Cooking is Magic, Part 1: Start with Fresh Ingredients

Hi, all. Sorry I have again fallen down on Wednesday recipes. The Kickstarter campaign has been taking up most of my spare time, but I’m going to make it up to you. Every day, for the remainder of the campaign, I’ll be posting about cooking and writing, and I’ll include a recipe with each post. Here goes!

raspberry-rhubarb-crumble-web

Many of my friends accuse me of being unable to write anything that does not somehow involve food. This is untrue; I’ve written several short stories with no food in them whatsoever. Only one of them has been published, though (a very scary horror story), so I think all the food writing must be a good plan. I love food, and I love cooking. To me, cooking is magic. How can I help but write about that?

Cooking is Magic, Part 1: Start with Fresh Ingredients

It begins with the first planted seed. Gardening/farming is a separate but complementary magic, a slower, more deliberate one. Good gardening requires planning over multiple years: planting fruit trees and asparagus roots that will not produce food for a year or two, pruning back the old raspberry canes to make way for new ones next spring, rotating crops in the field to promote nitrogen fixing and deter pests. Then there’s the yearly cycle of sprouting and planting and watering and weeding and, at last, harvesting. This complex and intricate dance of cycles has given me many years of pleasure.

Anything you cook is only as good as its ingredients. I often say that I cheat, and that my meals and desserts are good because I use the best ingredients I can find, ideally sourced locally and directly from farmers. Anything that doesn’t have to be shipped hundreds of miles before it reaches me is going to be fresher and riper and far more delicious. Of course, it takes some skill to use those ingredients well, but they certainly give a good boost to any meal you make.

I’ve largely given up gardening, as that part of my brain seems to have been taken over by novels. They’re similar skills: the lengthy planning, the careful balance between all the different elements of plot and character and theme. And using the best ingredients carries over, too: deep research, careful character development, and the support of your local community of writers and readers are all necessary ingredients in my writing. I have no regrets about leaving my garden behind, but I still have tremendous respect for all magicians of the soil.

The first farmers’ market in our neighborhood opened for the season yesterday. I missed it, but I’d intended to go looking for the fresh, delicious goodies of late spring, including asparagus, fiddlehead ferns, and rhubarb. Here’s a simple recipe using rhubarb to celebrate the beginning of the season. You will need to use frozen raspberries, as those won’t be available fresh until late June. Parents, the oat crumble is really fun for kids to make, squishing all the ingredients together with their hands and pressing it into the pan.

Petunia’s Raspberry-Rhubarb Crumble

1 c. rhubarb, diced
1 c. raspberries, fresh or frozen
½ c. sugar
1 tsp. lemon juice

1 c. quick cooking oats
½ c. flour
½ c. packed brown sugar
¼ tsp. baking soda
6 Tbsp. melted butter

Preheat oven to 300 ˚F. Put the rhubarb, raspberries, sugar, and lemon juice in a saucepan and cook on medium high heat until the rhubarb and raspberries have completely dissolved, then simmer until the mixture thickens to jam consistency, for about an hour total, stirring frequently. Meanwhile, stir together the oats, flour, brown sugar, and baking soda. Add the butter and mix thoroughly. Press about half the oat mixture into a 9×9-inch or 8×12-inch baking pan. Bake for 10 minutes. Pour the fruit mixture on top of the baked oat layer, then crumble the remaining oat mixture on top. Bake for an additional 20 minutes. Serve warm, topped with whipped cream.

Next, Part 2: Cooking as Chemistry, Cooking as Alchemy

A Pixie’s Promise eBook Giveaways!

pixie-twain-kickstarter

Heads up! Want to win a free eBook copy of A PIXIE’S PROMISE? I’m running three contests, giving you three chances to win!

April 27-29: BAD JOKE CONTEST – Come up with an answer to that age-old question, “Why did the dragon cross the road?”

pixies-promise-nora-sketchMay 4-6: FAN ART CONTEST – Draw your favorite characters and places from A WITCH’S KITCHEN and post them on my Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram feeds.

May 11-13: FANTASY BAKING COMPETITION – Think no cake is complete without twizzler sea serpents or unicorn horns? Make your fantastic confection and post photos on my Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram feeds.

