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On resolutions January 11, 2019

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newyears2019When I was younger, I wasn’t crazy about New Year’s. (Admittedly, I didn’t get invited to many parties.) These days, however, I like the spirit of renewal. A blank slate. Casting off the wearied remnants of the old year and looking toward the bright potential of the future.

Yes, it’s an arbitrary date and people shouldn’t need an excuse to improve themselves. But it’s a landmark. A reminder, when we’re so often swept up in the chaos of our daily lives, that we should constantly be trying to better ourselves.

And now, in the Information Age, it’s easier than ever to do. Free apps can teach you a new language, how to play an instrument, how to draw and meditate and all sorts of things. YouTube videos can show you how to make or do almost anything. There’s a mountain of free ebooks and online courses out there that can help you master a new skill or subject. Most of these options are even broken down into chunks that only require a few minutes a day. There’s no excuse not to attempt any pursuit one might desire.

I don’t tend to make resolutions. I made an exception with my Goodreads reading challenge for 2019, and I’ll admit I like the push it gives me. Otherwise, however, I don’t want to pressure myself. I prefer goals. Google Fit keeps trying to get me to lower my fitness goals, make them more consistently attainable for me. But I’m not out to check boxes off every day. I want to strive for those goals. I won’t beat myself up if I don’t make them, but I’ll allow myself to feel good if I do.

I don’t have a lot of goals for 2019. I already started trying to exercise regularly a few months ago, and last year I made some changes to my health that significantly improved my overall quality of life. I want to read more, of course. I do want to try to get the second Sisters of Chaos book out this year. Editing continues to be a slog, but I’m using the spirit of improvement the new year provides to try to push myself to at least continue working on it.

Of course, with all these options for personal improvement out there, it’s hard not to get swept up in the different things one can learn or do. I look at the guitar(s) in my bedroom and think about the apps I’ve looked at to try to start playing again. I watch my daughter using new art supplies and think about breaking out some of my own that I haven’t touched for years. I even downloaded one of those language learning apps on a whim last night.

Is it too much? Maybe. Do I have too little time to explore all these interests? Maybe not, at least based on the apps I’ve seen. Will I lose interest before the month’s out? Possibly. But these options are better than just sitting around playing a silly mobile game or watching cat videos on YouTube, which I tend to do more often in my free time because it’s easier than doing anything that can be judged. Maybe my true resolution should be to stop being intimidated by starting anything.

The key to a good new year is not merely hoping or wishing that it will be better. Now’s the time to start making things happen.

Here’s to a great 2019.

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The year of trying more? Oil pastels, 2.5″ x 3.5″

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Books / time: the story January 6, 2019

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I love reading (as is probably obvious). Even my 7-year-old daughter now says, “you can’t have too many books”, gets excited when we go to the bookstore, and says “booooks” hungrily when confronted with a stack of them.

But I’ll admit I’m not the most prolific reader. The main excuses for that are that I spend free time engaged with other pastimes (writing) and a silly fear of commitment over starting new books. I also don’t consider myself a very fast reader, so I don’t get through books as quickly as perhaps I could.

2017 was my best year yet for reading since I started tracking my books read on Goodreads, at 26. However, I followed that up in 2018 with a paltry 10. Well, 11 when you count one book that wasn’t on Goodreads.

Granted, that’s only the measure of the books I read for enjoyment. That doesn’t count the thirty or forty books I read as part of my freelance work, or the handful of books I read (or reread) for Brain Lag. But it does seem a little sad after such a good 2017. And considering the number of new books I picked up last year, it does make me want to read more.

I’ve started the year on the right foot, at least. Whereas last year, I had a gap through to the end of March without any books read for pleasure, I finished my first book of 2019 tonight. It was even one I’ve been meaning to read for a few years. Progress!

