I.E. Castellano's Blog

March 20, 2017

If I only had a name

Writing has been coming along well.  The only impediment: mandatory research.  Most research, for me, starts with the big G.  I research names, images of places that I have in my head, and, this time, history.
Without giving too much away, Dreamweaver (The World In-between 6) is about Berty being stuck in a dream world.  Once he escapes his own dream, he goes from dream to dream, rescuing dreamers.  Dreamers mean new characters.  New characters mean names, which, in turn, means research.
I love learning about name meanings, history, famous namesakes, and name origins.  Yes, sometimes, I take all this into account when naming characters.  Other times, I just like the name.  Or this character feels like a so-and-so.
Soon, I’m coming up to naming a new Dragon character.  Most of my Dragon names in The World In-between series mean some form of fire something-or-other or ancient or serpent/dragon/etc.  Because many cultures around the world believed in dragons or dragon-like creatures, I have many choices in many languages.
However, I also need to take other aspects beyond etymology into consideration when naming characters.  I look at how many characters have names that start with the same letter.  How many of the characters will be in scenes together.  Also, how similar the names in the story and potential names are to each other, so that the reader doesn’t get confused and lose track of who is who.
In real life, you can know five Mikes, three Jens, and a handful of Jasons or Stephen and Stephanie might get married.  Fiction shouldn’t be like that, unless your character has two brothers named Darryl.  When I choose names, I look at a character’s background.  What type of name should this character have that will make it seem realistic in the reader’s eyes?
One of the Dragons is named Paul.  Does it match with the others?  No.  But, it matches him.  And I do explain in the books that he changed his name from something more Dragon-y to Paul.
In the series, different groups have names that originate from different places.  Pixies tend to have Finnish names, while Fairies, at least the Royal Family, have Welsh name origins.  The Elves have mainly Norse/Germanic names and the Dwarves, given their history, can be from anywhere, but the Prince and his family have Eastern European names.
Ideally, names need to reflect the tone of the story.  And the reader should be able to remember the names of the main characters, especially the character for whom the reader roots.  There is nothing worse than reading a story and asking yourself, “Now, who is that?  Who are they talking about?  Is that the main character or someone else?”
What about the ability to pronounce a name?  Somewhat important.  In my notes, I write out the name phonetically so that I can pronounce it properly.  When I read, words come alive in my head.  If I can’t pronounce a name or place, I just take a wild guess.  I’m sure I’ve butchered plenty of names whilst reading.  I’m also sure people butcher names in my books, heck, even my own surname.  Perfectly acceptable, because we all make up pronunciations when we read.  The problem lies in a name that the eye stumbles over.  Like names with too many apostrophes or odd characters.  (I’m so guilty of the latter when making up words for things, but I don’t put them in names.)
No, I haven’t named the Dragon yet, but I know what she looks like.  Her character will develop in my head and perhaps on the page.  The name will come.
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Published on March 20, 2017 17:38