Contests begin at noon Friday and end at midnight Sunday each week. You may enter as many times as you like. For each contest, one entry will be selected at random to receive a free eBook. Winners will be announced on our Kickstarter campaign page the Monday after the competition (April 30st, May 7th, and May 13th).

So get your creative juices flowing and stay tuned for further developments.

A hideous lineup of monster balls

Kickstarter Campaign Has Launched!

pixie-twain-kickstarter

It’s live, folks! You can now order A Pixie’s Promise at Early Bird prices! And if you and/or your child enjoy paranormal mysteries, please consider supporting Twain’s Treasure as well. I thought it was a rollicking good read.

Also, a quick reminder that we’re holding a Facebook Party tonight, 5-7PM Eastern time, when I’ll be reading the first chapter of A Pixie’s Promise on Facebook Live! I hope you can join us.

Three-Book Contract with Dreaming Robot Press!

cerberus-publicdomainvectorRemember back in December, when I announced that I’d delivered my manuscript for A Pixie’s Promise to Dreaming Robot Press? Well, I have a plot twist, literally.

The fine folks at Dreaming Robot Press got back to me about three weeks later. In the interest of brevity, I’ve created this condensed version of our discussion, which actually took place over the course of several weeks:

DRP: So, we like a lot of things in A Pixie’s Promise, but we think it should be two books.

Me: Uhh, what?

DRP: No, really, the first half is one story, and the second half is a different but related story, and its protagonist should really be Sagara.

Me: Dang. Yeah, okay, I can see that now. Yup, you’re right. (I am totally downplaying the massive case of heebie jeebies I had to overcome before I could get my brain around the idea.)

DRP: Problem is, neither half is long enough to be a book, so can you write two more halves to go with them?

Me: GAH. Um, let me think about that. (Two weeks later…) Yeah, I can do that. Kinda disappointed, though. I was gonna write Max’s book next. (Plot synopsis redacted due to spoilers.)

DRP: ZOMG, we want Max’s book, too!!!

Me: Hrm. Okay. Three book contract, then?

And then the contract negotiations began. I still do not have an agent, and there was no time to find one. I looked into hiring an intellectual property attorney, but they are EXPENSIVE. Finally, I posted to a few mailing lists, and several people suggested the Author’s Guild. It turns out that if you join the Author’s Guild, you get free legal assistance, including contract reviews.

Hooray for the Author’s Guild. Within a day of my request, they gave me a very comprehensive review of the contract with excellent suggestions, most of which DRP found reasonable. Finally, this week, we finalized and signed the contract. And that’s what’s been eating my life and keeping me off social media for the past couple of months.

The three books, all sequels to A Witch’s Kitchen, are:

A Pixie’s Promise – told from Petunia’s point of view
An Elf’s Equations – told from Sagara’s point of view
A Wizard’s Wish – told from Max’s point of view, and not loving the title, so it’s likely to change

Due to the massive changes, which I am diligently working on (or was until I took a break to write up this blog), A Pixie’s Promise will not be released until September. Here’s a rough schedule of all the books and when they will come out. Realize that everything after Pixie is subject to change.

Novel Manuscript due by Kickstarter Campaign Publication Date
A Pixie’s Promise May 1, 2018 April 2018 September 2018
An Elf’s Equations October 31, 2018 TBD TBD
A Wizard’s Wish August 1, 2019 TBD TBD

 

So I’ll be producing three novels in two years. Yowza! But that’s good news for all of you. You’ll be getting lots more Millie, Petunia, Max, and Sagara than I’d originally planned. And after that, who knows? Perhaps a book for Thea? We shall see…

DONE: First Draft of A Pixie’s Promise -or- The Peril of Writing a Series

Prospective cover for A Pixie's Promise by Dianna Sanchez

Prospective cover for A Pixie’s Promise

Hi, all! First, I hope everyone from Texas to Georgia and throughout the Caribbean is safe and dry today.

Second, I’m happy to report that I completed the first draft of A Pixie’s Promise on Saturday. Woo hoo!

I was surprised to discover that writing a sequel was significantly different from writing a standalone novel or the first in a series. It
was… easier. Much easier. I had done the worldbuilding. I knew the characters and their motivations. The sequel was a logical continuation of the first novel, so the plot flowed smoothly. Once I had a plot outline done, I could just sit down and churn out page after page.