I managed to whittle down my TBR shelf (we’ll pretend that row of books hidden behind them aren’t there) to six or seven before I started buying more new books last year. Maybe if I keep at it, I can finally get through those books I bought and haven’t read yet. (Again, we’re not mentioning all the books behind them on the shelf, or the dozens of ebooks I have on Kindle and Google Play.) Maybe if I do that, I can get back to some series I’ve partially read, or start reading other books I’ve been wanting to check out for years, read some authors and titles I’ve heard such good things about.

Or maybe I’ll continue getting lost in whatever ebook I happen to open in a moment of boredom or picking up whatever shiny title catches my eye at the library.

Some people may lament the idea of there being so many books that one cannot possibly hope to read all the ones they desire in a lifetime, but to me, I find reassurance in the knowledge that I’ll always have something to read.

I’d like 2019 to be a better year for books for me. I’ll make it a better year. I’ve never set myself reading goals on Goodreads, but maybe I’ll do that this year. I spend too much time goofing around on mobile games because of this weird anxiety over starting new books, when I’ve plenty of minutes throughout the day that I can find to get some reading in. It’s not hard to start a new book, and I know that.

It’s a new year. Time for new stories.

‘Tis the season November 30, 2018

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While doing my annual Christmas photo session last week, I took some nice shots of my cat, Mew, too. Enjoy!

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Look at this gorgeous beast and tell me this isn’t the Platonic ideal of a cat. If only he wasn’t so crazy.

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In the middle of licking his chops. A lot of treats were involved in getting these pictures.

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Book tour and giveaway: THE BLACK TRILLIUM November 16, 2018

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The Black Trillium
by Simon McNeil
Genre: Post-Apocalyptic Fantasy
 
Confederation rules in Trana—so says the king.
But Fredericton is a long way from the shores of Lake Ontario, and
schemes for power will bring together three extraordinary young
warriors.
Savannah
A desert girl who came to Trana looking for refuge but has never found
a home
Kieran
A privileged city boy dreaming of rebellion and hardened by cruelty
Kyle
The disgraced heir to the throne desperate to win back his place in his
father’s heart
Sworn enemies or reluctant allies, they all have one thing in common: an
incomplete half of the legendary fighting skill known as the
Triumvirate sword art. They fight for glory, for power, for the
monsters lurking beneath the streets, and for the mysterious society
moving in the shadows of Trana—the Black Trillium.
Add to Goodreads
Amazon * Apple * B&N * Kobo
Read on for my review, a guest post, and giveaway!

(more…)

Art vs. Illustration October 22, 2018

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I’ve been drawing seriously, or at least trying to, for the better part of thirty years now. While it hasn’t been my only, or even necessarily primary, method of creative expression, I’ve done a lot of it. My artwork folder on my computer, which consists only of pictures I have at one point deemed worthy of sharing, has over 500 files in it.

Most of those pictures are more or less portraits. The character(s) might not be looking at the viewer and they might be doing something interesting, but the whole point of those drawings is just to show off a character. I’ve drawn my share of scenes, pictures showing a clear story, but they’re still one-off images. I have considered and even scripted comics and/or graphic novels, but I haven’t taken the time to really attempt it yet.

Now that I have been drawing for the chapter book I wrote, however, I am starting to understand the particular challenges to actual illustration, particularly now that I have started colouring my illustrations. Up till now, it’s mostly been fun: determining visual quirks of characters the first time I draw them and extending those to subsequent illustrations, designing characters’ clothes, hair and accessories, setting the scenes I’m trying to convey. There was a challenge in keeping characters consistent, of course, and I had to consider things I’d never dealt with before, such as height of characters relative to each other, but it wasn’t all that different from what I was used to.

When I coloured the first character in the first illustration, however, I suddenly realized that I should colour all instances of that character to keep their portrayal consistent. And then as I worked further, I found myself needing to consider things that even backstory for the book itself didn’t prepare me for. Take this drawing, for example:

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All went well enough, I was enjoying the way it came together as I coloured each character over the course of a few nights, and then I got to that breakfast bar. What colour should the counter and the cupboard be?

