Swamped and Soaked in Wisconsin

One explains my lack of posting, while the other explains the effect of the last vacation we just got home from. Overall it is me telling myself why I am a horrible blogger. Not that it isn’t obvious by my lack of posting since the In This Moment concert. Hell, I’m already planning on if I can make their next show in Madison (early December in case you’re wondering).

Now the soaked portion of the title will come into play later. That will be a discussion of our cruise from New York to Halifax and back. As you can guess by its teaser in the title, water was more than just a little involved. But that is a story for another day…

Swamped. Writing. Editing. Working. Vacations (without wifi). Politics. In other words… swamped. All of this worked to keep me from posting a wrap of the Authors After Dark convention in New Orleans. I’ll try and correct that problem currently.

The first to consider is us getting the four dozen cupcakes prepped and ready to drag on the train with us to NOLA. This included making the toppers for the cakes and prepping a bunch of frosting to come with us in containers to be applied once at the hotel. Yeah. It was that crazy. First there was the bus trip from Madison to Chicago. Robin got all intimate with the cupcakes. Darn near biblical. See?

Seriously she had a couple inches of space for the ride down to Janesville. Yes, that Janesville (for those of you up on current events). Once there we switched buses for the last leg of the trip and were able to give the cupcakes their own space. Either way, it was interesting to say the least. Once we were on the train, there was plenty of space. Through a mix up, we’d been put in a family sleeping car as opposed to a bunkhouse. The cupcakes got their own seat there too.

Once there we piped frosting onto all of the cakes and brushed out the toppers (we transported them in sugar). Then the hotel stored them in the kitchens for us. But since I know you all are dying to find out what they were…

The Trampire

This one was brought to Romantic Times this year as well, but I did a return visit since people liked it so well. It takes a bit of doing and isn’t as “wet” of a cake as some of them, but it has a rather unique taste as it uses both whole wheat and regular flour as well as two kinds of sugar. (Brown sugar and standard sugar, for the curious.) The cake is a hard cider cake which is filled with a Granny Smith and hard cider compote. Which is the time consuming part of the process. It is topped with either a white chocolate cream cheese frosting or a cinnamon one. (For AAD all of the cupcakes got the same frosting.)

For fans of the Sabina Kane series (the source of the name Trampire and the flavor choice) you’ll notice the chocolate topper is a hand piped version of her birthmark that resembles the Caste of Nod symbol. Or as we like to call it, our most breakable topper transported. (We packed extras.)

The Ryzkahls (Spicy Demon Lords)

Another of my “go-to” cakes when baking for my gaming groups, this is a modification of the classic Devil’s Food recipe that I took from my Bleeding Heart Bakery cookbook. It is made with ancho chili in the batter giving it just a little heat with the rich devils food chocolate. The dark ganache inside is dusted with some cayenne for a bit more heat. This cake is actually meant to get the standard white chocolate cream cheese frosting. (Though I have considered trying a dark chocolate cream cheese frosting for this one.)

And while the Trampire toppers were the most breakable, these toppers were the ones that never were. I picked up an ice cube tray that makes AK47 bullet ice cubes. Doing those in chocolate leads to a lot of air bubbles. We need a couple more tries to get them right. My wife did do one bullet in gum paste and painted it for Diana’s topper. The rest of them were garnished with chocolate covered almonds so they wouldn’t be naked as Prince Harry on a Vegas bender.

The Velveteens (Goth Velvets)

Although not out until next month, I have read this book and knew that with a character named Velvet a cupcake had to follow. The attempt was for a Grey Velvet (same as a red but with a different color). We found when adding black coloring to the cocoa flavored batter it was hard to get grey. So we went a little Elvis and made black velvet cakes. It is filled with a white chocolate ganache and topped with the white chocolate cream cheese frosting. With more time open, I would do the frosting in grey to give us the three “goth colors” of black, white and grey.

Without spoiling too much of the story, the toppers are skeleton keys as they’re what Daniel Marks said would be an excellent element from the book. Taking his word on it, one of my friends gave me a present of getting the food safe silicone and molding me the key molds. They are a little thin for chocolate, so Robin made these out of gum paste and hand painted them.

The Hornicorns

This one seemed to have the most people excited about them. Sometime soon, I will post the recipe for these so y’all can make them at home. Warning, this does involve “shaving” raw sweet corn. In other words, a bit messy. Also, this is the only one of the four that wasn’t filled. It doesn’t really need to be filled. It is a sweet corn cake that I folded chopped bits of pig candy into. (Pig candy is candied bacon.) Half way through the baking cycle I sprinkled a bit more pig candy on the tops of the cakes to add to the bacon flavor and to add a texture layer to it. I had first topped it with a maple butter cream, but for the convention I topped it with white chocolate cream cheese frosting. Either works well.

