Sunday, November 19, 2017

Piece of Cake!: A look at 19th century dessert recipes

Ready to have your cake and eat it, too?

In The Lovelace & Wick Series, Iago Wick is… well, more than a little enthusiastic about dessert. And because of his love of all things cake, I’ve found myself researching the kinds of recipes a gentleman demon might have sampled in the 19th century. And today, I’m going to share some with you.

Now, the Victorians may have been all about ornate dress and d├ęcor, but when it came to recipes, apparently brevity was the soul of deliciousness just as much as it was the soul of wit. Some of these recipes could occupy a single tweet with room to spare.

"The special ingredient is... arsenic!" 
(Side note: Outside the realm of dessert, one cookbook felt the need to include a recipe for lettuce sandwiches. It amounted to little more than, “Butter the bread, stack on some lettuce. Ta-dah!” Oh, where’s a bit of sriracha when you need it?)

We’ll start by taking a peek inside the pages of the Worcester Family Cook Book (1895):

~

Cream Almond Cake

1-2 cup butter
1 cup powdered sugar
Whites of four eggs
2 cups flour
1 teaspoonful baking powder
1-2 cup milk
1-2 teaspoonful almond flavor
Cream the butter, add sugar gradually, cream thoroughly, sift flour and baking powder together, add milk and flour alternately, add flavor, cut in stiff whites. Bake in two layers.

New York Gingerbread

2 cups sugar (molasses)
1 cup butter
4 eggs
2 cups milk
2 teaspoonfuls ginger
3 tablespoonfuls baking powder (or sour milk and 1 teaspoonful soda)
6 cups flour
1-2 teaspoonful salt

Cream butter and sugar, add well beaten yolks of eggs and molasses (sugar)[,] sift dry ingredients, lastly add well beaten whites of eggs. This rule makes two loaves.


~


Pretty brief, right? But nothing compares to the editing eye of Mrs. D. Schuneman, which is on display in the “cup cake” recipe bearing her name in The Church of the Good [Shepherd] Cook Book (1896).

Mrs. D. Schuneman’s Cup Cake


Two coffee cups of sugar, one of butter, one of cream, three of flour, four eggs, one small nutmeg, one teaspoonful of soda.

That’s the entire recipe. Mrs. Schuneman did not waste words, apparently.

~


In The Captain’s Lady Cookbook (1837-1917), Mrs. Ames Marriott gives us a change of pace. Not only does she give us a recipe titled “Cream Sponge Cake No. 1” without an obvious follow-up, she micromanages your time from beyond the grave.

“Cream Sponge Cake No. 1”

Beat 6 eggs 2 minutes.
Add 3 cups of fine white sugar
Beat 5 minutes.
2 cups of flour 2 teaspoonsful cream of tartar
Beat 2 minutes.
1 teaspoonful soda in one cup cold water
Beat 1 minute.
Add the juice 1 lemon or ½ rind grated.
2 cups flour
Beat 1 minute.
Observe this rule exactly and bake in two deep pans in a medium oven for precisely 1 hour.

Mrs. Marriott also gives us a brief peek into her personal life at the end of her recipe. She says, “I am cross-stitching a new sampler—Faith, Hope and Charity. Very nice but very tedious.”

Sorry, Mrs. Marriott. A demon such as Mr. Wick would be quite impressed with your meticulously crafted cake, but that sampler isn’t quite his taste.

Am I looking at desserts or hats?
These cookbooks and more can be found on www.archive.org. The images are from the excellent www.freevintageillustrations.com. And if you try to bake one of these, please let me know how it turns out. I’ll be sitting over here with my Oreos.


Happy baking!
Jenny

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Romancing the Muse: Part One--The Importance of Writing Rituals

When someone says the word Muse, there are a few things which immediately come to mind. Either you think of Disney’s Hercules OR you think of the rock band, Muse, OR you think of some forlorn poet following his lady love, drawing upon her for inspiration.

My muse is none of these things (though I did go through a phase where I REALLY liked the band, Muse. I even named my cat after the lead singer, but we won’t go there.)

