I write science fiction and silly horror. Romance is a sub-plot at best in my work. I was hoping to find common ground with them and I have in some areas. But in others? They're a foreign species.

Different genres have different writing styles. If you're going to cross genre boundaries, you'd better know the accepted styles. If you deviate too much, it can lead to issues with your work not being accepted by either publishers or readers. I'm beginning to wonder how to reconcile science fiction and Romance. Or even if it's possible. The two styles are mutually exclusive in many areas. Fantasy Romance works. The two genres are closer stylistically and romance is expected, at least to some degree, in fantasy stories. Same with Romantic Suspense and Romantic Thrillers.

I may have to sample more SFR books. I've read plenty of SF, from hard SF to space opera, and plenty of Romances, historical to contemporary to suspense. But the few SFR books I've read so far tend to leave me unsatisfied. The SF doesn't ring true, and the Romance feels contrived. Must be time for more research...

Do you have a favorite science fiction romance book or story that you've read? Did it satisfy both the science fiction reader AND the romance reader in you? Why or why not? I'm curious how other people feel about this.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Thursday Recipe - Banananana Bread

I keep thinking, I'm sure I posted this recipe somewhere on this blog. But then I can't find it so I must not have posted it. The older I get, the less I can remember anyway.

So here's a great recipe for banana bread. Dress it up or leave it plain. We like to serve it with cream cheese.

Banana Bread

3 - 4 medium-size very-ripe bananas
2/3 c. sugar
1 T. baking powder
1 t. salt
2 T. softened butter
3/4 c. milk
1 egg
1 1/2 c. whole wheat flour
1 c. white flour

Cream bananas with sugar until smooth. Add baking powder, salt, butter, milk, and egg. Beat on low speed until well blended. Stir in flours by hand.

Grease 1 large loaf pan or several smaller ones. Scoop batter into pans, filling them about halfway. Bake at 350° for 55 - 65 minutes for large loaf, 40-50 for smaller pans, 20-25 for muffins. Cool 5 minutes, turn out on rack to cool the rest of the way.

Orange spice - Substitute orange juice for the milk. Add 1 t. nutmeg, 1 t. cinnamon, and 1 t. orange zest with the sugar.
Spice bread - Stir in 1 t. cinnamon, 1 t. ginger, 1/2 t. nutmeg, and 1 t. vanilla extract with the sugar.
Chocolate chip - Add 1 t. vanilla extract with the sugar. Stir in 1 c. mini-chocolate chips with the flours.
Nut bread - Add 1 c. chopped nuts (walnuts, pecans, almonds) with the flours.
Choco-peanut - Add 1/2 c. cocoa and 1/4 c. peanut butter with the sugar, reduce whole wheat flour to 1 c. Omit butter.
Dairy-free - substitute your favorite milk-like beverage for the milk. Or use water. I wouldn't use cola, though it might give you an interesting taste.