Blood at the Orpheum

Taken at their Majestic show by the band...

Taken at their Majestic show by the band…

So this past week I won tickets to the world premiere viewing of Blood at the Orpheum, the first ever In This Moment concert DVD. It was filmed here in Madison at the Orpheum Theater this past May. I took my son to see the concert, and with Nonpoint opening for them it was one of the better shows to go to that year. Like a mini-Band Camp almost. So we were there for the filming.

My wife didn’t think she could take the day off to get there in time, my son was working, and I had the day off of work for the holiday. So what’s a zombie to do? He took his “retired” sister to the remote in the theater’s lounge and the movie. I say “retired” as a bit of an inside joke. Though she is four years older than me, she has recently left work (with a severance package), so had some time on her hands.

The first thing she did is look up who In This Moment was. Technically its the first thing my brother-in-law did. He then asked when I started listening to metal. I told her she could relay to him, 11 or 12 years old. About the same time I started listening to punk rock. Seriously, he’s around the same age as me. How do you grow up in the 70′s and 80′s and NOT listen to metal, punk and the like? At least some of the time…

So she had never heard any of their music. I get the feeling she doesn’t listen to WJJO like I do. And of course the first video she watches from them is their latest, Whore. I explained the idea behind the song to her on the way to Point Cinema (on the other side of town).

During the remote, the station was giving away copies of the DVD, signed posters from the band and a tattoo of the band’s logo from Ultimate Arts Tattoos. All really solid swag. My sister gets her name drawn and wins a signed poster, which was pretty awesome. She was asking me what to do with it. I told her she needed to start a rock wall in her house. I told her that I do have a signed Halloween photo from Maria Brinks, but I have yet to figure out where my full on rock wall is going to go.

I do have a Wayland Warrior Wall, but that’s because I have the signed guitar from their (and my) first year at Band Camp. So that meant setting something up. And gave me the clout to set it up in our living room too. You have to start somewhere. Don’t even get me started on adding quotes to the feature walls in our house. ;)

There was also much discussion on dragging their asses out to the next Wayland show. My brother-in-law is turning into a grumpy old man before his time. Thus I feel it is my responsibility to my family to get him good currently published science fiction to read, music from currently touring bands, and plenty of garden gnomes to motivate him into action. You know… before the rise up in revolt and take over the house.

That made it so much better that my sister won some swag rather than me. I’m like Patient Zero, spreading the metal virus along one victim at a time.

More Recipes

Well, okay… one more. There’s nothing terribly interesting for me to post on the writing front (until submission time rolls around), and the cupcakes post went over so well (because of RT’s in Twitter). Also, it was my lunch today.

Roasted Brussel Sprouts

BX0808H_balsamic-roasted-brussels-sprouts-recipe_s4x3This likely takes a lot of what makes this vegetable healthy and negates it, but it was also the recipe that I pulled out of my noodle to make my wife like sprouts. You know, because… healthy.

The Prep

Take about 3-4 cups of sprouts (I have a large measuring bowl I fill almost to the top), wash them, pat them dry and then cut off the bottoms and split them. You can choose not to split them, but I like the idea of more surface area and getting the good stuff through the whole vegetable. Plus, easier to eat.

Chop up 4 slices of thick cut bacon into as small of pieces as you want. (Mine aren’t finely chopped. I like seeing the bacon in the finished product.)

The Cooking

Put the bacon pieces in your pan at medium heat. Get them browning and getting a nice coat of bacon grease in the pan. (I told you this was going to kill some of the health benefits.) Once the bacon is browned and you have a nice glaze on the pan, throw in the sprouts and lower the heat a touch (for me, it’s taking it from a 6 to a 4 on my stove).

Once your sprouts are starting to brown a bit on the bottoms and edges, pour in some stock. I use either vegetable stock or chicken stock. Just enough to give a shallow coating on the bottom of the pan, maybe a half cup. Splash in some white wine (recently it has been a pinot grigio for me) and a bit of spice. My go-to spices are sea salt and ancho chili powder. If I want a little kick I add a touch of cracked red pepper.