February 7, 2017

I buried my mother last week.  Somehow, it doesn’t seem real.  I can’t believe she’s gone… so soon.  Cancer took her.
Rewind six months or so.  She started having mobility issues.  She needed assistance going up and down the steps and with getting her socks and shoes on and off.  Sciatica shot pain from her big toe to her hip and back again.  Tylenol helped ease the pain.
Then, it did nothing for the pain.  If you suggested she go see a doctor, she balked.  The pain made her irritable and affected some of her thinking.  Eventually, she sequestered herself to her two room bedroom suite where she had her bed, a couch and chair, a tv, and the bathroom.  Her bathroom going became more frequent.  She would get up every hour to go and then spend about a half hour there.
In November, she no longer slept in the bed as it was too far from the bathroom.  She slept in the chair closest to the door.  We exchanged the bed and sitting rooms so she did not have to walk as far.
My brother, father, and I would run up and down the stairs bringing up meals and the like.  I lost a fair amount of weight doing all that.  And worrying about her.  As her mental state and appetite waned, we discussed what to do.
Monday night during Thanksgiving week, the decision was made for us.  My mom had gone to the bathroom and my dad and I had trouble holding her up and helping her walk to her chair.  Blood filled the toilet and elsewhere.  We laid her on the carpeted floor right outside the bathroom door.  My brother dialed 9-1-1.
I knelt next to my mom, telling her that she had to go to hospital.  She didn’t want to go.  Within minutes, two EMTs entered the bedroom.  I told her that those nice men were going to take her to the emergency room and we’d be right behind her.
As they strapped her to the stretcher, I put on some shoes and a coat.  We followed the ambulance in the car.  This is a small town.  No one was out that late at night.  The hospital is only blocks away.
It was 1:30 in the morning and I sat in the ER waiting room next to my brother in an old sweatshirt, too big jeans, and the first coat I found.  When my dad came out of the ER, we helped him sign her in at registration.  Moments later, the doctor came to find us.  Although the waiting room was empty, he brought us to a private room.
The ER doctor told us that she had lost a lot of blood.  Her hemoglobin was a 2.  Normal women are around 12.  He gave her blood and called for a helicopter to take her to the city.  We followed him back to the curtained area where two helicopter nurses readied her for her flight.  After watching them work, we told her that she was going on a flight and that we’d see her when we drove there.
Out of her view, the three of us cried.
We drove back to the house.  While my brother took out the dog, I changed into real clothes and brushed my hair.  Then, we piled into the car and drove the forty plus minutes to Pittsburgh.
The ER at Magee Women’s Hospital was also empty at that time.  After handing my purse to the security guard and walking through the metal detectors, I enquired about my mom.  They brought us right back.  The nurses and doctors asked us a few questions.  They entered info into a computer.  She was stable and sleeping.  They were ready to move her to the ICU.
We waited in the ICU Family Lounge for what seemed like forever.  The sun peeked from somewhere.  I sipped the worst coffee before switching to water.  An ICU nurse came to get us.  So much was thrown our way.  It was only 7 or 8 in the morning.
We got to say hi to my mom before we left to get some sleep.  They had to do tests and all that anyway.  ICU is a locked ward, so we needed visitor badges.  At the main hospital entrance, they print them using your driver’s license information and picture.  I happened to grab a purse without checking to see if my wallet was in it.  To give me a badge, they had to take my picture from a web cam.  Visitor badge pictures are worse than driver license pictures, especially when you’ve had no sleep.
At 1:30 in the afternoon, the ICU nurse called.  The doctors wanted to see us.  Could we get there right away?
Back at Magee, we sat in this huge ICU hospital room with all its equipment and its beeping.  A barrage of doctors came into the room.  The doctor I remember the most from that day was the gynecology-oncology doctor.  She gave my mom the news—uterine cancer.
But first, they had to stabilize her blood levels, the low platelets, the high heart rate, and deal with the blood clot in her lungs.
For Thanksgiving, the four of us ate the special turkey dinner from the cafeteria in her room.
The days melded into one another.  Magee allows someone to stay in the room with the patient.  We took turns staying over while the other two went home.  The oncology team came in between 5:30 and 6 every morning.  After them, hematologists, cardiologists, and the ICU doctors.
My mom wanted the doctors to talk to us about her situation.  And they did.  We were taken aside to be told about her stage four advanced and aggressive cancer and the tumor that pressed against her nerves, causing her pain.  The doctor did make a point to tell my mom that she couldn’t operate nor could she cure her cancer, but they could treat it, they could stop its spread.  My mom was okay with that.
For the month that my mom spent at Magee, the nurses and doctors and others were wonderful.  My mom received four targeted radiation treatments.  They shrunk the tumor, lessening the pain.
She came home before Christmas with an appointment to see her oncology doctor after the New Year.
Between home nursing, physical therapy, and occupational therapy, someone came to the house about four times a week.  We never decorated for Christmas, but we didn’t care.  My mom was home and she was doing well.
Until the morning she forgot how I was related to her.
Luckily, the nurse was coming to take her blood later that morning.  My mom knew something was off in her head.  She would catch herself… sometimes.  I had to tell her that Grandma and Grandpa had been gone for a long while.  That afternoon, the doctor’s office called.  Her blood count was low again.  She needed two units.
