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What do YOU think of the name “Katherine”?

This is a fun post, but a) I can’t say that I have noticed a great preponderance of Katherines in recent novels, or b) I also can’t say that the name “Katniss” struck me as a form of Katherine. Does that seem to be kind of reaching, or is that just me?

On the other hand, it’s quite true that Kate Daniels (whom you may know from Ilona Andrews’ novels) doesn’t really seem to me like a “Kate.” But then, Anita Blake never seemed much like an “Anita” to me either, back when I still read those. Come to think of it, Kelly Armstrong’s Elena never seemed like an “Elena” to me. I think this may say more about me than about naming conventions for kickass paranormal protagonists. I expect I just prefer character names that are, I don’t know, not the names of people I actually know? I suspect it’s just hard to come up with names that aren’t too screwy and yet are unusual enough to avoid sounding like eveybody’s best friend from college.

Anyway, let me just mention, one big advantage to writing a secondary world fantasy is you will never, ever have anybody complaining that your character just doesn’t feel like a “Kate” to them. I definitely have three times more trouble naming characters for any contemporary-ish story than I’ve ever had for a secondary world fantasy. And I just can’t call them all X, Y and Z and plug the names in later (I actually do know someone who does this, but . . . really?)

Here’s a question: Has a character ever been so badly named (for you) that it interfered with your enjoyment of a book?

For me the immediate answer is YES. Pug, in Raymond Feist’s Magician series. I mean . . . Pug? Pug?

How about you?

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My public service for the week —

You know about “icebox cake”, right? One of the easiest and most appealing desserts ever, where you simply layer chocolate wafer cookies with sweetened whipped cream in a bowl and set the bowl in the fridge till the cookies soften and turn into cake?

Or, if you’re really into decadence, you can add cocoa powder to the cream along with the sugar when you whip it, intensifying the chocolatey goodness of the “cake.” I’d suggest whipping each C of cream with about 3 Tbsp of cocoa and up to 1/3 C of sugar if you want chocolate whipped cream. (Without the cocoa powder, 1/4 C of sugar is plenty pler C of cream.) And you can’t go wrong beating in 1 tsp of vanilla whether you’re adding cocoa or not.

And, hey, if you’re a real demon for complexity, you can make individual “cupcakes” by stacking up cookies with layers of whipped cream. Want to add just a little elegance to the whole idea? Just drizzle a bit of warm chocolate ganache across each stack before serving and poof! You immediately have a pretty dessert for company. Just don’t forget that you will need to chill any form of icebox cake for 24 hours or so to let the cookies soften.

The only problem with this whole idea is, where are you supposed to get chocolate wafer cookies? Because half the time you just can’t find them in the stores. Which is simply pathetic. Even Amazon is not your friend here: you can certainly buy ’em on Amazon, if you’re willing to buy $80 worth of wafer cookies at a time, which seems a little extreme no matter how enthusiastic you are about icebox cake.

So! If you, too, have found this sad state of affairs a blight upon your existence, here you go! This is the easiest-ever recipe for chocolate wafer cookies. Now you can make your own whenever you like.

Here is the recipe, with all its original commentary and pictures and stuff, from Smitten Kitchen. It is a fun post to read, but just in case you don’t feel like clicking over to it, here’s the recipe:

Chocolate Wafer Cookies

1 1/2 C flour
3/4 C cocoa powder, and people, both I and Smitten Kitchen advice you to go all out with Ghirardelli or some other really good brand for this
1 C + 2 Tbsp sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking soda
14 Tbsp unsalted butter, slightly softened — I cut it up, piled the cubes in a bowl, and microwaved the bowl for ten seconds
3 Tbsp whole milk — I used cream, which I had on hand, rather than milk, which I didn’t
1 tsp vanilla

Now, the reason this is so extraordinarily easy is, it’s a food processor recipe which turns into a slice-and-bake recipe. However, I imagine if you don’t have a food processor, elbow grease would get the job done.

Combine the dry ingredients in the food processor and pulse two or three times. Add the butter and pulse several times. Combine the milk and vanilla. Turn the food processor on and pour the milk mixture through the tube in a thin stream, continuing to run the food processor until the dough clumps up around the blade or sides of the bowl. At that point, turn off the food processor, dump the dough out on the counter, and knead a few times to make sure it’s evenly blended. Then form the dough into log about 14 inches long, wrap in plastic wrap, and chill at least an hour or overnight. Unwrap, slice into thinnish (scant 1/4 inch) slices, place on parchment-lined baking sheets, and bake at 350 degrees for 12 to 15 minutes. Cool on the parchment a couple of minutes, then cool completely on racks. If the cookies don’t turn crisp as they cool, you should bake the next batch a mintue or two longer. You will get about 60 cookies, which is enough to make icebox cake a couple of times.

There you go! Enjoy.

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I’m having trouble —

Pressing ahead with this WIP.

a) Just keep going! It’ll be fine!

b) You’ve taken a wrong turn! Stop, back up, and re-assess your direction.

I kind of think it’s (b).* I think I’m in the wrong POV. But I also kind of think I need to switch POV’s sometime pretty soon in this story. If not now, when?