Stir occasionally and simmer for a while, maybe 5 or 10 minutes. Once you are ready to simmer them (and the sauce) down for a bit, put in a splash ¬†of balsamic in the pan. Just a touch, maybe a tablespoon or two tops. You don’t need much. Stir to get everything combined and then cover for a bit to let simmer.

Again, stir once in a while to keep them from scorching. Once they are soft to the touch, they are ready.

When to Use

I use them as a side dish with any type of meat. Usually when we want some type of green vegetable. Because, fiber… Also, they are high in protein all on their own. (Though you should add some whole grain to your meal if you are relying on the sprouts for your full fiber.) I have also been known to take leftovers to work as a lunch. A small container of the sprouts and a banana make for just enough to keep me from gnawing on people’s arms throughout the day.

You Are Part of the Problem

We’ve all seen them. Memes that use pictures to state if you can recognize this pop culture icon, but not this <insert name of your favorite scientist/humanitarian/artist> then you are part of the problem. I loathe these things. It really boils down to someone shouting, “I’m better than you” at people going in to a concert, or watching a show on television. For me it smacks of someone kicking another person down to lift themselves up – a real trigger for me. Which makes this all the more difficult…

While I am concerned to post something like this considering the traffic spike in my stats right now (meaning people will actually see this), I have found something that has brought me to the point of posting one of these passive-aggressive bitchfests.

I am a fan of the show Sleepy Hollow. It is a paranormal show with a strong story behind it. One that didn’t come from an already successful novel series. The acting on the show is strong. And it has not only a main character that is a person of color, but a character in a position of authority that is as well. Don’t worry, this plays into my point.

People are banning the show and deriding it because on this week’s show they wrote in a one-liner about the right to bear arms. When discussing a militant doomsday-prepper cult. The tweets I was seeing claimed they would be removing it from their DVR and telling everybody they knew to as well, because… liberal Hollywood agenda.

“Death is easy, comedy is hard… I believe Shia LeBeouf said that.” – Jim Carrey

First off, it was a joke. And honestly, it was a fitting one. But that isn’t the real issue here. Some viewers will lack a sense of humor, or the ability to understand satire. Hell, there are quite a few unable to laugh at themselves. Like half the geeks that watch Big Bang Theory. But if you don’t like the show, you are within your rights to stop watching it. I won’t, and I will tell you why should you try to convince me otherwise.

Here’s the kicker for me. I dug through the accounts of several of the people calling for a ban of the show. You know what I found? People who we screaming for A&E to “stop infringing on Phil Robertson’s 1st amendment rights.” I know it shouldn’t shock me too much, put let’s do this up right.

The First Amendment

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances

A&E isn’t the government. They are a company. He did something out of character for their corporate image and they were within their rights to ditch him. And they did. They had a choice to stick to their guns, potentially losing the show and chose not to. Again, their choice, not his rights.

But these people, who decided that no matter what the Bill of Rights actually says, that they were in the right, have decided that the studios don’t have those same rights. If you think Phil Robertson getting suspended from the show (and make no mistake, it is a show) infringes on his 1st Amendment Rights but Fox Network can’t make a 2nd Amendment joke on a fully fictional show, you ARE part of the problem.

Don’t even get me started on someone calling Fox television anything “liberal.” Even Alanis Morissette can tell that’s ironic.

If you can’t watch a show about an Englishmen from colonial times who revived from death 250 years later to stop the Headless Horseman (who is actually Death, the Pale Rider) without shouting about “liberal media” to the inanimate object (and then to social media as a whole), I think there’s a problem. Just not with the studios. Fox Networks has 99 problems, but liberal bias on the show Sleepy Hollow ain’t one of them.

Zombie Joe
fan and continuing viewer of Sleepy Hollow

How to Make an Iron Druid

Kevin, showing off the completed product.

Kevin, showing off the completed product.

No, this isn’t going to be a blog post on the process of binding an iron amulet to your aura to protect you from magic while not hindering your own. Hunting pixies to feed to the iron spirit is just to damned time consuming. If you’re lost, go read Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid Chronicles.