Because of all the antibodies in her blood, it took two days to find compatible blood.  We brought her to the local hospital.  They, too, were great.  After six hours, Mom came back home.
A few days later, we drove back to Magee to see her oncology doctor.  The doctor said that her platelet levels were not rising to where they needed to be for chemo.  She wanted my mom to see the hematologists to get her platelets up.  Before we left, we had new pain medication prescriptions, appointments for a hematologist and follow-ups with her and the cardiologist.
However, her confusion didn’t really subside.  She began having trouble getting around.  Her physical therapist didn’t understand the regression.  We speculated about the new medications.  Opioids can affect people mentally.  Plus, we had to keep increasing the amount she took to squelch the pain.
When one of the home nurses came to take her blood, she called the doctor right away.  She knew something was very wrong with my mom.  The doctor had us go to Magee’s ER to have her evaluated.
It took all we had to get her to hospital.  Her mobility became more limited by the day.
The ER only allowed one with her.  I got to go back.  I spoke with the nurses and the doctors.  I helped my mom change into a hospital gown.
They did an EKG, an x-ray, and an ultrasound of her heart all in the ER room.  By the time my dad and brother were able to come back, they had ordered a CT scan of her abdomen.
Hours later, we were back in ICU.  My mom had sepsis, an infection in the blood.  Turns out, the infection causes mental confusion.  They took cultures and waited.  Meanwhile, antibiotics coursed through an IV.
When the cultures matured, they showed no infection.  That meant that the infection stemmed from the tumor in the uterus.  The oncology doctor came to see my mom when I stayed over.  She told her about the infection and since they could not operate on the tumor, an infection could return.  And that her platelets were very low again.  My mom told her to take care of the pain.  The doctor placed a hand on my mom and said, “That, we can do.”
I spoke with the doctor outside the room about my mom’s rapidly increasing pain and lack of use of her one leg.  She promised to look at the CT scan to see what could be done before she left that evening.
Each night we stayed over, she worsened.  My night, my mom didn’t know where she was or why she couldn’t get out of the bed.  Finally, she told me her name and mine.  I got the nurse and she gave my mom more pain meds and anti-anxiety medication.  It helped.
The next night was my brother’s turn.  His was pretty bad, too.  He called in the morning to tell us that the doctors wanted to talk to us.  My dad and I showered and left.
When the doctor came, she brought the three of us down to the empty family lounge.  Her fellow closed the double doors.  We were soon joined by the ICU doctor team.  Seven of us sat around a round table not too far from the machine that makes the terrible coffee.
I can remember the doctor’s face when she told us how fast the cancer had spread in the past month.  Her expression as she sat across the table from me held such sorrow.  Her eyes wanted to cry with mine when she said that everything in my mom’s body was going and there was nothing she could do to stop it.  She asked us what we wanted to do.
We had talked about it prior when we would walk through the hospital to take a breather.  Mom would come home unless she medically could not.
That night, they moved her out of ICU to one of the larger, private oncology inpatient rooms.  My dad stayed.
He called us the morning to tell us she was being released into hospice care.  My mom was coming home again.  This time, by ambulance transport.
My brother and I waited for the new hospital bed to come.  We signed for the medications and equipment that arrived.
When my mom came home that evening, she hugged my brother and I so hard.
A hospice nurse and nurse aid came every day.  The nurses explained what was happening and did all they could to help her and us.  Every day, my mom lost a little more.
Watching this vicious disease ravage the body, snuffing out the life… there are no words.  No words.
Within a week of coming home, my mommy was gone.
I apologize for any typos or mistakes or rambling or crappy writing in this post.  The computer screen gets a bit blurry from time to time.  This is the first post since I started this blog that my mom won’t read. 
Knowing the inevitable makes nothing easier.  It prepares you for precisely jack squat.
My mom was who I went to for advice about men, fashion, cooking, etc.  She knew everything.  She was my friend.  She was my editor.  As a former teacher, she looked at my manuscripts with a fair eye.  She loved my series and its characters.
I see my mom in Kate, Berty’s mother, in Teresa, Hope’s mother, and in Silvia.  It pains me to know that she will never get to read how the series completes.  Writing this last book has been slow, given the situation.
Last week, I told myself that I’d start working this week.  And I am.  I have things to read and I am acquiring a new manuscript from a new author client who got my name from a current one.  Writing will come.  My characters have been patient with me.
Next Tuesday, I turn _9.  My dad, brother, and I will be going out for Chinese.  When I was little, before my brother was born, my mom and I used to go to lunch at this place, now torn down, where she taught me how to use chopsticks.  I hope my fingers remember how next week.
Cancer is a cruel, brutal, painful disease.  I wish there was a better way to treat it.  I wish that my mom could have had a chance.  I wish for so many things.  As I sit here, eyelashes stuck together, nose sore, I know only this: I could use a hug. 
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Published on February 07, 2017 08:54 • 3 views