Wait, you say. Maybe you’ve just gotten better at writing novels, now that you’ve written three of them. I’d love to believe that’s the case, but I have a counterexample. The standalone novel I wrote between A Witch’s Kitchen and A Pixie’s Promise… well, it kinda stinks. It’s deeply problematic, its theme is muddy, it has characters it doesn’t really need, and, in my husband’s words, it’s really only half a novel. Why? I think it’s because I haven’t had the time to think it through, the way I have with the universe and characters I created in A Witch’s Kitchen. They’ve been fermenting in my head for nearly four years, and they are now well developed and thus much easier to work with.

Which is not to say that there weren’t surprises. Lots of surprises. Unexpected new characters, a wholly unplanned aerial battle scene, and an entire new Realm I hadn’t known existed until I started writing it. I was delighted by this. I had been a little worried that plotting in advance would make the writing wooden and formulaic. On the contrary, it gave me just enough structure to plow through at high speed without restricting the flow of new ideas.

I loved this process. Having written and published the first novel, I could write this one with the confidence that it would also appeal to my readers. I could delve more deeply into individual characters and motivations. I could expand upon the worldbuilding without getting too technical. I could introduce social concepts relevant to our current surreal lives in the United States in fun and interesting ways. Seriously, I had a ball.

So did my readers. The comments I’ve gotten back have been, “This is such a pageturner, I can’t put it down,” and “Mom, stop bothering me, I’m reading your book.” Okay, my first readers were my family and they have to like it, but even so, they really liked it, and I’m so happy about the whole thing. I’d read blogs and articles saying that sequels are often harder to write, but I’m happy to say that this wasn’t the case for me.

Now, I’m not saying it’s perfect. I changed things halfway through and have to go back and correct for them, and I need to do overall consistency checking and adjust chapter lengths. That’s just to get it ready for non-family beta readers. I also want to go back and really reinforce the character development and thematic elements. My current chapter titles are terrible. I need more bad jokes. On the whole, though, I’m pleased and think the novel is close to done.

But (there’s always a but, isn’t there?), something unexpected happened. When I got to the end of my two other novels, (the prequel and the standalone), I got this marvelous sense of done-ness, and large swaths of my mind, previously busy keeping track of all the plot threads and character development, emptied out and relaxed.  It’s just a marvelous feeling, like finally hiking to the top of a mountain and being able to take off your backpack and put it down.

I finished A Pixie’s Promise, and I sat back and waited for that to happen. I waited all day, and part of the next. My brain did not empty out. In fact, if anything, it got MORE full. I discovered that I was forgetting things: events, appointments, grocery items even though they were on the list in my hand. Ack! What’s happening! My brain is too full!

I had to sort of drop everything and figure out what was going on in my head, and to my dismay, I discovered that I was still hanging on to several plot threads that needed tweaking in A Pixie’s Promise, and I was also busy plotting out two more sequels, and a bit of a third, all from small details I’d seeded in A Pixie’s Promise.

And it was too much. My series had exceeded my mind’s processing capacity and was crowding out the small details of daily life that I so often take for granted. Ow, my brain.

So I did what any self-respecting writer does in the age of the Internet: I got on Facebook and complained. How do I deal with this? I wailed. And other writers came to my rescue. Keep notes, they said. Make timelines and character worksheets. One author of a five-book series has offered to meet me for coffee and show me her wiki, which she
uses to keep track of everything.

I’m now in the process of retraining myself to write everything down: all appointments and commitments go in to my calendar, I’m setting up a TBD list on my phone so I always have it with me, and I’m starting to document my universe, something I’d never imagined needing to do for myself. When your brain isn’t big enough to hold everything, it’s time
to invest in external storage.

For those of you considering embarking upon writing a series, I recommend you set up your infrastructure first. Yes, do your plot outlines and your character worksheets, but realize that you may need to keep track of changes to your character in those worksheets. You might need maps, a timeline, a glossary of terms unique to your series. I need a searchable list of magic words and incantations so that I don’t have to keep flipping back through my first novel and the early pages of the sequel to find them. I also need a bestiary as I keep adding magical races. And I need to start tracking the interaction between mythology and the history/magic system of my universe.

Because, if it’s good, it gets weird, FAST.

Those of you who’ve actually written sequels or series: how do you track everything? What works for you? How do you keep your head from exploding? Please share!

Thanks, all, and happy writing.