I hadn’t put much thought into it at that point, but suddenly it became a crucial issue. I knew what colours the characters may favour, but they live on a space station. What would the counter and cupboard even be made of? An aluminum counter top is easy enough to decide upon, but what about the cupboard? Trying to answer that question only spawned more. Are these characters the first ones to live in this apartment? Because there wouldn’t be wood or drywall on a space station, and I don’t think repainting would be likely on a space station. How old is the station? Because that’s going to determine whether this is a new apartment or if they’ve moved in to someone else’s design choices. What would the walls be made of? Because that’s going to affect their colour, and so the design elements in the kitchen.

I hadn’t even considered these things while developing the story. I probably never would have if I hadn’t been trying to answer a simple question regarding a background element to a single illustration in the book. And this is only a taste of it; I have several more illustrations to go. What other issues may crop up as I work through the rest of the drawings? What else might I discover if I went on to write and illustrate more books?

It certainly makes for an interesting, and fun, challenge. In a way, I’m also a little saddened, because I have to, and I want to, focus entirely on Sisters of Chaos book 2 after I’ve finished with this book, even though I already have some ideas for another book. I’m also enjoying creating the art for this book, as time-consuming as it might be, too much to consider letting someone else illustrate for any possible future books. This has been a very fun process, weaving art and writing together in a way in which each affects the other, and I hope to get the chance to do it again before too long.

PSA October 19, 2018

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Look at all these fantastic books!

I don’t tend to bring it up much here, but I am the owner of and, essentially, one-woman show behind Brain Lag, publisher of science fiction and fantasy novels. I don’t tend to mention it because that means technically, my own novels are self-published, though aside from the fact that that has no correlation to quality, six other authors have liked my work enough to entrust me with theirs.

I love to do this. It took me almost thirty years to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up, and I’m so glad to have the opportunity to do it. I’ve seen two fellow publishers hang up their towels in the last couple years because it wasn’t right for them or it wasn’t viable, and I get it. My sales aren’t nearly what I would like them to be, and I’ve had to take on freelancing work to help support the primary function of Brain Lag.

But I believe in my business. I love taking the amazing manuscripts my authors send me and turning them into beautiful, professional books. I love seeing my shelf of books I’ve published expand and to introduce as many people as I can to these great stories.

So please, help spread the word a little. Tell your friends, mention it on social media, buy a book, request a copy at the library, leave a review. It would mean so much to me to help get my authors the recognition they deserve.

Thank you.

Pumpkinpalooza October 15, 2018

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For all my love of books, board and video games, miniature painting, and science fiction and fantasy, sometimes I take great joy in being domestic. In no way is this more apparent than with baking. And at this time of year, that means pumpkins.

I’ve become one of those people who is crazy about pumpkin goodies. I started out a few years ago, the first time I cooked a fresh pumpkin for muffins, and since then, I’ve made a lot of pumpkin recipes. Breads, cakes, cookies, doughnuts, and more. Not all of them have worked spectacularly, but I’ve made enough that have turned out very nice that I thought I would share some today.

A couple of notes before I begin: first, I only use fresh pumpkin for my recipes. I tried canned pumpkin once and it was not nearly as tasty, so bear that in mind. Cooking a pie pumpkin is easy, anyway. Chop it in half, scoop out the pulp, cook for an hour, and puree the innards. It takes time, but not a lot of work.

Second, I feel that a lot of pumpkin recipes are a little heavy on the spice and light on the pumpkin flavour. So, my cardinal rule for pumpkin recipes is 50% more pumpkin, 50% less spice. This usually doesn’t affect the texture with fresh pumpkin, which is thicker than canned. I also tend to cut back on sugar, but I do that with all my baking. Of course, this is my preference.

Without further ado, my favourite pumpkin recipes:

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Pumpkin biscotti – recipe

This was one of my earliest pumpkin recipes, found after being randomly inspired to try searching for one, and has been my most popular. Aside from my cardinal rules, I follow the recipe precisely. Perfect for dunking in coffee or tea. (If you prefer a softer biscotti, however, you can cut the second baking time in half.)