January 14, 2017

Poetry and Ponderings: A Journey of Abuse and Healing Through Poetry

Diamante Lavendar


In this rare collection of nonfiction Christian poetry and prose based on real life experiences, Diamante Lavendar, a victim of abuse, shows the reader the raw emotions of pain, hate, and denial that occur before a victim of abuse can find a way to heal from the pains of assault. Knowing herself the very difficult journey of being a victim, Diamante was abused as a child, and turned to alcohol and drugs to numb the pain. Many years later, she started to heal under God’s watchful eyes and was able to find love in her life again. She shares these truly inspiring, religious poems in the hopes that it may help other victims heal their hurts, as she did while writing the poetry collection.

How I came to review this book:
I posted one of Ms. Lavendar’s poems for Poetry Wednesday.  She emailed me to review her chapbook.  I received a pdf of the print book for this review.

These poems have a Christian spiritual theme.  Raw emotions fill the pages.

My thoughts:
I know I should just review content, but I need to say something about the book formatting because it influenced my reading of the author’s poetry.  Many of the poems span a couple of pages, being broken by images of branches (like the one on the cover).  I found the breaks distracting.  When I noticed the branch on the bottom of the page, my mind believed the poem to have ended.  However, a couple of stanzas remained on the following page, sometimes underneath another branch.  The branches interrupted the poetry’s flow, impeding my reading.  Perhaps in the printed form it flows better.
With that said, I can continue to the content.
As you read through the book, the poetry transitions from dark to light, from pain to healing.  The poems themselves are a mix of powerful, beautiful, profound, raw, emotional, succinct, and rambling.  Some speak to me, some are silent, and some remind me of other poems I have read over the years.
After reading the last page, I felt as though Ms. Lavendar brought me with her on her emotional journey.  Her poetry is personal.  Writing it probably aided her healing process from the abuse in her life.

A woman breaks free of her past to revel in the goodness of the present.

Other Info:
Publication Date: Coming SoonPages: 122Print: $14.99Ebook: $8.99
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Published on January 14, 2017 14:55 • 10 views

January 4, 2017

On the docket this year is Dreamweaver, Book 6 of the World In-between fantasy series.  Already the beginnings of the book have used a good portion of a ream of paper and a new pen.  Dreamweaver brings the series back to Berty’s point of view.  Unlike the previous books, it continues exactly where Hope ended.  The sixth installment should be the last novel in this series.  I say should because although planned, sometimes my characters decide otherwise.
Once Dreamweaver is finished, different options wait in the wings.  Which book to continue next?  I may just write them all and see which one the pen flows over best.  Or one may beg to be brought to the forefront.  I have some time to contemplate what comes next.
In the meantime, I read.  And, I am starting to post book reviews on my blog.  Look for the first one this month.  If an author wishes to have a book reviewed, email me with a review request at IECastellano (at) zoho (dot) com.  Include genre, a book description, and the publication date (previous or forthcoming) in the email.  While my read list is fantasy heavy, I read most genres. Review guidelines will be posted soon.
This year, I am also accepting new editing clients.  I do comprehensive editing, looking at everything.  Email me at the above address to discuss your work.  Longer works are charged per estimated word while shorter works are per work.
Poetry Wednesday will end since I haven’t posted any poems for a long while.  Taking its submission page down will be a part of my blog revamp.
Follow me on Twitter to read lines from my current work in progress ( Dreamweaver ).  Follow or Friend me on Goodreads to see my thoughts about what I’m reading for pleasure.  Add me to your circles on Google+ for some cool and cute posts.
Here’s to a new year full of new possibilities and a lot of writing.
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Published on January 04, 2017 16:20 • 3 views

November 17, 2016

Hope by IE Castellano hardcover versionHope in hardcover
Writing has finished.  Editing has ceased.  Physical and digital manifestations of my words now appear in book form (at least in pre-order until Nov 22nd).  Hope (The World In-between, 5) is a reality.
Hope sees the worlds on both sides of the portal through different eyes.  Yes, Berty is still a major player in the book, but I decided to take the lens away from him.  The reader gets to know him better through his niece, Hope.  Who, in turn, gets a bigger piece of the adventure, whether she wants it or not.
Ten years after others fought the Battle of Fairyland, seventeen-year-old Hope struggles to find her place in the world.  Which side of the portal should she be spending her time?  Can she suffer through the rest of high school without detention?  What about college?  Neither magic nor archery are majors.  What exactly does a wood listener do with the rest of her life?  An unknown enemy shatters all her aspirations while attempting to subvert who she is and who she will become.
The World In-between (Book 1) introduced Hope, hinting at her magical abilities.  Bow of the Moon (Book 2) showed her magic in the hands of a young girl.  Secrets of the Sages (Book 3) brought Hope into her own, accepting her magic the only way a seven-year-old can.  Whispers (Book 4) glimpsed at the dynamic form her magic could become.   Hope  (Book 5) challenges Hope to discover the limits of her magic.
Excerpts from Hope:
From Chapter 1 The Ultimate Question
From Chapter 2 Griffin

Hope releases Nov 22nd.  E-book and hardcover can be pre-ordered at places that sell books.
Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Google Play, Apple
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Published on November 17, 2016 09:27 • 4 views

