Sunday, March 30, 2014

Detours Through The Kitchen

A while ago, I considered doing a food blog. This was back when I was young and idealistic and thought I would actually have time for such things. I've thought about it again recently, considering that my husband and I spend an awful lot of our time experimenting with new ways to make the food we love good for us. He's been amazing at coming up with recipes to replace the salt filled premade fake meats we used to eat a LOT of. I, on the other hand, have been concentrating most of my efforts on finding the elusive healthy chocolate cake/cookie/brownie/etc.

Which leads to this post. I still don't have time to do a full blown food blog, but I feel I am entitled to divert from the vampires and robots every so often if I have good cause. And boy oh boy, I have good cause.

This is a 36 calorie fudge brownie bite with a 24 calorie dollop of cashew cream on top. Since this worked out so well, I had to share. Especially because you aren't going to believe me that these are the fudgiest, most decadent little bites you've ever tasted once you see the ingredients list. Believe it. And they're high in iron, fiber, and protein, while low in sugar.
So without further ado, here is the recipe:

Chocolate Bean Brownie Bite

1 cup shredded zucchini (about one whole small)
1/2 cup rinsed, no salt black beans
1/2 cup wheat bran
1/4 cup dark cocoa powder
2 tbsp brown sugar
1/4 tsp baking powder
1tsp cornstarch or arrowroot flour
4 oz dark chocolate (I used Sprouts 85% Columbian)
2-4 tbsp coconut milk as needed (any milk sub will do)

Preheat oven to 350℉
In a food processor, chop the chocolate. If you used big blocks, add the sugar and wheat bran to balance while chopping. Add all ingredients except milk. The texture should be coarse and moist, but not wet. Add the milk one tablespoon at a time until desired consistency.
Using a spoon, fill mini muffin tin or forms. Bake for 15 minutes. The tops will look crunchy, like a brownie, but the insides will be fudgy and a little molten right out of the oven. Top with cashew cream(recipe below) if desired.
Makes 20 mini bites

Cashew Coconut Cream

1/2 cup raw cashews, soaked at least 2 hours
1/4 cup coconut milk or cream (I used light)
1 tsp vanilla
2 tbsp unsweetened shredded coconut

Drain cashews and chop until fine in a food processor or blender. Add coconut, milk, and vanilla and mix until consistency is similar to ricotta cheese. Try not to eat the entire batch before adding to brownies.

Below is the nutritional data according to the My Fitness Pal recipe builder.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Domo Arigato Mr. Roboto

I am not going to be robot food after all.
For nearly two months, I've put my diet in the cold, robotic hands of the My Fitness Pal app. And I've lost twelve pounds. My husband has gone as far as downloading several workout regimen and fitness tracker apps. He's lost about double what I have.
I've had similar success in the past without the aid of robot overlords. After all, in 2009-2010 I lost fifty pounds before I got my first Android phone. But I have to say, the app made it easier.
When people get down on technology, I have to wonder what they are so cranky about. Sure, kids today are staring at a tiny screen in their hand more than ever, but that doesn't mean they aren't being social or that they are wasting their time. Anyone looking at me right now would think I'm having a rapid fire texting marathon. I'm not. I'm writing this post. On my phone. Actually, all of my blog posts are written this way. It's convenient and yes, Blogger has an app.
New tech is good tech. New tech helped me quit smoking. It allowed me to become a published author on my own terms. It allows me to keep in touch with people who I dare say, would have fallen off my radar if I had to rely on emails and phone calls for contact. It's my pocket sized reference library.
And now, it's helped me lose nearly a full stone in two months. The healthy way too. My nutritional data is laid out in an easy to read format, so I know that I'm bit starving myself. I'm even considering an app to monitor my glucose levels.
So yes, thank you very much, robot overlords. I look forward to assuming my new role as Princess Robot Commander.

As long as all the robots under my command are this cute.
I only command cute robots.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Dear Hollywood

I'm just going to throw this out there: you are getting stale. Enough with the remakes, reboots, thirty year too late sequels, and drunk bro movies. You have had one original idea this year and it was a corporate sponsored movie about toys.
It seems that other than films adapted from bestselling books, nothing is new these days. I have stats to back this up.

Let's talk about those book adaptions, shall we? Harry Potter, Twilight, The Hunger Games, these made you quite a bit of money, didn't they? But people still had complaints.

They left out that scene!

That was totally different in the book!

Who thought SHE was a good idea to play THAT role?

This is ALL WRONG!