This is about making the Iron Druid cupcake, one of the two cupcakes I set up as homage to the series and characters. Also the one I know from memory, so easier for me to blog on. The Snugglepumpkin involves making the cupcake dog friendly so is a bit trickier. At the end of the blog I will leave the instructions on how to transform the Iron Druid cupcake into the Wayland Rock N’ Roll cupcake. D0n’t worry, the instructions are easy to follow.

The Prep

Bring 1 cup of stout and 1 cup (2 sticks) of butter to a simmer in a pot. (Optional: If you cut the butter in half, you’l get a more stout tasting cake. Not quite as moist, but also not as crumbly.) Once they are simmering, whisk in 3/4 cup of Dutch process high-fat cocoa until the mixture is smooth. Once fully combined, set aside to cool. You can put it in the fridge, but don’t leave it too long. You don’t want it to set, just not be steaming. (Note: You can use any stout beer you like. I normally use Guinness myself, though One Barrel Brewing in Madison has an oatmeal stout I want to try working with.)

Mixing it Up

Once your cocoa-stout mixture is cool, preheat your oven to 350. If you have a kitchen helper, have them paper 24 cupcakes into tins. (2 tins of 12 each) This will have things ready for the batter.

In a large bowl (NOT your mixing bowl), whisk/mix/shift together 2 cups of flour with 2 cups of sugar, 1.5 tsp of baking powder and 3/4 tsp of salt. (I usually just mix them together with the whisk. Sifting is time consuming, messy and doesn’t alter things that much with this recipe.)

In your mixing bowl, mix together 2 large eggs with 2/3 cup of sour cream on medium speed until smooth. Scrape the sides to be sure it is fully combined.

Pour your stout cocoa mix into your egg cream mix and blend on low speed until just combined. If your stout mix is to hot it will start to cook the egg. This will make you hate your life.

Mix in the dry ingredients into the wet and mix on medium speed until there are no lumps. Scrape the sides and bottoms to make sure you have a good blend. You don’t want some with clumps of dry stuff in them at the end.

Fill the 24 papers about 2/3 full (I use an ice cream scoop with a scraping trigger on it) and put into the oven. Bake for 17-19 minutes. The middles may still be moist when coming out (especially if you used the full cup of butter). You can leave them in until fully dried on the top, but that might burn the bottoms. You’re going to core the middle out anyway.

Give Them a Touch of the Irish

Here is where we diverge. What is listed below is the recipe I use for the Iron Druids. The notes on changing for Rock n Roll follow that.

Put 2 cups of dark chocolate in a bowl with 2 tbsp of softened butter, a slight drizzle of agave (about a tbsp or so) and 2 tsp of whiskey. In a pot, bring 1 cup of heavy cream to a simmer. Once steaming, pour the cream into the bowl. Let sit for about 60 seconds before whisking the holy hell out of it. Beat it like it owes you money! The goal is to get it smooth and melt all of the chocolate. For ease, use good dark chocolate chips. The higher quality and darker the better.

Adjustments:

Use more cream to give you a soupier ganache. The more wet the filling, the more likely it will be to soak into the cake, so don’t go to crazy.

To make a Wayland Rock n Roll cupcake (named so for the batch I made for a concert where I made the adjustment), use double the whiskey in the ganache. It isn’t too much, but definitely puts more kick in the cake.

What kind of whiskey should I use?

In the YouTube show, Put It In Your Mouth, Charles St. Micheal answers the same question about wine. “Cook with the kind of wine you like to drink.” The same goes here. I use Johnny Walker Red as it is Scotch that I like. Sure, it costs more, but you use so little in baking, you have to like drinking the stuff for the other 95% of the bottle.

In future versions, I might use some Jesse James Dupree bourbon, because the band Wayland is managed by him and they have a bottle of his stuff on stage from time to time. Also, because… why not?

Frosting on the Cake

Here you can go two routes, a white chocolate cream cheese frosting, or an Irish cream frosting. Both are essentially the same, just one has Baileys mixed in with it.