For the topper, we placed the hornicorn part into it with a gum paste unicorn horn. We even disco dusted it like the unicorn poop that both we and Allison Pang had made. And since these were for her Phin the unicorn sidekick from her series, it seemed appropriate. Also these spurned the comments of “surprise horn” as the unicorn horns were pretty long so we buried into the cupcake.

This is a whole lot of description of the cupcakes, so I think I will leave things here and post up more news and photos of the trip to New Orleans later. Give me until like Tuesday or Wednesday.

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Book Clubs and Reviews

Hello? My name is Zombie Joe… and I… I’m a book addict.

Tell me that doesn’t bring to mind a group meeting in the chilled basement of a church with stale donuts and burnt coffee sitting on a folding table in the back of the room. People all around you shifting uncomfortably in equally chilly metal folding chairs and staring damn near indifferently up at me.

Okay. Maybe it’s just me.

The truth of the matter is that I have a number of collections (as many geeks do) but none rivals my collection of books. I attribute this mostly to influences from a time I don’t really remember. Back in high school I had teachers expanding my reading list to put me outside of my comfort zone. How else do you explain a 16 year old boy reading The Handmaiden’s Tale by Margaret Atwood? Also we had this history teacher that had two memorable traits to him – a nervous tick of sorts he did during lectures when he really wanted you to remember something, and his saying that the sign of a successful person is the ability to own books. Yeah, that’s when it started.

To give you an idea, right around my graduation Being a Green Mother by Piers Anthony had just released. At that point the Incarnations of Immortality was my favorite series. Not wanting to wait for it to become available in the library I purchased the hard cover to give myself as a graduation present. I think we have a picture of it sitting on a table with my Oxford Unabridged Dictionary (my graduation present from my parents). But that was then…

Last year was the first year I took a challenge to read a set number of novels. This is assuming you don’t count that semester of college where I had 32 books to read (one of which was Heart of Darkness). I aimed to read 52 books (1 a week) but in Goodreads I signed on for 100. I didn’t meet the 100 (and didn’t even put in all the ones I did finish in Goodreads) but I did make it past 75. Some of those were audiobooks due to a form of permission to listen to audiobooks in Stephen King’s On Writing.

With how hectic my life has become between work, a writing schedule, reading, running a D&D game twice a week and the cupcake “hobby” it seems rather daunting to catch up with my reading schedule. To this end I am not going to read all the way through any book that doesn’t have me hooked in the first act. I’m also giving a pass to the front of the line for any favorite authors or ones I know I will get signed within two years time. Ironically those are also the books that I will pick up in print as opposed to on the Nook.

In the past couple weeks I’ve taken on two different book clubs. The Team Awesome Book Club (reading a non-fiction book) and just this week the G+ meetup/discussion of “vaginal fantasy” books hosted by Felicia Day. If you haven’t, check out her bookshelves on Goodreads. I have no idea how she has the time to read so damn much, but it is impressive. Of course, being who I am I couldn’t keep my mouth shut about the “vaginal fantasy” title. In looking through her shelves, I have read a few of the vaginal fantasy books. In reality, most of the urban fantasy, science fiction and paranormal romance I’m reading it written by women. Even more of the main characters in the books I’m reading are female as well.

Honestly I think this is a statement less about the quality of male authors and more about the increased percentages of female authors on the shelves of my section in the book store. Also, it doesn’t hurt that my online resources for reviews and the like are recommending the female authors and characters more often. Kara Gillian from Diana Rowland’s first series and Chess Putnam from the Downside novels by Stacia Kane are at the top of my list of favorite characters. Both of their series I think would fall in the description given for a “vaginal fantasy.”

Now consider that I am a member of the Madison Romance Writer’s group and was one of the few men at Romantic Times in 2010. John Scalzi and I were discussing at lunch (with a few of my favorite female authors) about the awesomeness of being at a con and not having to wait in line at the restrooms. Everywhere I went I was incredibly outnumbered by women. And it was by far the best time I’ve had at a convention in a long time.

This of course all leads me to my current goal for the weekend – to finish Silver Tongued Devil and Grave Witch. Silver Tongued Devil is another of my favorite series and has Giguhl – another of my favorite characters, but a decidedly male one. Grave Witch is the vaginal fantasy offering to be discussed Monday. In addition I have D&D Encounters to run Wednesday night, Writers Group Thursday night, dinner with friends Friday and my Sunday D&D group. Now work in some writing time.

Seem crazy? … Hi, have we met?

Personally I am dealing with the fact that I work full time and want to become a published author. I need to learn to increase my time management skills to handle all of this. Don’t worry, I have a pecking order on things left to die first. I may be insane, but I’m not an idiot!

The last three weeks have been nailing down the diet into a pattern that works. Now I’m looking to ramp up the reading and writing time back to what it was last year with the addition of the diet plan. If you see me blogging less or running down the streets of Madison like Daffy Duck (woo hoo woo hoo woo hoo) then you know what has happened.

What are you doing this month that’s insane? Because really… sanity is totally overrated.

