October 22, 2014, 8.42 pm
Whew! I hit two important writing deadlines in the last week, and collapsed with a sigh of relief afterward. Now I get to focus almost all of my available energy on the upcoming house move...eep. Can I have some more writing deadlines, please??? ;)
In good writing news, though, I got a contract tonight for my short story "Marking Time," which is going to be published on Daily Science Fiction soon. Hooray! I think I forgot to mention here before that I had sold it, but yay, I did, and that was some of the nicest news of the last couple of weeks. I hope you guys like the story when it comes out!
I'm reading far, far too many books at once at the moment, from research books for my just-for-me novel (which involves a scary amount of research, but oh well, it's worth it!) to parenting books. (I'm reading Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way for Parents: Raising Creative Children, and MrD is glad that I am, because he's really enjoying the activities we've been doing together based on the book's suggestions.) Probably my favorite book that I'm reading, though, is Rachel Neumeier's House of Shadows, which is a lovely, rich YA high fantasy.
And! I have some really fun news.
It started with that fabulous picture that artist Sally Jane Thompson drew on Hot Chocolate Day - the one of Kat drinking hot chocolate. I adored it so much that I asked Sally, as an enormous personal favor, whether I could have a hi-res version of the image to turn into a mug for myself, just as a one-off. She very generously said yes, so...look what arrived in the mail two days ago!
MrD calls it "Mama's special cup," and it's made all of my hot chocolates extra delicious from then on:
But then something else happened. After I posted my pictures on twitter and facebook, people started asking if the mug was for sale, so that they could drink hot chocolate from a Kat-drinking-hot-chocolate mug, too! So I talked to Sally and we agreed that it would be really cool if another Kat-hot-chocolate mug (one designed by Sally, the actual artist) became a Thing that could actually be ordered...and check out what she tweeted to me a little later!
I will absolutely post more details once I have them. But in the meantime, every day this week, no matter how stressed or exhausted I might have felt in reaction to all the house-moving preparations (some of which are physically strenuous, others of which are tear-your-hair-out maddening), I have made hot chocolate and drunk it out of my Kat-drinking-hot-chocolate mug (how meta! ;) ), and oh, it has been GOOD. :)
I'd love to hear about any highlights from your week!
October 18, 2014, 6.52 pm
There are some life lessons I never seem to learn for long…but maybe if I write this one down, today, that'll help it stick in my mind for next time.
This afternoon, after pushing myself much too far, physically, this morning, I was flopped in my bed, feeling really crashed, and - surprise, surprise - started feeling really depressed in reaction. I'd planned to write once I'd had an hour of rest, but by the time the hour was over, I felt so depressed, I told myself I couldn't write - especially because the one thing my brain had decided to focus on in particular, today, was the quality and marketability of my writing. (Sigh.)
So, I lay there feeling incredibly despondent about myself and about my writing, the value of my work, etc., etc., etc…
...And the way I chose to try to feel better, when I realized just how bad I was starting to feel, was: *check the internet!* (Insert drumroll of DOOM.)
I kept trying and trying to find something online that would make me feel better about the whole thing. Shockingly, this did not happen. Instead, I felt worse and worse. At least I was protected from one of my most common failed attempts to make myself feel better (buy something!), simply because we're so broke from the impending house move. So at least I didn't waste money, just my precious child-free time, as I surfed more and more quickly (frantically, really) to various sites, hoping to suddenly, magically feel better.
Finally, I started to feel the glimmerings of some common sense, so I decided to shut down the internet and, instead, do something useful with my time to help a friend. So I read and critiqued a couple of chapters of a fabulous manuscript by a writer I really love, and sent my notes off to her. That really did help a little bit. At least I was feeling calm, rather than frantic, which is what internet-surfing-for-comfort makes me feel.
And then…well, then, I finally thought, oh, very well, I could at least LOOK at my novel. I don't have to actually WRITE any of it!
So I opened it up, I started to read through the current chapter, I immediately saw a line that needed changing, so I fixed it, and then I wrote another one that would just naturally come afterwards…and for the rest of the 10 minutes that I had left before I had to take over the childcare again, I wrote steadily, calmly, and happily, with total absorption in the work at hand.
By the time the 10 minutes were up, I felt good, for the first time in hours. I felt centered. Content.
I also thought: Oh, yeah. NOW I remember. Whenever I start panicking about my writing, the only thing that really helps…is writing.