My muse is needy, but he’s fickle. He wants to play when I haven’t the time, and when I am ready to write, he’s often content to laze about. He follows me everywhere. He points at trees and buildings, objects and words. And he says, “Remember that, would you?” He’s also a shapeshifter, and in my mind’s eye, he frequently takes the shape of my current protagonist. (In the case of The Lovelace & Wick Series, it varies. Usually, the muse speaks in Mr. Wick’s voice, but recently Mr. Lovelace has had his say.) We have long conversations. We have eureka moments. We don’t always see eye to eye.

It’s complicated.

But at the end of the day, I know (and he knows) that I am his master. I’m the one in control.

Write that down, and never forget it: You are in control of your muse. You are in control of your craft.

Writers are not flotsam and jetsam, rolling about in the tide of our muse’s fancies. We have control. Yes, there are days that are more difficult than others. Words and inspiration don’t always want to cooperate, but never think that you don’t have the upper hand. You do.

Today we’re going to talk about using ritual in order to make sure you and your muse are on the same page when it’s time to write.



Now, when I say ritual, I mean a variety of things. There are sensory experiences which appeal to your muse, yes? They make you suddenly think--even for a brief moment--"Ah! I really want to write." For me, scents do the trick.

Nag champa incense. Sandalwood candles. Tea tree oil. Patchouli. The scent of Earl Grey. These are a few of the things which make my muse perk up. When I smell these scents, they put me in the mood to write.  Recent marketing research indicates that smell plays a huge part in a brand or shop’s ability to sell. Why? Well, for one, we’re so overwhelmed by visual stimuli that visual marketing isn’t as effective as it once was. But it is also a testament to the power of association.

Once we assign the meaning that it's time to write to certain smells, places, and practices, your muse will want to create whenever those factors are at work. That’s how writing rituals are created. So, if you’re having a great writing day, look around you. Assess your surroundings. Capture that creative juice and bottle it, so to speak.

Where are you? By designating a specific writing space, your mind begins to associate that space with the creative process. When you're in that space, your muse will realize that it’s time to get working. Be sure, however, that you don’t use that space for much of anything else. That muddies the association.

What are you drinking? Is it coffee? It’s coffee, isn’t it? A lot of writers will admit that they drink coffee when they write, particularly those of us with membership to the #5amWritersClub. If coffee gets you ready to write, go for it! Although, again, your writing rituals should be exclusive to the writing process. If that means using no creamer or a certain mug, then go for that. In my personal experience, I find that I drink coffee too frequently for it to really be a muse jumpstarter. (I admit, I may have a slight problem.) My go-to drink for writing is tea, preferably Earl Grey.

Are you an early bird or a night owl? Designate a specific writing time. What works best for you? Myself, I wake up at 5:30 every morning to write. By designating that certain time, you’re one again tricking your mind (and your muse) into thinking, “Huh! It’s time to write!”

Write it down! If something really puts you in the mood to create, don’t lose sight of it! Keep a journal of your favorite muse foods. We’ll talk more about journal writing later in the series.

But Jenny, I hear you say, this is nothing but a bunch of mind tricks! I’m tricking my muse into doing what I want them to do!

Yes, you are! That’s what these rituals are all about. You’re luring your muse out of their hole with something shiny. And sometimes these rituals don’t work, and that’s okay. In those cases, I always make a judgment call: do I just need to take a break, or do I need to hunker down and write, no matter what? A lot of times I go with the latter option. Eventually the muse will begrudgingly come to play.

What are your favorite writing rituals? How do they help you? What does your muse feed on?


Until next time!
Jenny

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Romancing the Muse: A 5-Part Series About Strengthening Your Relationship With Your Muse

When you’re a writer, you hear a lot of different opinions on the craft of writing. Are you a plotter or a pantser? Never give your story a prologue! Never touch 2nd-person narrative with a ten-foot pole!

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about my writing habits and rituals lately, and I keep pondering this one topic upon which writers just cannot seem to agree.

Do you wait for inspiration to strike or do you just sit down, shut up, and write?

I’ve always subscribed to the latter. I write every day, whether or not inspiration strikes. But recently, as I’ve studied myself, I’ve wondered, “Why do these two ideas have to be mutually exclusive?”



While I firmly believe that the best cure for writer’s block is just sitting down and forcing yourself to write, I also believe that everyone has a muse, that spark of inspiration. It sits inside all of us, waiting to be stimulated. The path to a happy muse is different for everyone, but with a little experimentation, soul-searching, and just a smidge of psychology, we can all have happy muses. If we listen to our muse, we can figure out what puts us in that ideal mindset for writing. We can be at peace with the muse and be in the best mindset for creation.