Take a stick of softened butter and mix in your mixing bowl with 4 cups of powdered sugar. Once it is light and fluffy take an 8 oz block of COLD cream cheese and mix it in. Use your hands, get messy, and tear off chunks of it and throw it in like you’re dropping virgins in a volcano.

While that is mixing, take 2-4 oz of white chocolate (again, I use chips for ease) and melt in a bowl. Usually I add in a splash of milk or cream to help smooth it out. Just a dash. A tbsp or two tops. Normally for me it takes 1 minute in the microwave and some mixing with a fork.

Once the frosting is lumpy and sticking to the paddle, stop the mixer and scrape the frosting off the paddle and sides. Pour in the melted white chocolate and then beat on med speed and adjusting to high once the moisture is down. Beat it on high for as long as you like. It will make the frosting light and creamy. I’ll usually use the standard frosting for mine.

If you’re adding Baileys

Only add in about 2-3 tbsp of the Irish cream to the frosting. You can add them one at a time at the end and taste after each. If you want to do this, I would avoid adding the cream to the melting white chocolate. The more liquid, the soupier the frosting. This will make it harder to pipe on later.

Decorating

For the Iron Druid, we had a Celtic bear design my wife piped out with chocolate. Those are a bit difficult to do, but are specific to the story. There are Celtic knot molds out there that are easier for you to work with should you go that route.

For the Wayland Rock n Roll cupcakes, we took pieces of strawberry Austrailian style licorice and put a small gumpaste “fuse” in the end to make it look like a stick of dynamite. (It’s the cake version of an Irish car bomb. Get it?)

Some time in the future I might do a video making it, but that all depends. I’m not the most photogenic person, and I make a mess when I make these. ;)

Five More Influential Books

I promised the other five of my ten most influential books. And I deliver. Most of the time. Better than half… hey, do you want to see them or not?

Again, in no particular order.

WorldWarZ_200-s6-c30World War Z by Max Brooks

I know, you’re shocked to find a zombie title on here. But really, this is not a lie. While I liked the Zombie Survival Guide just fine, it was World War Z that showed me that zombie fiction was viable. Not only that, but there were stories to be told in it. Not just a case of seeing the same stuff with a new “zombie kill of the week” in it.

In high school my son had two book reports due in history class. One had to be a non-fiction, historical book. The other (done in the second semester) was supposed to be a fictional book with historical elements in it. Originally I had thought to give me son one of the Harry Turtledove alternate history books, but instead I handed him World War Z. Very influential to me. Even if I don’t write zombie fiction myself.

demonwawkensThe Demon Awakens by R.A. Salvatore

While the Crystal Shard was the first of his books I read, this book stuck with me the most. Though, honestly, it was this series. Not any one title.

Sure the Icewind Dale trilogy gave birth to one of the most iconic characters in Forgotten Realms, but this went further. The monks with their mixture of martial arts and gem magic gave me a sense of real world history melded with magic. The fencing style of swordplay also spoke to me of real world knowledge. It touched on the similar feelings I had towards fight scenes in the Kundalini Equation.

More so than that, it gave me a new perspective on character development. The main character changes through the series. At one point the main female character is center stage. The driver behind the plot. And she was more badass than many of the male characters up to that point. But still decidedly feminine.

callofcThe Call of Cthulhu by H.P. Lovecraft

It is tough for me to say which of his stories came first. I don’t even still have the original edition I read. Most likely they were borrowed from friends. Either way, Lovecraft’s stories were a look back for me. Sure I had read Clive Barker and Stephen King (among others), but this was looking back to the horror writers that came before them. A look into the Mouth of Madness. Almost literally.

While I was a horror fan, I was really never a fan of gore for the sake of gore. Both in my writing and in my movies. Saw, Hostel and their ilk never appealed to me. Poe, Lovecraft and the like could scare the shit out of you without ever showing you the monster. This is one of the key things that makes me hesitant to write true horror. Can I project horror without showing the knife, claw or fang?