You know what? There's a lot of really good books out there waiting to be turned into films. I'm not talking about the bestsellers. Milking an already established fanbase out of money that they're just going to regret spending is totally not cool. I'm talking about books by people like me, the independent authors. Adapting our books into blockbusters is a win-win situation.

Here's why:

We work cheaper. Cheaper, not cheap. Just because we don't have a screenwriter's guild membership doesn't mean we don't need to eat. But we're happy with taking a fraction of what it costs to negotiate a deal with an established franchise. Sure, that fraction may be 7/8ths, but when you're already spending millions, that's still a savings of millions.

We have established fan bases, but they're small. Our loyal fans will drag friends to see the movie. Fun fact: more people are willing to see a movie without knowing anything about it than are willing to read a book. But if their friend says, 'Oh, I read that book. It's good!' they are even more willing to watch it.

Smaller fanbase equals less criticism of things you will inevitably get wrong, leave out, or miscast. No one is going to complain when you cast a blonde actress to play a brunette lead, or when you cut the exposition down to a thirty second montage if they haven't read the book. For proof, look at the top science fiction movie of all time: Blade Runner. It barely has anything in common with its source material, but other than me and the other die hard sci-fi fans, who actually knew that?

Most of us publish exclusively for the electronic book market. This means no additional negotiations with restrictive publishing houses when it's time to broker a deal for a movie tie-in paperback. Hell, we'll just be happy to see our work on the shelves of major stores that won't look twice at us today.

Having said this, I would like to direct your attention to the MY BOOKS tab at the top if this page. See that? You are looking at a completed sci-fi fantasy series. This has the potential to be not one, but three films in a majorly profitable genre that is super hot right now. Who am I kidding, three books means four or five movies to you guys (please don't do that).

You'll also find my contact information under my profile. You know what to do.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Don't Fence Me In

There is a lot of advice out there for aspiring writers. Some of it is even free. Nearly all of it is conflicting, but one bit seems to hold: write what you know.

It should be obvious to anyone who read my books that I followed this advice. It should be obvious to anyone who read my books that I didn't follow this advice.

I'm pretentious like that. See, what I did was pull from my vast and varied personal experiences to set a realistic enough backdrop that you gloss over the made up pseudoscience that I pulled out of my butt. Write what you know is actually sound advice, but if we stuck to it all the time, where would the fantastic elements come from? Write what you know, but make up stuff if it sounds cool.

But this isn't a post about the first rule of successful writing. This is about the second: Find your niche. The time for branching out is after you've made it.

This too makes sense. Successful writers are genre writers. Stephen King wrote something like seven hundred billion horror stories before trying his hand at fantasy. But on the other hand, J K Rowling's success didn't translate into critical success when she immediately jumped from children's fantasy to adult literary fiction.

There are many others, of course, but I use these two as examples a lot because they are well-known heros to all of us who want to be billionaires...

...writers. I meant writers.

Clearly, King's method is the one us thousandaires want to follow. Since I have a modestly successful new adult urban fantasy series under my belt, shouldn't my next project be in the same genre? Maybe just replace Lucy with a feisty blonde who happens to be the daughter of a human and angel (by the way, this is totally a paranormal trend at the moment that can be surprisingly great and awful in different writer's hands). Or maybe she's a Hawaiian girl whose mother was an elemental? Instant success because I already have a built in fanbase, right?

I think you've read enough of this blog to know where this is going.

I admire Rowling's tenacity. Had she announced that her next series was a seven part prequel to the Harry Potter series, she would be the largest economy in the world right now. But she didn't and I can't blame her. I'm willing to bet Harry emotionally exhausted her. Heck, I only wrote three books that were only as long as her first two and Lucy left me a damned wreck.

I am not a billionaire. I am not even a thousandaire yet. I should hold on to the dozens of fans I have acquired by giving them more of the same only different.

But I can't.

My brain doesn't work that way. My next book is a young adult science fiction. After that I have a zombie apocalypse story, a humorous series about supernatural guardians, a young adult fantasy about an inept fairy godmother, a contemporary romance, a paranormal teen romance, and a space opera that is inspired more by William Burroughs and Hunter S Thompson than Star Trek. And I might just update our cookbook just to see how well it is received.

I will never be famous. But if I can make it to thousandaire, I'll call it a success. Will you keep reading? Maybe, maybe not. I don't actually think I'm important enough that my readers will become outraged. At least I hope. But I didn't get into writing because I wanted to be famous.

No really, but I'll take rich. Sort of rich, even...