Pumpkin scones

I’ve made the popular Starbucks copycat pumpkin scone recipe a few times, and while tasty, I found myself wanting a more authentic scone. After extensive research on the topic, it seemed to me that British scones are much like North American biscuits. So, I searched instead for a pumpkin biscuit recipe and was very pleased with the results. I did take a cue from the Starbucks knockoff and added 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon and nutmeg and 1/4 cup finely chopped candied ginger, which peps it up nicely and makes it the perfect accompaniment to a nice cuppa tea and a grey day.

Pumpkin sugar cookies

This was entirely an experiment on my part last year that worked out better than I anticipated. I took a standard sugar cookie recipe, replaced half the butter with pumpkin, and added 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon and 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg. They are better when iced properly, but I wanted to show the colour for this post.

Ravioli with pumpkin alfredo sauce – recipe

After all these treats, I found this while searching for savoury pumpkin recipes. I made it for the first time a few weeks ago and it was an instant hit. I did not include the nuts in the recipe and added zucchini and mushrooms to the sauce, but otherwise followed the recipe closely, and it came out delicious. I also used ravioli stuffed with roasted cauliflower, which complemented the flavours nicely, but I imagine the sauce works just as well on regular pasta.

Finally, if I have just a little pumpkin left over, I recently discovered a very nice homemade pumpkin spice latte recipe, or my go-to is to use the rest in pumpkin pancakes. I eyeball this one more than measure, but I add about half a cup of pumpkin to a standard pancake batter and add a dash of cinnamon and a sprinkle of nutmeg.

Music Monday: Retro hour August 27, 2018

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Lo and behold! I haven’t forgotten about my “weekly” feature. I’m just terrible at sticking to it.

This week, I wanted to share some arrangements with a retro, vintage, even old-fashioned flair. I’m always amazed at the imagination of arrangers, and these songs in particular impressed me.

HyperDuck SoundWorks – Punk Hairdo Kid (download)

We’ll start back in the ’80s with this synth-pop arrangement of “Chrono Trigger” from the SNES classic Chrono Trigger. This one delighted me on first listen, both for the kitschy-ness and the quality of the arrangement, and I can totally picture this music to the opening of a cheesy 1980s cartoon about Chrono Trigger.

 

Cyril the Wolf – Dancing in the Jungle (download)

Going further back now with this arrangement of “Brinstar Green Soil” from Super Metroid that makes me envision a ’70s cop show in which Samus Aran hunts down aliens while driving a muscle car and wearing an orange and yellow pantsuit with padded shoulders. In fact, listening to this song spawned an entire novel idea just a couple months ago, which took over my mind and made it awfully hard to focus on anything else for a few weeks, at least.

HyperDuck SoundWorks – Yearnings na Gaoithe (download)

HyperDuck SoundWorks delivers again with this gorgeous ’60s ambient rock style arrangement of “Longing of the Wind” from Chrono Trigger. The mellow beat, lo-fi instruments, and added record scratches are expertly woven into an authentic-sounding tribute to early synth rock and smoothly transforms this classic tune into something almost timeless.

Brandon Strader – Terra in Jazz (download)

Now it’s time to go way back, as Brandon Strader arranges “Terra” from Final Fantasy VI in a Prohibition-era jazz style that feels so real, you can almost smell the cigarette smoke in a dingy little speakeasy. Once again, the arrangement is so smooth, it feels like the original song was made for this style.

Scrab Cakes – Silent Film Partita (download)

And I’ll close out this week with another completely unexpected yet brilliant arrangement, a piano solo of “Wood Carving Partita” from Castlevania: Symphony of the Night in the particular style of ragtime used in classic silent films. What else can I say? Like the other tracks, it’s an ingenious transformation of a singular original song, and it was a well-deserved win for the March 2017 Dwelling of Duels.