But somehow I'd forgotten, until then. As I always do.
So I'm writing it down here, for next time.
October 14, 2014, 10.50 am
There are way too many important deadlines approaching in this house this month, between Patrick's current freelance deadline, my current freelance deadline, a grant application I'm trying to get sent off by the end of this week, and, of course, our big, looming house move in just over two weeks. (Auuuuuuugh! SO not ready.)
So, as you can imagine, there's a fair amount of stress going on over here at the moment.
But! I've been doing some really good reading. First, I read the best short story collection I've read in a long time, Zen Cho's Spirits Abroad. It's a collection of witty, fabulous f/sf short stories, and it's completely delicious. Obviously, I hugely recommend it. You can read my full Goodreads review here.
Since then, I've been reading a YA f/sf anthology, Kaleidoscope, edited by Alisa Krasnostein and Julia Rios, and it's really, really good, with a great variety of stories and moods, ranging from funny to scary, exciting to heartbreaking. I think my very favorite short stories in it so far are Tansy Rayner Roberts's "Cookie-Cutter Superhero" and Karen Healey's "Careful Magic", but I'm enjoying the whole collection.
I've also found the most completely immersive novel I've read in ages, and it's one that really surprised me, because I actually bounced off it hard the first time I tried it, about a year ago. It's Elizabeth Gilbert's The Signature of All Things, a big, bombastic nineteenth-century story centered around the character of Alma Whittaker, a passionate scientist living in an era when women were restricted to practicing "polite" botany. Last year, I set it down within the first three pages - I saw that the author was circling back to tell the whole story of Alma's dad before she even got Alma started, and I thought, Really? No. I don't have time for this.
This time, though, I was patient enough to keep reading - and I got completely sucked in. Now I'm reading it obsessively, grabbing my Kindle to read more at every possible opportunity, and it's been quite a while since I read a book so absorbing and compelling, with fascinating, larger-than-life characters. I'm absolutely loving it, and I feel silly for having given up on it so quickly last time 'round.
What about you guys? What are your favorite recent reads?
October 7, 2014, 2.05 pm
Hooray, hooray, it's Hot Chocolate Day! And even MrD's toy dinosaurs are celebrating:
Kat is making her boxed set début, and if you'd like a copy for yourself, you can ask for it at your local bookstore or you can buy a copy online at Indiebound, Barnes & Noble, The Book Depository, or Amazon. You can also add it to your shelf on Goodreads.
But more importantly for today...it's time to drink some hot chocolate in celebration!
Writing the Kat books, and seeing them published, has been such an amazing journey for me, beginning all the way back in 2007. Seven years of Kat in my life - wow! And honestly and truly, just like hot chocolate brings me comfort and joy in my day-to-day life, writing the Kat books felt like hot chocolate for my writer-soul. These stories made me happy, they made me laugh even during some very difficult times, they felt deeply liberating to write, and they brought out my very best self as a writer. Seeing Kat's final publication (most likely) is a bittersweet but also amazing moment.
I'd love it if you guys would celebrate with me by lifting a glass of hot chocolate in community today! I, of course, really enjoyed drinking mine, using my modified version of Laura Florand's recipe:
If you want to try one of the three recipes I've already posted ("Original Comfort," "Vegan Perfection," and "A Witch's Chocolate"), you can find them all at this link. And here's one more recipe for today: the coconut milk hot chocolate that saved me during the 18 months I had to go dairy-free when MrD was a baby. It is unbelievably rich and utterly delicious.
Now here's my happiest discovery of today: Sally Jane Thompson, one of my very favorite artists, wrote a fabulous blog post for Hot Chocolate Day, with a photo and mouthwatering description of her own hot chocolate creation. And look what else she included in her blog entry:
It's Kat drinking hot chocolate!!! (See her original blog entry here for the full-size version.)
Happy Hot Chocolate Day, everybody. I hope it's a really good day. :)
October 6, 2014, 10.05 am
I've never been to Paris, but all of my ideas about hot chocolate changed the first time Patrick and I went to Edinburgh and visited Plaisir du Chocolat, a French-stlye chocolaterie where the hot chocolate was mixed in gorgeously aromatic dark, steaming vats near the front door and the scent drifted down the street like a trap for the unwary. They served three different kinds of hot chocolate - 60% chocolate hot chocolate, 70% chocolate, and (the one I didn't dare to try) 90% chocolate.