Change Write Now (January 24, 2012)

  • Food – made it, even with going out to lunch today…
  • Water – really need to learn to swim (over 64oz)
  • Exercise – over due to an overzealous dog
  • Writing – made goal, still need to clean it up for group
  • Habits – both met, especially since there was no time to weigh myself
  • Sleep – over 6 hours, but not by much

Project Stats

  • Writing – naughty piece should be ready to go, starting dragon poem
  • Reading (print) – Silver Tongued Demon (into the good parts, but this is longer than the last one)
  • Reading (Nook) – Grave Witch (haven’t started yet, want to finish STD first)
  • Listening (iPod) – Hexed by Kevin Hearne

Notes: Hexed is a “re-read” as I read it in print. The narration is awesome! The reader really gives life to Oberon. He is quickly becoming another of my favorite characters.

Preorder vs Opening Day Visit

As promised, Barnes and Noble had my copy of Sins of the Demon by Diana Rowland to my condo on release day. As per my nature, I didn’t grab it from the mailbox until this morning on my way out of the garage. Honestly I probably could have left it until tonight or tomorrow morning as I’ll have no time to read it until Thursday and I still have a few chapters to go in Shadow City which pushes it to Friday. I could have… assuming I didn’t want to caress it and chant “my precious” like a demented hobbit. Besides, we have one package locker for our 9 unit building. Keeping it filled for multiple days would just be rude.

Now I preordered Sins of the Demon – months ago. With Silver Tongued Devil by Jaye Wells, I picked it up in the store. Partially this was due to my budget and which one I was reminded of a month where I had the extra income to spend on it. Equally so was the growing concern I have with space on the shelf. Particularly with midlist authors (read as most of my favorites) once the local Barnes and Noble is out of them, there’s a better than even chance there will be no restocking of it. To this end, I have been trying to pick mine up in preorder, or placing the order online to have it shipped to me. I can afford this as I get free shipping as a B&N card holder. This helps to ensure that if I suggest the book to a local friend they’ll be able to find it.

This isn’t a fool-proof plan as it does hinder some of the eccentricities that I have when it comes to books. Okay, it really only trips up on one of them. It’s a holdout from my days (years) as a comic book collector. I check the copies of the book to ensure that I get a nice, unblemished copy. Even though once I have them home my attitude changes, while picking it up I make sure to get a clean copy.

Of course when one of my wife’s employees at work was going to borrow my copy of Mark of the Demon, she was horrified to find out it was signed. She insisted there was no way that I wanted to loan that book out. Granted I loaned a few out to her before I let her have a signed book to make sure it would come home, but once that is established the real issue here is that this was a book I wanted to share. She freaked out less when I loaned her the second in the series. (At least I think I have books 1 and 2 both signed.)

Sins of the Demon is another story though. It made its way to me with a cover looking similar to the cover of my copy of Red Headed Stepchild (the first in the series by Jaye Wells mentioned above). For those unfamiliar with the story, I’ll sum up. I was walking to work with the book in hand when a small bird dive bombed for my chest. I batted it aside with the hand that had the book. When I looked at the book I could make out the distinct beak marks in the cover. I called it my bird shield after that.

Really it doesn’t look as cool as that. It just looks like there are a pair of gouges in the cover. The only part of this that irritates me is that I really love the cover art and would prefer the spine be messed up than the cover. Well, that and there’s no cool Hitchcockian story related to the damage.

Will this prevent me from ordering online again? Not likely. The books I have, even if signed, will be read and re-read (or loaned) meaning there will be wear on them. If they start out that way it doesn’t really affect the end result. Also, there is a certain sense of pride in asking to have a book signed that has been obviously read as opposed to brand new and never been cracked open. Of course Diana Rowland knows that I will definitely be reading her books and buying them. She’s a much better shot with a sidearm than I am and Wisconsin just passed a concealed carry law.

The change in my buying habits also represents a direct shift in the way I purchase my books. I used to subscribe to the words of a history teacher I had back in high school who would say, “The sign of a successful man is his ability to afford a library.” This is a direct quote… from the 80’s… so please try not to kick me in the shins over the “man” part of that. What it really stated was that books are a luxury, whereas for me they were a downright necessity. But times change. Our lives change. The amount of space in our condo changes. Aside from my Nook taking up infinitely less space, I find myself reading more and faster on my Nook. I find myself saving my shelf space for the books of those I know, are signed or simply have incredible covers that can only really be appreciated in print.

Again, no shin kicking. I do still love the look, feel and smell of a printed book. But I am also already running out of shelf space and don’t really have the room for more shelves. Well not realistically anyhow. There’s space there, but that would simply clutter up my living room even more.

Change Write Now Update

  • Water: half way there made it… and had to buy it from the vending machine
  • Food: Noodles & Company for dinner got me within a yogurt of goal
  • Sleep: 6 hours and only 1 or 2 episodes of waking mid-sleep
  • Writing: nothing yet #writerfail
  • Reading: want to finish Shadow City tonight (but I have to write something)