Never ending stories August 24, 2018

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I have some news to announce. The good news is: I’ve written a new story.

The bad news, of course, is I’ve written a new story.

Followers might wonder, so recently after I announced my intention not to write other books until I finish the Sisters of Chaos trilogy, why I suddenly wrote an entirely new book.

In short, I wanted to write a story for my daughter.

I’ve been wanting to write a story for her for years. But, as a SFF author of 100,000-word novels that lean more toward the grey side of the grimdark/noblebright scale, I found picture books just a bit too far outside my normal scope to attempt. Now that she is reading chapter books, however, I find an opportunity to write a story for her much more accessible.

I also made a realization recently. I hadn’t even considered writing a kid’s book before finishing with my trilogy, but it occurred to me that if I wait until then, she might be of an age when she can just read my regular work, and I’ll have missed the opportunity.

So, I sat down and wrote her a book. World, meet Mia:

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She’s nine years old, Hispanic, and lives on a space station.

Chapter books are still barely longer than my standard short story, so I was able to write out the entire book in a couple weeks. I still have some editing to do, but hopefully, the story won’t take much longer to finalize. The real holdup will be illustrations. Much as I would love to have someone else handle them, I just don’t have the budget for it, and I think my daughter would appreciate me drawing them myself.

Soon, I hope, I can share Mia’s story with the world.

Gen Con 2018 games wrap-up part 2 August 8, 2018

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Friday – 7:00-11:00 p.m. – Mistborn: House War

cover-cfg-13001-mistborn-house-war-retail-500x750I’ve been eyeing this game for a few years, because Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson is one of my all-time favourite book series. In this game based on said series, players take the role of the noble houses, gaining resources and solving problems in the Final Empire and trying to curry the most favour with the Lord Ruler – or, based on how the game progresses, the most disgrace.

I went into this game open-minded and very curious, but I wasn’t crazy about the theme of the game, since I was, essentially, playing as the villains from the books. The game play, however, turned out to be extremely compelling. This is particularly interesting in my case, because I don’t generally care for games in which one has to stab one’s friends in the back. However, the way Mistborn played, with equal parts working together with and against the other players, made it very interesting. The game wasn’t super complicated and there was almost no luck involved (no dice to curse me, huzzah!) which I also thoroughly enjoyed. Plus, the fact that maxing out the Unrest slider on the board means the player with the least favour wins adds a very interesting element to the game. Overall, this was a very fun game and I ended up picking up a copy.

Saturday – 7:00-10:00 – CATaclysm the Board Game

Shiraz Sheikh and Brent Logan Kickstarted CATaclysm the RPG last year, a game in which humans are gone and cats have evolved into the adventurous heroes, with oversized rats being their primary opponents. What my husband and I played was a prototype of an RPG-in-a-box version of CATaclysm, which the game creators plan to Kickstart later this year. I didn’t know this much going into it; we saw a listing for a cooperative miniatures game starring cats and decided to go for it.

Simply put, this was easily our favourite game of Gen Con. The game play was fantastic, the theme was just the right balance between silly and actually quite sensible (the heroes, being cats, take damage if they stay in water, except the Maine Coon, of course), and the 3D printed minis and prototype board, cards, and pieces were of excellent quality, not to mention adorable. Shiraz also did a fantastic job explaining the rules clearly and concisely, giving us just enough detail to get the gist of the game without bogging us down with unnecessary information, simplifying game play for the sake of the demo, and letting us mostly work it out ourselves while still being on hand to answer questions, clarify rules, and occasionally make suggestions. I also really like the fact that the enemies are all AI-controlled, so no one has to play against everyone else in the group.

I absolutely loved this game and am seriously looking forward to October, when they plan to Kickstart the game. I highly, highly recommend this game for fans of the RPG-in-a-box style.

And that’s a wrap! It doesn’t sound like much compared to last year, but I got in just the right amount of games for me, more actual board/table top games than I took in last year, and really enjoyed what I did play. It was a great weekend.