October 25, 2016

A shrouded moon cast no shadows while he skulked from house to house.  The cool breeze carried a crisp aroma of decaying dried leaves.  Thunder rumbled overhead.  He hurried past flickering jack-o-lanterns.  A heavy deluge erupted from the laden clouds, washing red and yellow leaves into the gutters.  Lighting forked to the earth.  A loud clap made him race under the portico.  Shaking water off his coat, he pressed a doorbell.  A man with an eye patch answered the door.  He entered then removed his soaked coat and hat.  The door closed behind him with a bang.  Clutching an offered cup of blood red liquid, he joined the throng of ghosts, witches, vampires, monsters, and celebrity masks.
This time of year sparks the macabre imagination.  The combination of cooler temperatures, falling leaves, and ever earlier sunsets feeds into the concept of Halloween and its forebears.  Personally, I’ve never been one for the grotesque.  However, I do harbor a belief in versions of the supernatural.  Perhaps that’s why I gravitate towards fantasy in my writing.
Between bonfires and corn mazes and pumpkin pouring out of your ears, autumn has a magic all its own.  It stirs our primitive memories.  The instinct to preserve, to celebrate the harvest and its symbolism.  Watch horror movies.  Read books that will keep you up all night.  Wear your favorite costume.  Carve the biggest pumpkin in the patch.  Gorge on candy apples and popcorn balls.  Dark and stormy tastes sweet with a few spider webs and broomsticks in the background.
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Published on October 25, 2016 02:40 • 9 views

September 28, 2016

Handwritten Page from Hope

The writing stage of Hope (The World In-between, 5) finished earlier this month.  As I type this blog post, the first editing stage is nearing completion.  I usually go through three or four edits before I hand it off to my editor.
Since I handwrite my manuscripts (still), typing it into a workable manuscript format becomes my first edit.  First drafts are messy.  Mine are no exception.  Many pages include scratch-outs, arrows, and words scrunched here and there.  The main goal of a first draft is to extract the story from your head.  I happen to find the pen a more useful tool than the keyboard for this process.  As I type, I change things.
Writing isn’t always fluid.  You stop and start, sometimes multiple times a day.  You may forget bits and pieces of what you wrote previously.  A certain word may get stuck in your head, and you end up writing it over and over.  Or, you simply don’t vary the sentence structure.
When I type the second draft, I tend to go deeper.  With every line, I ask myself, “Does this line work?”  If it doesn’t, it gets changed.  Sometimes, things need to be added or deleted to better develop places, purpose, or characters.

First Draft:
“Aye, nasty storm,” answered an old man at the next table.  He sat alone with only a tankard keeping him company.  “So, what brings agents of the Empire all the way up here?”
Second Draft:
“Aye, nasty storm,” answered an old man from the next table.  His weathered hand clutched a battered tin tankard.  He brought it up to a mouth hidden behind a full, wiry, gray beard.  His cloak told stories of blustery storms and wave-washed travel to distant shores.  The ancient mariner sat alone, the ale his only company.  “What brings agents of the Empire this far north?”

Subsequent edits involve more paper.  I keep at least one piece in front of me as I reread.  The top of the page has the book title and *EDITING*.  The rest of the page is where I scribble questions.  When writing a multi-book series, you need to keep things consistent from book to book.  I make sure names, places, and words I invent are spelled correctly.  If a character has light blue eyes in book 1, that must continue in book 5 (unless it changes via magic or contacts).  I also write down chapter numbers, their page numbers, and chapter title suggestions.
The second edit tackles grammar, sentence structure, consistency, and holey-ness.  Checkmarks on my editing paper indicate answered questions and resolved issues.  The third edit reads for flow.  I will sometimes read transitions and problem dialogue aloud to see how it all sounds.  A fourth edit will check for typos.  Then, I do a fifth edit where I read through the manuscript backwards, fixing typos and other errors.
After my editing process, I send this polished manuscript to my editor.  Who will, inevitably, find things I missed.  When all the editing stages end, the publishing stage begins.  And I write another book.
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Published on September 28, 2016 15:26 • 9 views

August 29, 2016

It may be a month behind schedule, but Hope is almost finished.  Only one major scene to go.  I’ve had the final scene for this book in my head for years.  It taunts me.  However, getting to the end has been the challenge.
I’ve had a few bumps when I started this book in the World In-between Series.  One, I needed a plot that gave a reason for the characters to be “there.”  Two, I needed a place to start.  Three, I had to change the tone to reflect the change in the point of view.
To overcome these, I looked more closely at the story I wove in the previous four books.  The plot came together nicely.  I started at the beginning, of course.  I set up the new point of view and the plot in chapter one.

“Miss Chase?  Are you with us today, Miss Chase?”Tearing her eyes from the wooden ring resembling a flower on her pinky, Hope raised her head to look at her teacher who leaned against the metal desk left over from another decade.“Good,” the teacher said with a patronizing smile.  Mrs. Kurlow always had one of those smiles at the ready.  Being the last class of the day, students’ minds drifted more than usual.  Of course, minds drifted in her classes at any time of the day just to get rid of her drawling voice that carried a smug air.  “I was hoping you would have the answer to the question I asked.”The board behind the teacher gave no indication of the question.  The book sitting on the tiny writing platform that comprised her desk would have no answer.  “Forty-two,” Hope replied.

