Dispatch 9 - Writing Food Descriptions

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

I love food. I should have written Eat, Pray, Love or Chocolat. I still have time, right? Maybe I can pick out a fancy new pen name and write novels about food. Who should I be: Cherry Bouillabaisse, Rosemary Sandwich, or Cinnamon Sweet? That last one kinda sounded like a stripper name. Okay, scratch that idea.

I love to write about food. In my forthcoming steampunk series, I have a couple of nice scenes where I pay close attention to the pleasures of food. I think I write about food because I write at night, usually when I am hungry, and usually when there is absolutely nothing to eat in the house. Hunger inspires writing. I find myself thinking about all the food I wish I had at my fingertips . . . a nice crème brulee with a glossy sugar coating that taps when you break it. Sigh. It feels too trendy to call myself a foodie and too much like an episode of Dr. Phil to call myself a food addict. I appreciate food so I pay attention to food details when I write. Writing about food is fun!

Angeli on Decatur in New Orleans, home of the best pizza I have ever eaten!

For today's dispatch, I offer five tips for writing great food details.

  • Describe the texture. Is it bumpy, smooth, or frothy? We love the frothy texture of a freshly blended banana smoothie. We love the smooth texture of homemade chocolate pudding served in grandma's blue, plastic parfait cups. Don't forget to write in texture.
  • What do you hear? Do we hear the silverware clattering against fine porcelain plates as we sit at long, polished-cherry banquet table? Do we hear the clink of crystal wine goblets? Do we hear the sizzle of meat roasting on a spit or cheap hotdogs frying in scratched teflon pan? What we hear as we dine can impact our overall experience.

  • Describe how it smells. Sometimes a simple scent description like "fresh baked bread" is great, but how does rosemary infused lamb smell when it's cooking? What did that beautiful buttercream wedding cake smell like? What scent is the air filled with when something is fried, baked, sautéed, etc?  

  • Give me a visual.  Does the pizza's cheese pull away with long strings as you lift a slice? Does watery blood seep from the undercooked deer heart? (yuck). Does the overwarm chocolate sweat with beads of sugary oil? Whether or not we want to eat something is often cued by our sense of sight. Don't like escargot? I bet the look has something to do with it (because they do taste good, no matter how ugly they look). Every good chef will tell you that plating is important. You need to mentally plate the food for your reader. Can you come up with a clever metaphor for the colorful shish kabobs being cooked during at a Fourth of July backyard BBQ? Does the dish of dill-infused salmon sprinkled with capers and sided by dainty fingers of asparagus coated lightly in pale-yellow hollandaise sauce also have a pale blue pansy on the plate? Eating is visual!

Plate your writing!

  • Taste is king. It doesn't taste good, how does it really taste? Try to expand your descriptions of taste. Ever eat a bologna sandwich on white bread slathered with too much Miracle Whip? How does it really taste? Gross, sure, but also tangy, slimy, mushy, salty, etc. You might want to say disgusting, but there are other ways to make the point.

Escargot, can you believe it?

Writing about food is a lot of fun. If you really love food, a fun writing exercise might be to describe the best or worst food you've ever eaten. Adding sensory detail to your writing, as described above (notice we touched on taste, touch, sight, smell, and hearing), can be a lot of fun!

Au Petit Paris in Frostburg, MD, home of the BEST food I've ever eaten!

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Zombie Monday Madness; Zombie Trend Decaying?

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Oh zombie, where art thou? 

Is interest in zombies decaying? Have we already hit our zombie peak? According to Google, yes! A quick look at Google trends suggests that zombies and interest in the zombie apocalypse is in decline, having hit its peak in 2012. As a writer who likes to write about the undead, I have one thing to say: yikes! Just a little reflection seems to suggest that Google's all-seeing eye might have discovered the peak on the trend. Dear zombies, is our time together coming to an end?

With the popularity of The Walking Dead and the recent releases of World War Z and Warm Bodies, it seems like zombies are everywhere. But The Walking Dead is now in its fourth season, and while there are a few more undead movies in the making, the zombie fad seems to be going the way of a Season 4 walker: decayed, y'all! It begs a question: will we be sick of zombies by 2015?

If you are an author shopping around a new novel, chances are you have learned that publishers are not looking for anything dystopian (unless, of course, you're the JK Rowling of dystopian). Bummer. If publishers are not buying "end of the world" books, chances are that they - like Google - have already anticipated the end of the trend.