It might seem like a very romantic notion. Yes, there are rules to writing, and yes, there are techniques, but let’s be honest—there’s a lot of room for romance, too. I mean, really, you’re building worlds and people and relationships! Writing is inherently romantic.

This series of blog posts intends to help you tap into that romance and inspiration, awakening your muse and working WITH them, not against them. You’ll call upon your muse to join you for a session of writing, and they won’t put up a fight (as often—we can’t completely work miracles. Muses can be fussy buggers).

Seems a bit abstract, right? Don’t worry. We’ll take it one step at a time. In this series, we’ll cover:

  •          Just who or what is your muse?
  •          The importance of writing rituals
  •          How journal writing is muse food
  •          Making the muse work—even when they don’t want to and you haven't got time for           their BS!
  •      And so much more!


Now, as a bit of homework for next time, I’d like for you to really think about your muse. Who or what do you think they are? What do they look like in your mind’s eye? What do they sound like? Are they nagging? Lazy? Enthusiastic? Why do you think this is?

Until next time!

Jenny

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

How to Ramp Up the Atmosphere In Your Spooky Story

One of the key parts of any book is atmosphere, but it’s especially important in horror and paranormal fiction. Think about this way: I’m sure you’ve all seen a TV show about ghost hunting (or, if you’re like me, four or five or ten). Perhaps you’ve even gone on a few paranormal investigations or ghost tours. How often have you heard the following scenario?

“Mrs. Smith claims that the building is haunted! She’s scared out of her wits!”

“Really? What’s happened? Has she ever seen anything?”

“Well, no… but she says there’s just a really weird feeling about the place. Creepy. Like she’s being watched.”

My guess is you’ve heard this exchange, or something similar, more than a few times. Now, Mrs. Smith may be full of it or maybe the building really is haunted, but it doesn’t matter. It’s the atmosphere that has caused her to believe the place is haunted; it’s gotten inside her head and made her feel uneasy.

This is something that all good horror and paranormal writing has to do, whether you’re writing a straight-up horror story or something fun or adventurous with paranormal elements. That atmosphere is what takes your reader from their world and drops them into yours.

So, how do we conjure the perfect atmosphere?



Naturally, the first thing to consider is your setting; a lot of your atmosphere comes from there. In The Lovelace & Wick Series, I made the macabre city of Marlowe, Massachusetts is its own character. This was a conscious decision I made from the start, studying cities such as Salem and Beverly. I wanted that city to have its own presence. And so, it’s described as a sort of monster, looming over its citizens. It's as though it’s a living thing. The citizens themselves are like a Greek chorus or disciples of the great monster that is Marlowe. In adding these details, I’ve automatically strengthened the sense of atmosphere; the whole setting comes alive. (And yes, there is definitely some Lovecraftian inspiration there!) Your setting should have some presence. A story that could take place anywhere might not make the same impression as one with its setting woven into the fibers of the narrative.

Next, I think it’s important to consider the intent of the scene or piece. Let’s say Author A is writing a slasher story. Mary Jane is running through the woods, but she’s totally lost and she’s running out of hope fast. The killer is out there somewhere. The whistle of the wind, to Mary Jane, is frightening, ominous, like the lonely moan of a forlorn spirit.

But Author B is writing a paranormal romance story. Lady Carmilla is awaiting her lover in the woods. The wind whistles, and its soothing to her. It sings a sweet, but melancholy song and reminds her of Count Vlad, her vampire lover who wants to make her a part of his kingdom of the undead.

The exact same detail in these two scenes adds to the atmosphere in very different ways (both in a rather hokey manner, but you get the picture). Think about what your scene is trying to achieve and how the setting can be interpreted in conjunction with that intent.

If you feel like you’re struggling with atmosphere, try this exercise. Go to a park, your bedroom, a cemetery, anywhere. Now, how does that place feel? Take a few minutes to write it all down. Is it relaxing? Lonely? Bustling? Now ask yourself why? What’s contributing to that atmosphere. Rely on those five senses. What details, if suddenly added, would change the atmosphere? What would make it suddenly eerie?  Are these changes subtle? Obvious? Meaningful?