It is both inspiring and daunting at the same time.

s-dreamsSuccubus Dreams by Richelle Mead

This was simply a matter of rolling the bones. Several years ago a writer friend had convinced me that to read books outside of my genre would help those elements of my story within my genre. Specifically romance. And I was already in our city’s largest romance writer’s group. Eventually it was bound to happen. It could have been this book, Burning Alive by Shannon K Butcher, or one of Lori Handeland’s titles. She had one with a wendigo in it.

In picking this title, I knew that it was an author I could count of for a good story. I had a small pile of paranormal romance novels that all came highly recommended. Her’s was on the top and was a trade paperback. Plus I liked the premise. This series taught me quite a bit, as did the others I picked up and read (see previous statement).

This title showed me that Mark was right, reading romance would push the romantic elements of my stories. And there would be romantic elements. My characters (so far) aren’t asexual. It also showed me the old saying is right. It is always the quiet ones. Most of these are on audio so my wife could read them too on her drive in the morning. I had to stop listening to them while I worked. Hearing some of those steamy scenes in the office is… uncomfortable.

Mark-of-the-Demon_Rowland1Mark of the Demon by Diana Rowland

Again, I hate to single anyone out in my current list of favorite authors. Especially when I know them. It is very much like picking a favorite child. But this book stuck in my memory as driving me as I worked on my own writing. For various reasons.

First, it was a detective story… with demons. I’ve always been a fan of the mystery elements. And who doesn’t love a tale about a serial killer. Check the ratings for Dexter before looking at me strange. But this was more than that.

This book felt like it was teaching me what it was like to be a cop. Like if any of those buddy cop movies ever really got the whole scene right. Every aspect of it had an honesty to it. Also, meeting up with Diana Rowland at my first writing conference put me at ease. Maybe it was me sensing a fellow gamer geek. Maybe it was just hitting it off, but hanging out and talking books, writing and craft with her and other authors made me see that I was a writer.

So honesty all around. In the characters, the plots and the author.

Summary

That is ten. There are others. So very many more. From authors alive and dead. Ones that I know and that I have never met. More than I can possibly go into and the list is ever growing. When you read a novel or two a week, that happens. What are your inspirational novels?

My 10 Influential Books

So there is this tagging game going through Facebook. Once you’re tagged you need to post what your ten most influential books are and tag ten other people. I was tagged and knew I would need to consider it. Picking out favorite books is like picking out favorite children. It is simply not done. But then it wasn’t asking for my favorite books. It was asking for the ones that had the most profound effect on me. That is a different story. (See what I did there?)

Normally I avoid the FB meme style of posting. It is an exercise that turns you into Patient Zero, mimicking the zombie outbreak in text form. Not to mention it is always something along the lines of:

“I like puppies, kittens and chocolate cake. If you’ve ever had a puppy… or a kitten… or eaten a piece of cake, copy and paste this into your status. Even if for only an hour. 90% of you won’t respond to this.”

To be clear. I am a dog person, though not an anti-kitten person. I’m a baker, so obviously I have no issues with cake. But I’m not going to guilt trip 5-10% of my friends list into doing the same thing.

I will do one’s similar to sitting around and saying, “Okay, its the zombie apocalypse, who is on your team. Go!” Usually there are some messed up ones in there, and if they mesh to people in my friends list well I will play along. Like if it tells me the 4th person on my friends list is a cannibal foodie and it comes up with Mark Henry, I’m in. I’ll repost that. The key is it has to be funny.

That said, there are far more than 10 books that have had an impact on my life. To narrow it down to ten would be to dishonor the others. But at the same time, I would hate to not post on some of the books that have inspired me over the years. So, here we go. In no particular order…

IslandBlueDolphinsThe Island of Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell

Though not the first book I ever read, it was the first book that I have a visceral memory of reading. My best guess is that it was the first instance of “choose a book to read on your own” in school. Though I am unsure why I chose this one. It could have very well been a case of it being suggested to me by the librarian. That happened from time to time in the grade schools of the 70′s. No matter how it came to be in my hands, the fact still remains that the memory of it held through the years. And I don’t even remember being in high school.