Why so fast, dear zombies, you kings of the shambling horde? After all, vampires hung around for ages; why are the zombies already exiting stage left?

Trends tell us about us. Zombies are little more than lightly veiled metaphors for the mindless deadness many of us feel regarding our daily lives. Pop culture is really great about giving us an outlet for our frustrations.

Remember when Fight Club reminded us that we are all just mindless cogs in a machine, our lives dictated by media as we live in cubical hell dreaming of a new Ikea sofa:

Or in other words:

We have also questioned the very make-up of our reality: "What is real? How do you define real?" In The Matrix, we discovered that the "discomfort" we feel regarding our daily lives stemmed from the reality that what we defined a real was not, in fact, real. Reality was a construct. Well, reality is still a construct. Now we just use zombies instead of Christian/Buddhist/Hero symbols--wrapped in lycra--to talk about it.

Symbols in pop culture reflect underlying social currents. Zombies are representative of our anxious and angstful nature. We have a lot to be anxious about: war, disease, crumbling economy, crumbling interpersonal lives, etc. Zombies tap into all the fears lurking just underneath the surface.  It is curious, then, that the zombie trend is closing. What does that suggest about us, about how we feel about our world?

While it makes me sad that zombies are on their way out . . . particularly because I arrived at the zombie party a bit late . . . it makes me very curious to see what new incarnations we will metaphorically take on. Part of me hopes that maybe we are feeling better about ourselves. Maybe movements like steampunk suggest a resourceful spirit that wants to emerge during this trying time. Or maybe the next big thing is in a file on YOUR laptop. Get to work. 

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SteamU; Susan Beatrice of All Natural Arts, a Steampunk Profile

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Fans of steampunk might have seen images of the steampunk fairy, clockwork bunny, and amazing tinkered pocket watches, but who is the artist behind these creations? Susan Beatrice, a New Jersey artist with a passion for the environment, developed All Natural Arts as a venue for selling her beautiful creations made from recycled, earth-friendly resources. Her amazing sculptures, tinkered designs, and paintings are popular amongst steampunk fans, but this talented sculptor works in many mediums. For today's SteamU lecture, we will profile a fan favorite, Susan (Sue) Beatrice.
My first exposure to Susan Beatrice's work was her Steampunk Fairy. Judging from the comments of her Facebook followers, now more that 14,000, I am not the first to discover the talented artist through fairy magic. This lovely piece is so popular, Beatrice is having the work cast in pewter.
Beatrice's Steampunk Fairy - my favorite!
While Beatrice's work is certainly steampunk, you will see many whimsical inspirations in her work. From carousel horses to mermaids, Beatrice's artwork delights connoisseurs of the mystical.
Beatrice began crafting at an early age, earning a showing of her work at the age of 14. At the age of 18, when most of us are still trying to figure out what we want to be in in life, Beatrice began work as a sculptor for the Franklin Mint. While Beatrice can be contacted for work on commission, email her at AllNaturalArts@aol.com, she has also worked with such high-profile brands as Disney and the Harry Potter franchise. Beatrice's amazing work recently landed her a nomination for the ballot of a Hugo Award.
Beatrice stays true to her "All Natural" brand, working in sand sculpture and pumpkin carving. The artist recently participated in Sand Castle University, lending her magnificent hand to an array of sand-sculpted wonders. Here is an example of her steampunk lion:
Beatrice and other talented sculptors have also participated in pumpkin sculpting at Boo at the Zoo at the Bronx Zoo. You can see more of her work at Pumpkin Sculpt USA. Here is just a sample:
Photo: Here is this weekend's carve for the Boo at the Zoo event at the Bronx Zoo. There's no add-ons on this piece for a change. This was a BIG pumpkin, probably close to 130 lbs or so.
Beatrice is a talented artist with steampunk flare. Fans will truly enjoy and take inspiration from looking over her portfolio. If you are interested in her work, please contact the artist at AllNaturalArts@aol.com.
Isn't she amazing? For homework, please visit her webpage at:
Susan Beatrice's Webpage: All Natural Arts
For extra credit, go like her Facebook page:
Susan Beatrice's on Facebook: All Natural Arts on Facebook
Visit us next Friday for a SteamU lecture by steampunk writer Helena Harker. Don't be late for class!