The change in tone had to reflect the life and mind of a seventeen-year-old girl.  In my daily life, I have no interaction with teenagers.  No nieces, no cousins, not even a neighbor.  However, as it happens, I was once a seventeen-year-old girl.

Staring out the window, Hope watched the streetlamps pass.  She did not want to add terrible rumors to her what-was-going-wrong-in-her-life list.  Something had to go right.  She sighed as Mike turned onto her uncle’s tree-lined street.When he pulled into the driveway, he dared to say, “I don’t think anyone is home.”Hope opened the car door.Getting out of the car, Mike opened the trunk.  Hope snatched her bag from his hand.  Retrieving his coat, he followed her up the sidewalk.  “Hope,” he begged.The stained glass door opened at her touch.  She entered the house, leaving Mike on the porch.  Without saying another word to him, she closed the door.

How do I tap into those feelings of being seventeen?  Seventeen catches one between child and adulthood.  At some point, decisions matter.  They determine a path down which one travels until the next fork.  It all hopefully leads to the answer of the ultimate question: Where do I belong in the world?

“Hope,” said Mike.“Shhh,” she said.  She walked out the grove with Mike on her heels.  “I can’t believe you followed me here, of all places,” she muttered.  “I just want to be left alone.  Why can’t anyone understand that?”

The trivialities experienced at seventeen don’t matter.  As life marches forward, it is easy to forget those days.  You learn what you need and move on to the next lesson.  But if you stay true to the fundamental essence of “who am I?” and “where am I going?” mixed with “ugh school” and “oh my god everything’s so important at this very moment,” the elements you need to make a teenage character flow onto the page.

She held her hand up to quiet him.  Closing her eyes, she waited.  The rustling of underbrush found her ears.  She opened her eyes.  Stepping closer to Mike, she readied her bow under her cloak.  When two men with hard leather body armor emerged, the filtered moonlight shone across the embossed large tree with seven circles.  She lowered her bow.“Tonight’s not a good night to hunt,” said one of the men.  “It’s not safe out here.”“Have you come across anyone else?” asked the other.“No,” Hope answered.“Come with us.  We only have so long to get to safely inside.  The night is ripe for a Griffin.”“Crap,” she said quietly.  With slumped shoulders, she followed with Mike by her side.“Who are they?” he whispered.“Empire Guard,” she replied.  “My whole weekend is ruined.”

All excerpts from Hope (The World In-between, 5), Chapter One: The Ultimate Question
Available winter 2016

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Published on August 29, 2016 15:51 • 3 views

July 30, 2016

I am a lover of all things yummy in my tummy.  Savory and sweet.  The kitchen makeover took longer than expected.  Finally getting fully back into the kitchen, I have been feeding my passion for cooking by trying new foods and recipes.  With this recent heat wave, the air conditioning is on.  That means warming up both me and my kitchen with baking.
Sour Cream Bunt Jewish Coffee CakeLately, I have tried two new cake recipes—a sour cream bunt cake and a Jewish coffee cake.  Instead of using sour cream for both cakes, I used yogurt.  Both turned out scrumptious.  Also, tried a lemon meltaway cookie recipe of which I was not too fond.  Back to the cookie drawing board for something else.
In addition to new finds, I enjoy baking old standards.  One cake that my mom and I have been making since I was very little is Chocolate Pudding Cake.  And, my grandmother used to make this when my mom was a little girl.  This family favorite is simple and delicious.  Chocolate cake essentially floats on a lake of chocolate sauce.  I prefer it plain while my family enjoys it with vanilla ice cream and/or whipped cream.