It’s a puzzler. I think the thing to do is take the dogs for a run and let the ms just sit there. (They think that’s a good idea, too.) (Heck, it’s almost 40 degrees, that almost counts as warm.) Alternately, maybe I need to go back to the top of the chapter and start again from the other possible POV, saving this version in a separate file. If the chapter starts to move much better, that’s a sign. Big, structural issues with the ms — like needing to pick up an absent POV — can be sorted out later, if necessary, as long as I’ve got words on the page.

* Update! Actually, it seems to have been (a). Moving on!**

** Okay, changed my mind and went for (b) after all. Yesterday: 3000 words. This morning, the same 3000 words. Sigh. Indecisiveness is a curse.

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Yay! A review of a great book no one knows about!

Ever read anything by Margaret Mahy?

No? *

Not surprised! Who has time to read anything published way back in 1985 when there are so many books from this very decade you haven’t caught up with?

I discovered Mahy as an adult, and here is the Book Smugglers’ Ana with her review of one of my favorites: The Catalogue of The Universe.

*Oh, wait, the answer was Yes? Well, great! I bet you’ll enjoy reading this great review of an excellent older book as much as I did.

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Ever heard of Emoticows?

This made me smile.

But what the post — at omnivoracious, by Susan Morris — is really about, is using body language to deepen the emotional impact of your story.

I like the specific mention of nonhuman body language. Morris mentions “How to Train Your Dragon” for that, which is fair enough; let me just add that a good example for nonhuman body language shown with words rather than pictures is (of course) Martha Wells’ Raksura trilogy.

Morris also provides a list of zillions of phrases you can use to express body language. Not sure I like that part — does that make using body language in your novel seem too mechanical? Because I think that might be the effect of overthinking this issue. Which I think might happen, with this kind of list.

But it’s still fun to read.

And I’m still smiling over the Emoticows.

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Please take a note —

When someone has something going on? And the outcome might be good, or might be bad? The WORST thing to say is any version of “I’m sure it will be fine.”

I never knew that before! But I am so nervous about Kenya’s pregnancy that whenever I say anything like, “If everything goes well and she has these puppies on schedule, I’ll be taking off work from here to there,” I just HATE it when I get a response like the above. HATE it.

I’m all like: “Oh, must be nice to be so sure! Last time she lost all but one puppy and it was a disaster, and in fact nine out of the previous twelve litters have been moderately to completely disastrous, but hey, YOU’RE sure everything will be fine!”

The take home message for me is: next time I find out someone is having a biopsy, or is starting chemo, or their pet is sick, or WHATEVER — I will say something on the order of, “Good luck! I sure hope things work out for you!” and nothing at all like “I’m sure things will be fine.”

Incidentally, I’m thinking of arranging another ultrasound — just to SEE whether things still look okay in there. Maybe an ultrasound every week. It’s to the point where it’s worth hundreds of dollars to me just to try for peace of mind.

She’s due on the 21st, btw. So, no later than the 22nd, one way or the other, THIS uncertainty will be over. Even if I wind up working my tail off to save a weak puppy. At least I will KNOW.

Okay! Done with obsessing, for now.

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Something to remember if you’re writing a post apocalyptic novel —

Just happened across this post from FuturePundit.

You know, I’m embarrassed to admit that it never occurred to me that bicycles are indeed a definite good thing that would keep working if a supervolcano erupted / the moon suddenly moved much closer to the Earth / 95% of everybody suddenly died / the physical laws of the universe changed to prohibit the use of high technology.

Even in Stirling’s universe (that’s the one where the laws of nature change to prevent internal combustion engines from working and stuff) . . . he puts so much thought into things, but I don’t think anybody thought of bicycles? Did they? At least not in the first book, I think? I honestly don’t remember bicycles appearing at all in that book. In one of the ISLANDS IN THE SEA OF TIME, yes, but not in the other series, where bicycles would have been lying around for anybody to take.

In the abstract, I’d much rather have a horse than a bicycle because hey, horses are way cooler than any bicycle. In the real world, I am enough bothered by arthritis not to be able to use stirrups for any length of time, and anybody can see that a bicycle is easier to feed and care for.

You know another thing about post-apocalyptic novels which sometimes is a problem for me? And here I am thinking of LIFE AS WE KNEW IT? Which is quite a good book, btw, don’t want to imply otherwise; Pfeffer did a great job with the protagonist’s voice and the story.

But WHY does no one in this rural community think, as they are starving to death, about hunting? The deer would hardly have disappeared THAT fast; you should go hunting the moment the idea of food shortages drifts across your mind.

And fishing! We go skating on the pond, but not a single person ever thinks: Hey, you know, FISH live in ponds! Not ever.

I’m sure Pfeffer must be a city girl. Don’t you think? I can hardly imagine how anybody from the country could miss these obvious food sources.

Good book though! But the next time I read a post-apocalyptic novel, I will probably be saying, But where are the bicycles?

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Recent reading: Bood Maidens and Magistrates of Hell

You know what I found interesting about these two books? They are both just about as good as the first two — I think. (It’s been a while since I first read Those Who Hunt the Night.