Class dismissed!


---Professor Karsak

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Dispatch 8 - Inspiring Settings

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Readers of "The Harvesting" might wonder about one of my settings in the novel: the HarpWind Grand Hotel. For today's dispatch, and in honor of the approaching end of summer, I thought I would share my inspiration and give you a vacation destination!

Once, long ago, I thought I wanted to own a bed and breakfast. The idea still sounds nice, but life has evolved beyond that picture now. When I thought about names for my imaginary B&B, I ended up with a short-list: Lavender Fields B&B (on a lavender farm, of course), HarpWind B&B, and Green Earth Apothecary and B&B (herb farm). In cause you haven't guessed by now, I'm kind-of a hippy at heart. The name for the HarpWind was inspired by a pervious journey of the self, but the setting is inspired by a very real place: The Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island

In case you have never heard of Mackinac Island, it is a small island in Lake Huron. Cars are not permitted on the island; you have to travel there by ferry. There is a small community in addition to the Grand Hotel. Here is a short video on the island: Visit Mackinac Island
In my novel, Layla and the others find themselves on a similar island, but in my book, the hotel is the only thing on the island. As well, my hotel is designed very differently. The HarpWind is more like a ski lodge than a stately Grand Hotel. I lived on the Great Lakes most of my life which inspired the setting for both Hamletville and the HarpWind. I always loved the mystery of the "what is on those islands?" in the Great Lakes.
I first learned about the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island via a movie my mother loved titled "Somewhere in Time". The film was adapted from a story by the late Richard Matheson (who wrote Omega Man and I am Legend), the speculative fiction master who died within the last month.
The film is described by our good friends at Wikipedia thus:
  • Christopher Reeve plays Richard Collier, a playwright who becomes smitten by a photograph of a young woman at the Grand Hotel. Through self-hypnosis, he travels back in time to the year 1912 to find love with actress Elise McKenna (portrayed by Seymour). But her manager William Fawcett Robinson (portrayed by Plummer) fears that romance will derail her career and resolves to stop him.
It is romance, time travel, and some light scifi all in one. It really is a beautiful love-story. I loved the idea that the protagonist, Collier, had a moment of odd, time confused, retro-cognition when he comes to the Grand Hotel. Have you ever visited somewhere and felt like you'd been there before?
Here is a HQ ;) version of the trailer from 1980. Gosh, I hope they remake this film!

Inspiration comes from everywhere. In future dispatches, I look forward to sharing with you the many locations, people, and symbols at play in my writing.

For now, its time for a ROAD TRIP!!  Only 3 weeks until the end of summer . . . go to Mackinac Island (but watch out for the vampires!)

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Zombie Monday Madness; The Walking Dead Season 4 Trailer

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Oh. My. Gah!

You're such a tease, AMC, such a tease! A note about spoilers and TWD. I have not read TWD comics nor am I reading any Season 4 spoilers, but I do watch the previews and subscribe to social media outlets that post production photos from TWD. That is the extent of my "spoilery" knowledge on the show.

So, that said, let's all sit back and take in the Comi-Con release of TWD Season 4 trailer.

What can we expect? What did we learn?

A focus on zombies has returned! Walker behavior is changing, and walkers seem more decayed. Why are walkers acting differently? Why are they bunching up? What does it imply? As walkers loose their organic material, will they continue to be reanimated? In Season 1 of TWD, Dr. Jenner explained that walkers are driven by primitive brain instincts. What will happen when that organic material rots? Does Rick and the group just have to wait it out until decomposition runs its course? Does the tree/ground decomposed zombie hint at the future?

We are resupplied with red shirts! While I still think Beth's days have to be numbered, Woodbury has us now awash in red shirts. Hershel says they will loose 12 of their own. No doubt that number has to be taken in context. Is that statement made regarding their situation before or after the "war" with Woodbury? I love the addition of Tyreese, but was not impressed with Karen. Do we have any premonitions for who might go the way of the red shirt during season 4? I worry about Sasha and Beth. From Season 1, only Carol, Daryl, Rick, Glenn, and Carl remain. I somewhat doubt anyone from the core group will be killed off at this point. What do you think?