My first memories of making this cake have a yellow backdrop.  Somewhere, there is a picture of me dancing in front of the painted yellow kitchen cabinets.  Good thing there are no pictures of me climbing into said cabinets and removing all the pots which I made into a drum set.  Wooden spoons are so versatile.
Batter waiting for cocoa sugar sprinkleMom and I would make the batter right in the glass baking pan.  A sugar cocoa mixture gets sprinkled on top of the batter, then boiling water is carefully poured over the whole thing.  When it comes out of the oven, chocolate heaven.  Pouring the hot water
The original recipe somehow got lost, as things do over the years and with multiple moves.  We found new recipes along the way.  Nothing quite tasted the same.  One more recent recipe used self-rising flour, which we never used in the original.  We converted it, but it never tasted quite right.  Over the years, we’ve been adjusting the recipe.  And it’s gotten better.  But, there’s always a but.
Almost done with the water
After another not quite right try, we decided to do a little internet research, again.  For the first time, I found a recipe on Hershey’s website.  Wrote it down and brought it out to the kitchen to give it a try.
First, I compared the ratios of ingredients.  Different.  More cocoa and more butter.  So far, so good.  Then, I began to mix.  The batter looked richer and stirred smoother.  The recipe calls for a 9 inch square pan.  The only available pan was an 8 inch one.  Other than that, I followed it to a T.  Finally, put it in the oven and waited (baking term for washing all the stuff used).
Took it out of the oven and waited again.  The smell…………  Hard to resist a tantalizing, warm chocolate aroma.  However, I did.  I made tea in the meantime. Ready to serve
Buzzer.  Cut and serve.  My first spoonful brought me back to the yellow kitchen in which my mom and little girl me baked.  This recipe is a keeper.  I am going to increase it by two and a half to fit my 11 by 15 inch glass pan.  The more the merrier.
Half GoneThe top has this crisp, crunchy layer reminiscent of brownies.  Then, soft cake.  Finally, a luscious chocolate sauce that could be a cross between a pudding and hot fudge.  It begs to be scraped out of the bowl to the detriment of the ears of others.
Never be ashamed to lick the bowl.  Chocolate on the nose or chin is a testament to how much you enjoyed this chocolaty creation.

Recipe can be found here.

Batter in the bowlI sift my cocoa powder as it tends to clump.  I made the batter in a 3 quart mixing bowl using a rubber spatula.  The sugar and cocoa was mixed in a 1.5 quart bowl with a fork.  Because I baked in an 8 by 8 instead of a 9 by 9, it had to cook a few minutes longer.

When it’s done, the pudding bubbles through the cake and the cake itself dances on the pudding layer.  Since the toothpick method will not work, test for doneness by pressing your finger in the middle of the cake.  It should have a firm springiness. Cocoa sugar mixture
An 8 inch square pan gives 8 servings.  Whatever remains in the pan should be left to cool completely.  Then, cover with plastic wrap and store in the fridge.  It is fantastic cold as well.  You could warm next day individual servings in the microwave, if you so desired.  I never have, so I can’t give you a good time for warming.
Double the recipe for a 9 by 13 inch pan.  Cooking time might increase by about 5 minutes.  Will give 12 decent sized servings.  I usually get 16 servings from the 11 by 15.

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Published on July 30, 2016 08:00 • 10 views

June 15, 2016

Griffin: Artist's Rendition

Epic fantasy has become my sole writing style this year.  My focus: The fifth book of the World In-between Series, Hope.  
Beginning ten years after the end of Whispers (Book 4), the story centers around the magical struggles of Berty’s seventeen-year-old niece.  Since she first crossed the portal ten years ago, Hope straddled two worlds—the mundane modern world and the magical world between the portals.  As a Wood Listener, she struggles to find her place in life.  Unbeknownst to her uncle, her parents, and her innocent friend trailing her, Hope stoles into the other side only to find her place fraught with danger.
For your reading pleasure: a sneak peek of Chapter 2.