The nice thing about being an author is you can add atmospheric details that have meaning. A butterfly sailing past might represent your protagonist’s deceased grandmother. The rainy weather might reflect her sour mood. Giving meaning to your atmosphere allows your reader to become more submerged in your story.

A scene is like a little symphony—every instrument works together. Think about all the tiny details that help create the perfect atmosphere. Then, think about how that atmosphere contributes to the overall meaning of the scene. Then, think about how that scene contributes to the book as a whole. It all works together, so it’s important to always consider how it works together, especially when you’re going for that spooky atmosphere that’s perfect for your story.

Readers and writers, what do you think makes a good, spooky atmosphere?

Cheers!
Jenny

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

The Anatomy of a Writing Space

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I recently moved into a new apartment. Now, this apartment is an astounding space with a great kitchen, hardwood floors, high ceilings and a ton of closet space...

...naturally, I was the most concerned with where my writing space would be.

(I mean, the kitchen is nice, too, BUT...)

The spaces in which we create are so important. Whether you're making jewelry at a work desk, acting on stage, playing at your piano or writing in your office, it is paramount that you feel comfortable in the space and inspired by the space. Once your brain begins to realize, "Ah! This is where we come to create!" then you're more likely to have a successful session.



Today, I wanted to share my writing space with you, not only so I can share a little bit about my process but that so perhaps I can inspire you in designing your own perfect space in which you can create.


Here is my desk. I like to surround myself with images and trinkets and doodads which put me in the mood to write or could serve as inspiration. I LOVE antiquing. What better way to inspire yourself to tell a story than to surround yourself with items that tell another's tales?

The lamp above is Mid-Century. It's a really amazing example of a late 1950s/early 1960s fiberglass drum shade that I was able to pick up (lamp, shade and all) for a whopping $15 at an antique store in Virginia!


These books are a collection of poems by Poe, Paradise Lost, and Green Mansions. My favorite item here, however, is the commemorative Telstar dish in the foreground!



The medical print in front is a gift from my sister--it's from the 1920s. I often find myself studying the diagram, so if I ever end up on Jeopardy, that may come in handy. The phone in the back was an old workshop/barn phone I bought in Lancaster, Ohio. It's got little spatters of paint all over, which I love.








And of course, it's just as important to have a good reading space. Right next to my desk, I have this comfy chair along with a lantern and an old stereoscope I picked up in downtown Circleville, Ohio. The pillow is from Waynesville, Ohio.

There you have it! I get up at 5:30 every morning, drag myself to this desk, and start writing!

So, where is your favorite place to create? Share some pictures of your inspiration space in the comments.

Until next time,
Jenny


Monday, July 17, 2017

What's In a Name?: How to Come Up with the Perfect Name for Your Character

Indiana Jones. Bilbo Baggins. Mary Poppins. Victor Frankenstein.

Now, do you think their stories would be quite as grand if their names were Robert Jones or Mary Smith? Maybe… but I bet you wouldn’t remember those characters quite as clearly.

Particularly when you’re writing fantasy or sci-fi, naming your character is paramount. This is something, I’ll admit, I harp upon when acting as a beta reader. So, I’d like to formally apologize for any vicious tirades on which I may have gone concerning poorly-chosen character names:




Right, now that that’s out of the way…

Your characters are your babies. People agonize over what they’re going to name their child. Such care should go into naming your characters, as well, and yes: I mean every character.

Someone asked me recently how I named my characters, and the question stuck with me so much, that I decided I needed to write a whole post on the topic. There are a few things I take into consideration.



1. The character’s personality. This one is obvious, but I think it’s one of those things that’s so obvious that people sometimes overlook it. A character’s name is an extension of their personality.  It helps cement the character in the reader’s mind. So, the first thing I do is look at the character’s personality. Let’s use Iago Wick as an example (because he so loves being the center of attention).

“Iago” comes from Shakespeare’s villain in Othello, of course. I found that appropriate since Iago spends his days tempting humans and manipulating them. His last name references a candle wick, in addition to the word “wicked” but it's also a very quick and biting word. The word "wick" is sharp with a percussive final consonant. That reflects Iago’s quick wit and rather sharp nature. His name conveys a lot about him through literary allusions and overall sound—almost like a little mini biography.