I got into writing because it's what I know.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Science Fiction & Societal Fact: Life In Our Present Day Dystopia

Humans Persecute their different ones, yet they need them to give themselves definition and status.-Octavia Butler, Adulthood Rites

If man is to survive, he will have learned to take a delight in the essential differences between men and between cultures. He will learn that differences in ideas and attitudes are a delight, part of life's exciting variety, not something to fear.-Gene Roddenberry

Science fiction and fantasy are rather unique genres in that often times, the stories based in the wildest expanses of make believe are also the ones that best reflect the short comings of our own day to day reality. The quote above by Octavia Butler is, sadly, as true today as it was in 1988 when it was published. Also true is that the quote above from Star Trek creator, Gene Roddenberry, is just as idealistic and out of reach as it was in 1971. In my own series, I take a far more pessimistic stance on the same theme: seems that for every step forward this nation takes on civil rights, we take two back.
(Evan Conroy in Bluebeard's Children)
I'm sorry, but we as a society don't exactly have a stellar history of caring about minority rights. Especially when we perceive them as being some sort of threat against us.
(Lucy Soriano in Mother of Darkness)

When I began writing, the vampires in my story were representative of the oppression and misconceptions many people still hold against those who are different from them, but my main focus was the minorities of New Orleans. The unfortunate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina seemed to be a rise in outward racism and a genuine fear held by many whose only impressions were what the news was reporting. Several otherwise levelheaded people I knew had informed me that I was crazy when my husband and I took a vacation to New Orleans in the summer of 2007.
"You'll get mugged!"
"You'll be killed by gangs!"
"Aren't you afraid of being beat up for being white?"
No, I didn't make any of those up. And it just got worse. From the time the first book was drafted to the moment the last was published, the scope of my social agenda broadened to include not just minorities, but gay rights and violence against women.

This is going to be a surprisingly political post. Surprising because despite writing in the genre of social awareness, I'm usually pretty reserved when it comes to posting my beliefs in a public forum. With my personal Facebook page, I tend to follow the philosophy of the Prime Directive from Star Trek. Some of my friends and family members are extremely liberal and some are extremely conservative. Some are apolitical, yet post items they think are funny that may offend me for some reason. But I don't get into arguments because I feel doing so would be pointless. I simply hide the offending post. But I have to admit, it's getting harder to remain silent.

We are living in very strange times. The technological advancements that I tend to rave about here have done wonderful things. I'm sure you have all seen stories about Reddit users banding together to find a lost pet, or raising money to help someone in need. But on the flip side, how many news stories have you seen about someone who was bullied into suicide or shamed by society at large, ironically, oftentimes also stemming from Reddit.
Youtube comments are full of racism. Men's rights activists have pushed the level of misogyny back into the stratosphere. Body shaming, slut shaming, gay bashing, hate crimes, stand your ground...

The list goes on.

Are we falling apart? Where has this culture of hate and intolerance come from? Surely, we weren't always like this. Didn't we already fight for civil liberties of all people back in the sixties? Weren't we at some point in our history a tolerant group?

Sadly, no. The internet is simply an amplifier, giving voice to what was always there.

Now, before you write this off as the most negative and depressing thing you'll read all week,hear me out. Look at the good the internet has done. You would have to have been living under a rock not to notice the advances we are making in gay rights. Don't think the internet hasn't had a huge hand in making that happen. Thanks to the internet, crusading celebrities like Elllen DeGeneres and George Takei have a global reach that has been instrumental in breaking down barriers. Young men and women who have been bullied or discriminated against have taken to the internet and told their own stories, challenging us to take a stand for what is right.

It should come as no surprise then, that when I find out about a science fiction or fantasy writer has bigoted views, it upsets me. And there are more than you think. For every Octavia Butler, there is an Elizabeth Moon. For Every Roddenberry, there is an Orson Scott Card. I consider bigotry in science fiction to be socially irresponsible much in the same way that I find bigotry in elected officials socially irresponsible. Sure, we may not write laws, but we write the future, and I don't just mean metaphorically. Whether utopian or dystopian, science fiction has a voice and that voice is heard by many.

Me? I don't have half the charisma that someone like Ellen or George has in their pinky toe. If I was to take to the internet and start a campaign for civil rights for all, it would likely fail to launch. I may have a big mouth, but online it seems I squeak like a mouse. So I do the one thing I can, which is write mildly entertaining stories of fantasy with a not so hidden message. Some will pick up on it. Some might not. Others still might roll their eyes and get upset that I'm forcing my 'agenda' upon them. But if I can make someone think, then I've done something.