I tried the 60% chocolate the first time, and it blew my mind. I had never tasted hot chocolate so richly chocolatey. We came back twice a day, every day of our visit. When we got home I pined for it until I finally found out that I could order chocolates from the shop, specifically designed to melt into hot milk and make a similar-tasting (although not quite as amazing) hot chocolate in my home.
Alas, Plaisir du Chocolat no longer exists. (Wahhhh! I really miss it.) But I couldn't go back to my original hot chocolate recipe after becoming addicted to the rich chocolate taste of their hot chocolate.
For years afterwards, my regular hot chocolate recipe then became a dairy version of the vegan recipe that Patrick posted here last week. I melted good, dark hot chocolate into milk, and that was it. And honestly, it was good.
But then, this year, I discovered a new favorite author: Laura Florand.
Laura writes romances for adults, and her first series, Amour et Chocolat, is set in the chocolateries of Paris. Oh, are her descriptions of the chocolate mouth-watering! I love all of her books - they're just as delicious as the chocolates she describes.
And her second book, The Chocolate Kiss - a romance with a strong and lovely element of magical realism - is all about the hot chocolate.
Her heroine, Magalie, doesn't just make the best hot chocolate in Paris, the that kind people can't stop craving after they've drunk it - she makes magical hot chocolate, hot chocolate that can help people find their heart's desires. And that's only appropriate, since her chocolaterie is La Maison des Sorcières, and she and her aunts are only half-jokingly known as the witches.
I read the descriptions of Magalie's hot chocolate with my mouth watering, and when I finished the book, I was thrilled to discover this recipe at the end of it, as shared with a food blogger (who's also a character in the book).
When I asked Laura, she very generously told me I could go ahead and share it with you guys, too, as part of my Hot Chocolate Day celebrations! So here it is:
A Witch’s Chocolate
(Le Chocolat Chaud d’une Sorcière)
A recipe shared by Magalie Chaudron on the blogs A Taste of Elle and Le Gourmand. According to our guest, Magalie Chaudron, of that magical little shop on the Île Saint-Louis, La Maison des Sorcières, chocolat chaud should change with the weather and the person drinking it, and no recipe should ever be followed to the letter, because why do you want to imitate other people? That sounds oddly humble. However, to get you started, Magalie has generously described her basic process for us, and we’ve added precise measurements to help out. She had never measured her ingredients before.
1. Smile. Just a soft curve of the lips.
2. In 2 cups (250 milliliters) whole milk, infuse the following ingredients for 15 minutes, keeping the temperature below scalding so that steam rises very gently from the liquid but no skin forms (about 140–150 ° F):
-1 cinnamon stick (½ teaspoon ground cinnamon)
-1 vanilla bean , split (if you don’t have a vanilla bean, it’s probably best to leave out the vanilla altogether)
-Dash nutmeg, freshly grated (less than teaspoon); if it is not freshly grated, you might want a touch more
3. Remove the cinnamon stick and vanilla bean, and any skin if you misjudged the temperature because you were distracted by someone like Philippe. If you prefer an even richer vanilla flavor, scrape the seeds from inside the vanilla bean into the liquid.
4. Add 8 ounces (225 grams) high-quality dark chocolate. How dark depends on whom you are making it for, but Valrhona’s 61 percent couverture chocolate is a good place to start.
5. Let the chocolate sit in the milk for about 30 seconds, then whisk until smooth.
6. Keep over low heat. When you are ready to serve, stir three times with a smile and a wish. If you wish for dreams to come true, then be prepared for upheaval. Dreams are like lions: gentle when sleepy.
From Laura Florand's The Chocolate Kiss (Amour et Chocolat). Kensington Publishing Corp. Kindle Edition.
Tomorrow is Hot Chocolate Day. I'll be making my own hot chocolate, using Magalie's recipe. (Alas, I have no vanilla beans, but it's delicious even without them! And I have to admit that I never give my hot chocolate the full fifteen minutes of spice infusion first - someday I will, when I don't have a baby and time pressing on me! - but oh, does it taste good even if you just infuse it for a couple of minutes before adding the hot chocolate. Please forgive me, Laura and Magalie - I know it would be even better your way!)
I'll also be linking to one last hot chocolate recipe here on the blog...
...and all while celebrating the release of something else that brings me joy, A Most Improper Boxed Set. Hooray!
I like to think that Kat and her sisters will be drinking hot chocolate, too. :)