2. The tone of the story. If you’re Terry Pratchett and you’re writing a Discworld novel, then a clockmaker named Jeremy Clockson (a nod, of course, to British personality Jeremy Clarkson) is a great idea. If you’re writing a particularly humorous tale and you want to name your hunky love interest Matt Goodflesh, then, more power to you. However, punny names can hurt your character if you’re writing something a little more serious. I always take the tone of the piece into mind when naming characters.

3. Say it out loud—over and over again. When you’re writing, you may be months into a project before you ever actually say a word about it. Sure, you think and write and type every day, but your character’s name has to look good on paper AND sound good out loud. So, say it out loud. Some of my personal rules (feel free to break these for your own purpose—this is just me):

- Nothing that rhymes too much.

- Nothing that’s too close to another character’s name.

- Must have nice prosody—that is the rhythm and musicality of the name.

- If I mess up saying it more than three times, it’s out. If you can’t say your character’s name, how is your reader going to say it? Don’t get too complicated.

4. Part of your world. When you’re writing sci-fi or fantasy, you may be writing about other worlds and perhaps those worlds have their own language or idea of aesthetic. Always take that into account. It’s going to stand out like a sore thumb if you’ve crafted this beautiful otherworldly language… and then your otherworldly main character is named Mike. Really put some thought into what certain words and syllables mean in your world. What makes a name beautiful? What makes a name suitable for a villain? I love getting into the linguistics, and it will give your readers a richer experience, too.

I often use old and underused names in The Lovelace & Wick Series. It adds flavor but also keeps us firmly rooted in the pseudo-steampunk 1890s world in which the stories take place.

5. Don’t rely too much on name meaning sites. I mean this. Seriously. I’ve seen people spend HOURS of precious writing time on name meaning sites and still come up with only an average name for their character. (If they come up with a name at all! Sometimes the name meaning site—bloated with questionable ads and pop-ups—swallows the poor author whole and we never see them again.)

Honestly, though, the meaning of the name can be flavor, but I wouldn’t go in too deep. This is mostly because the average reader doesn’t know the meaning of the name Kate or Allie or Jeffrey or Quentin. While it might mean something to you, that’s not being conveyed to the reader, and at the end of the day, the reader’s perception is paramount.

A character’s name is precious. It’s a key part of them, and you love your characters, right? Well, do them a favor and give them a name that will make them proud! Shout it from the rooftops! (Maybe not. Don’t want to alarm the public officials.)

What about you, writers? How do you name your characters? And readers: what makes a good character name in your eyes? What’s your favorite?

Cheers!
Jenny

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Iago Wick and the Vampire Queen comes out August 4th... but you can get it now for FREE

Greetings, everyone!

The last few weeks have truly taught me the meaning of the phrase "keep on truckin'."

Due to circumstances beyond my control, I found myself suddenly needing to move the second week of June. A move? I thought. Now? Fortunately (and thanks to the help of some great people), I found a beautiful apartment that was close to work. My boyfriend and I could not be happier with the place (oh, I cannot wait to share images of my new writing space), but it was still quite a haul to move one town over on such short notice!

The last few days, with a holiday on the horizon, have been dedicated to getting back into my writing rituals. I'm about 85% of the way through the first edit of Binding Dante Lovelace, the second book in The Lovelace & Wick series...

...but fortunately, dear readers, you don't have to wait for another adventure with Mr. Wick and Mr. Lovelace.

"Iago Wick and the Vampire Queen," a Lovelace & Wick Short Story, will be released officially on August 4th, but you can get it now for FREE here at Instafreebie.


As a demon, Iago Wick has made quite a career out of conjuring mischief and mayhem in the name of Hell, but this time, perhaps he’s gone a bit too far.

After deliberately foiling the plans of a spoiled vampire—all in the name of fun, really!—Iago discovers that the vampire in question is no ordinary bloodsucker. She’s the newly-appointed matriarch of one of the oldest vampire families in America, and she’s very angry.

Soon, Iago is caught in a war with the vampires and their cyborg servants. Will he settle his score with the clan of bloodsuckers or will Iago find himself at the mercy of the Vampire Queen? What precisely is the matter with those strange cybernetic servants, anyway? And most importantly, will Iago ever get the smell of garlic out of his clothes?

So, grab it while you can. It will be available until July 31st!

A very happy holiday to my American readers,
Jenny