It seems to me that sometimes Barbara Hambly isn’t quite so consistent through a whole series. For some reason three of the books of the Free Man of Color mystery series just don’t sing or me. Well, I know why I didn’t much care for one of them: the latest, Ran Away. I didn’t appreciate the flashback-heavy structure of the story, and the Muslims-can-be-nice theme seemed heavy-handed. But I wasn’t too keen on the Mexican one, Days of the Dead, but in that case I never did figure out why. And I’m sure there was another I wasn’t too keen on, but I don’t remember which one it was. Despite all this, let me just mention that this is still my favorite murder mystery series of all time. I will be right there for the one due out in May — Good Man Friday. It’s going to feature Henry Viellard, Minou’s protector, if you remember, and Henry’s new wife Chloe, whom I loved from the previous book that introduced her.

And with regards to Hambly’s fantasy, Elaine T was quite right in her earlier comment re: the sequels of Dragonsbane. They weren’t exactly dreadful . . . not exactly. But the characters were fairly unrecognizable compared to the first book. And the plot got pretty baroque, especially with that little jaunt to a modern world, do you remember that? I’ve actually tried to block it, myself.

And Mother of Winter, a sequel to the Darwath series, was just dreadful, imo.

Let me just re-emphasize that I love Hambly, generally.

For one thing, Those Who Hunt The Night is SO GOOD. James Asher is a great male protagonist, his wife Lydia is a wonderful female protagonist, Simon Ysidro is fabulous as a vampire who is definitely not the least bit sparkly. It’s a wonderful suspense-filled fast-paced story with excellent writing, and it just brings turn-of-the-century London absolutely to life. And the second book, which till last week I thought was it for the series — Traveling With the Dead — honestly, it’s just as good. I just re-read it. Wonderful how Hambly handles Ernchester and his wife, Anthea. All these sub-plots echoing and reinforcing each other, very impressive.

And now with Blood Maidens and Magistrates of Hell. So glad to find out about these. We sure are getting a world tour, aren’t we? Vienna and Constantinople in the second book, St. Petersburg in the third — plus a whirlwind tour of half Eastern Europe, it seemed like — and then CHINA in the fourth? I can hardly imagine how much research Hambly had to put into these books. The setting and description is wonderful, seriously. Each one drew me in effortlessly and kept me turning the pages right till the end. Of course I knew she wasn’t going to do anything quite so horrible to Ysidro in the fourth book, but whew, glad I was right about that.

I do look forward to re-reading Magistrates next year or sometime. Did Hambly cheat with that one character who turned out to be the Master of Peking? I’m sure she didn’t. I really want to re-read the book and appreciate how she handles that. I don’t know that I actually believed in the Others, but then they were totally crucial to the plot, so I can tolerate the aspects of them I don’t believe in. Although someday I wouldn’t mind asking Hambly what in blazes she thinks ten million rats are LIVING ON down in that mine. Come on.

But okay, okay, moving on, did I mention I loved the Chinese setting?

Seriously, Hambly’s vampire novels leave nearly all of the current fad vampires in the dust. Even if you think you’re tired of vampires, if you love historicals, you owe it to yourself to try these.

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Creating suspense —

Here’s
an interesting post on creating suspense, by Lee Child.

“How do you create suspense? I’m asked that question often …. But it’s a bad question. Its very form misleads writers and pushes them onto an unhelpful and overcomplicated track.”

Okay, that’s interesting. So what’s the right question?

According to Child, the right question is “How do you make your reader hungry to read more of your book?

And the answer, he asserts is very simple: “As novelists, we should ask or imply a question at the beginning of the story, and then we should delay the answer.”

And “Page to page, paragraph to paragraph, line to line — even within single sentences — imply a question first, and then answer it second. The reader learns to chase, and the momentum becomes unstoppable. … Someone killed someone else: who? You’ll find out at the end of the book. Something weird is happening: what? You’ll find out at the end of the book. Something has to be stopped: how? You’ll find out at the end of the book.”

And his conclusion? “Trusting such a simple system feels cheap and meretricious while you’re doing it. But it works. It’s all you need. Of course, attractive and sympathetic characters are nice to have; and elaborate and sinister entanglements are satisfying; and impossible-to-escape pits of despair are great. But they’re all luxuries. The basic narrative fuel is always the slow unveiling of the final answer.”

It’s an entertaining column, you should go ahead and click through and read it! Plus, this is, I think, a potentially extraordinarily helpful way to think about creating suspense. I like it! I kind of think maybe I’ll re-read Hambly’s MAGISTRATES OF HELL, which I just finished, with an eye to what’s going on in the book with implied (and explicit) questions and how that works to compell the reader to turn the page.

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This is really funny —

Although rather off topic.

This is a post over at Willow Bird Baking, which is currently my favorite food-related blog.

I like her tone and style, I like her stories about her young students. The pictures are nice and I think lots of her recipes are really appealing.

But the post I linked to in particular? That one . . . that one is a story of RAW DETERMINATION. Sort of. Enjoy!

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