Hope climbed the stairs of the quiet outpost.  She figured that not many guards occupied a peacetime outpost, especially one out in the middle of nowhere.  The second door on the left sat open.  She knocked.“Yes?” came from behind a curtain of blond.  The hair hid a face buried in papers.“Lieutenant, I have a question,” Hope began.The blond head snapped to look at her.  Blue eyes studied her.“Obie?” she said quietly.His lips widened into a smile.  “Hope,” he said.  He rose from behind the desk.  “What are you doing here?  It’s so good to see you.”  As he approached, his smiled dampened.  “How…  Why are you here?”“Do you really expect a Griffin tonight?” she asked.His smile disappeared.  “Conditions are prime,” Obie said.  “This outpost gets attacked regularly.  After a while, you learn a lot about knowing when they're going to come.”“Is that why the people in the nearby villages aren’t pounding on your doors for protection?”Obie nodded.  “They’re safer where they are unless they are out in the open like you were.”“Guess there’s no chance for a little rooftop time tonight,” Hope said.Within Obie’s searching blue eyes swam an understanding.  That understanding always gave her comfort.  “I’ll take you up,” he said.“I don’t want to take you away from your work,” she said, gesturing to the papers on his desk.“Nothing that can’t wait,” he answered.  Ushering her out of the room, he closed the door.“I got your letter,” she said as they walked to the staircase.  “Congratulations on becoming Lieutenant.”He smiled again.  “Thanks.”“Your letter said nothing about running an outpost.”They climbed.  “I’m not.  Lieutenant Otho returns tomorrow.  I’m just filling in,” he said.  “You know, they say that this keep predates the Empire.  When the Empire found it abandoned, they made it an outpost.  Ten years ago, they restored it with the other older ones that were still in decent shape.  This is the only one that wasn’t expanded.  Something about the stonework that the Dwarves didn’t want to touch.”“Lieutenant and Historian,” she teased.Laughing, Obie said, “This place…  Most guards don’t stay here long.  I’ve done some research on the keep.  Well, as much as I could while being here.”“How long have you been here?”“Long enough.”  He led her through an opened trap door.  The few guards stationed on the roof barely glanced at them.Rolling treed hills rippled in every direction.  “Wow,” Hope whispered.  She leaned against the keyed stone edge.  A flash of orange caught her eye.  “What’s that?”  She pointed above the trees.  Orange streamed through the distant sky.“Dragon,” Obie answered.  “The border with the Dragonlands lies just over that second hill.”A second Dragon spit fire.  It burned another creature in flight.  “Is that?” she asked.“Griffin!” yelled Obie.  “Sound the alarm!  Barricade!”  He practically pushed Hope down the steps.  “Weapons and positions!”Running, she heard a bell, then slams of wood and metal against stone.  “Hope?” called Mike.“Here,” she answered.Mike ran off the staircase with a sword in his hand.  “I took it from a sword rack downstairs,” he said.Banging echoed throughout the stone structure.  Obie inventoried the relatively empty room in which they and the handful of rooftop guards stood.  “We’re here until it passes,” he said.“What passes?” asked Mike.“Griffin,” Obie said.“A what?”“A combo lion and eagle,” answered Hope.  “Don’t you read?”“This is messed up,” Mike muttered.“Maybe next time, you’ll listen to me,” Hope snapped.Distant splintering carried down the staircase.  “Push that furniture in front of the door,” Obie ordered.  “Get ready.”  He glanced at the sword in Mike’s hand.  “You know how to use that?”“Yes,” said Mike.Claws scraped against stone.  A screechy roar resounded down the staircase.  The guards backed away from the barricaded door, weapons drawn.  Smashes and thuds echoed from the floor above them.  A tapping clicking hit each step on its way down.  The half dozen of them faced the door.The wood door shuddered with rhythmic scratching.  Hope raised her bow with an arrow ready.  Wood cracked.  The furniture slid a little.  Keeping her eyes on the bulging door, Hope dipped her finger into a velvet pouch that hung from her belt.  She smeared a fingertip full of sparkling powder on her tongue.“Did your eyes just darken?” Mike asked in a whisper.  “What is that?”“Fairy Dust.”“Sure,” he mumbled.The door broke.  Pieces of wood slammed into the stone.  The Griffin roared at them.  Its talons thrashed the furniture while its angry, bird-like, yellow eyes glared at each of them.  Sconce light reflected on its magnificent tan feathers.  Its beaked snapped at the closest guard.  Hope released an arrow.  It bounced off the beast.Free of the furniture, the Griffin slashed, meeting shields.  Obie and Mike attacked its other side with their swords, but the blades would not penetrate its hide.“Fight magic with magic,” Hope said.  She tipped an arrow with Fairy Dust.Obie retreated, producing a blue sphere with his hand.  He hurled it at the creature.  The Griffin dodged.  A crater pocked the rock wall.Hope took aim.  She let her arrow fly.  Her eyes returned to their normal shade of brown.  It struck where its feathers morphed to fur.Screeching, the Griffin lunged.  Empire Guards fell like bowling pins.  They scrambled to their feet, clutching whatever weapon was within arm’s reach.Hope hit it again with a Fairy Dusted arrow.The Griffin spread its wings, but they smacked against the low stone ceiling.  Its talons reached, slashing three lines in the air.  The fourth talon hit something or someone or ones.  Hope only heard the contact while she aimed for its exposed belly.Obie threw his sword to another, then brought his wrists together.  “Push it up the steps!” he ordered.  A golden stream of magic erupted from his focused palms.The beast writhed under Obie’s magic.  Its menacing eyes searched for a way out.  Hope fired arrows at its sides, attempting to steer it back to the steps.Obie fell to his knees.  His magic diminished.  He struggled to keep the stream going.Hope sprinkled a pinch of Fairy Dust into Obie’s stream.  The magic sparkled with a rainbow of blues and purples.Turning, the Griffin rushed up the stone steps.Hope followed the creature to the roof.  She raised her bow while it launched off the stone.  Obie placed a hand on her arm, stopping her from firing.  “Let the Dragons take care of it.  Clan Mithra hates Griffins,” he told her.  “Save your arrows.  You only have a few left.”She watched it fly into the night.  Bursts of Dragonfire lit the dark sky as it passed.

Expect Hope later this year.
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Published on June 15, 2016 06:00 • 12 views