I have picked up a copy for grandkids, and just this week I suggested it to an editor looking for a book for their middle-grade child. It had that profound of an effect on me.

kundalini-equationThe Kundalini Equation by Steven Barnes

Fast forward about fifteen years from the first book and we get here. It was martial arts, diet, horror and what would now be called urban fantasy all rolled up into one. Also the prose was tight and the fight scenes well choreographed. At one point I had likened reading one of them to my sensei explaining the movements of a kata to me.

Having met the author even more years later (and replacing the copy that never made it out of my in-laws house), I understood why. He isn’t just a writer, but a martial artist and a teacher. There are some strong similarities between him and the man who taught me martial arts. And equally as many differences. Both men taught me more than I expected.

This title has been resurrected from Out-of-Print-landia and found new life in audio and ebook formats. Much easier than scouring second hand bookstores for a mass market paperback in decent shape from the early 90′s.

200px-Cold_Days_HardcoverThe Dresden Files by Jim Butcher

With over a dozen novels and still more in graphic novels and short stories, it would be hard not to have a couple of them show up on this list. So I’ll just leave them all in one. Specifically in this instance I have to mention in addition to owning many of them in print, I have all of them in audiobook format.

Aside from the horror to urban fantasy bent of these stories (not to mention the snarky Spider-Man like quips he cuts out from time to time), the audio has changed my view of how I read. This was the first series that really made me want to get the audio version first. James Marsters (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Torchwood) gave characters to the voice as much as the other way around. Between that and Stephen King giving me affirmation in On Writing that audiobooks were real books, made my audible account stick.

AmericanGods_MassMarketPaperback_1185415388American Gods by Neil Gaiman

This gave me a view of what powerful prose can do in a speculative fiction piece. A touch of horror, a dash of science fiction and a hint of urban fantasy. All wrapped up in the better aspects of a literary fiction novel with few of the drawbacks. And that was before the scene with Lucille Ball or The House on the Rock.

If you’re a fan of his work (or a Wisconsin native like me), you already know this. The House on the Rock is a real place. It is just as odd and other-wordly as he describes it in the book. Oddly, one of the things his editor said was the least believable in the book was the part that was true.

There was even a huge event for American Gods hosted at the House on the Rock a few years back. And you better believe I was there. My wife dressed up as Lucille Ball (the god of media) for the costume contest. She was a semi-finalist to win a ride on the carousel that nobody gets to ride.

HappyHourHappy Hour of the Damned by Mark Henry

This is where I get twitchy. There are so many authors I have come to know personally, I hate to single any of them out. But this book introduced me to many of the others. I found their books through him. And more so, this book had an impact on me. It was like I had found my people.

This novel showed me there was a place in traditional publishing for people like me. Those with a twisted sense of humor. Downright inappropriate at really odd times. It also taught me some of the hardships of traditional publishing, when the series was dropped after book three.

Last, but certainly not least, it showed me the power of what self-publishing and indy publishing can do. This series is coming back with three new stories. And I cannot wait for my zombies on a boat novel. Or more likely, I can’t wait any longer. (Book four was to take place on a cruise ship.)

cabalukp5Cabal by Clive Barker

I can honestly say that this is the first book that showed me that monsters could be protagonists. Anne Rice was read first, but Louie annoyed me and the rest were just monsters. Not so much likable monsters. With Cabal I took to identifying with the Children of the Moon. Specifically Peloquin.

Sure, Barker is known for his horror and gore. And the movie Nightbreed that was based off of the book had some pretty harsh scenes in it, those were a bit of a divergence from the book. Partially in there to appeal to slasher movie goers as well as to demonize the antagonist in a way that couldn’t be shown visually from the book.

But more so than the gore was the tone of the book. The setting. Scare me without showing me someone’s insides. Like the “one inch punch”, great effect can be invoked from small displays. And that is one of the things that struck me with Barker’s writing. He can spray me with gore, or scare me with something I can’t fully see. Both have their time and place.

More to come…

This post is getting lengthy and I am only through five of the ten. So I think I will end things here and pick up with the second half in a day or so. It will give me time to collect up my thoughts. Put them down on paper. Virtually.

Until that time, what are some of the books that have had a profound effect on you? Recent or classics.