Romance galore! A wedding in zombieland? By the end of season 3, I was beginning to find the Glenn and Maggie romance distracting--and not in a good way. But as I wait for season 4, I think a little love helps to make the show more realistic. Too much love, however, is bad. I am not pro Daryl and Carol hooking up because I like the tension their confused relationship creates. People are talking furiously about Rick and Michonne. Well, that's a definite improvement from Lori, but Michonne needs to emote a bit more this season to make any romance seem plausible. In any zombie story, its hard to find the right romantic balance. Season 2 showed us it is easy to push the romance envelope too far. Let's see what happens in season 4.

Oh Governor, where art thou? Is the Gov the one letting the walkers into the prison? Does he have a spy on the inside? Morrissey is part of the cast of season 4, but is he now a distraction from or an addition to the overall survival plot? Will he become too much like a comic villain? What role will he take in season 4?

These are just a few of the many questions that come into play as we get our first glimpse at season 4. I look forward to a return of character development over an emphasis on plot device. And I really hope we are done with ghost Lori. Please, please no more ghost Lori.

Waiting for October . . .

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SteamU; The Steampunk University Lecture Series Orientation

Thursday, July 18, 2013


Dear Students,

Welcome to SteamU; The Steampunk University Lecture Series Orientation

What is steampunk? How do we define the movement? Is it a literary movement? As such, is it fantasy, science fiction, Gothic, or historical fiction? Is steampunk a science? Is it an artistic movement or simply aesthetic? Is it necessary to define steampunk?
Over the coming months, this series will feature lectures by steampunk writers, artists, tinkers, and thinkers from every aspect of the steampunk movement. While we consider the nature of steampunk, our goal is not necessarily to develop a definition. Instead, by examining the works of all of the fabulous people active in the steampunk community, we will begin to glean meaning. 
Every Friday this blog will feature a SteamU lecture. Steampunk experts will provide readers with fascinating lectures, interviews, profiles, and features. Writers such as Megan Curd and Helena Harker, artists like Aimee Smith, steampunk organizations like the Indian River Lagoon Steampunk Consortium, and many other fabulous writers, artists, thinkers, and steampunk enthusiasts will put on the professorial robes of SteamU and share their steampunk philosophies and creations.
As we consider the nature of the steampunk movement, perhaps we should not be asking "what is steampunk?" Maybe we should really be asking "why is steampunk?" Steampunk is a movement that continues to gain international interest. Why?

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Dispatch 7 - Writing with Dyslexia

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

I remember how frustrated my mother used to get because I could not spell the word bed. For the life of me, I could not make my hand write the word bed until someone pointed out that it looked like a bed. My poor mother . . . what we didn't know then, and what I wouldn't understand until I went to college, was that the minor inconvenience I experienced every time I read a word, wrote a word, or saw a number . . . backward, with extra letters, replaced by another word, etc. . . . . was something more than just an inconvenience! It was a form of dyslexia.

I'm very lucky. I have no issues with reading speed, comprehension, or fluency. But letter reversal, mirror writing, and adding or omitting letters has always been a part of my reading and writing challenges. In elementary school, I used to be terrified of reading out loud. Oh, how things have changed!

My dyslexia makes for some funny moments when I am teaching (my day job is as an English professor). I might be jabbering away at the board only to notice I have written whole words backward. I usually warn my students ahead of time that I have "issues." By the end of the semester, they usually realize dyslexia is the least of my problems. You should see what happens when my dyslexia kicks in and I am also trying to write a word in French using my rudimentary French language skills . . .edrem, total edrem!

Kate Winslet 37th birthday "Draw Me Like One Of Your French Girls" Internet meme Snape gif

When I am working on my novels, the problem seems exacerbated. If I am tired, focusing too hard on plot (which I just wrote as blot then had to correct it), I make a lot of mistakes.  I have a husband, two kids under the age of 4, a full time job, several writing projects in the air, and then there are the household chores:

So, yeah, I'm always tired . . . so I am always making writing mistakes!

I have a team of very talented people around me who help edit my work. Many times, when they note an error in a manuscript, I can't see it. Sometimes I stare at the screen trying to see what's wrong, but my brain just will not see the problem. I guess that I have written the wrong word or something is misspelled, but I can't make my brain see it! Grr! I am deeply indebted to all the beta readers and editors who have worked on my manuscripts because without them, I simply can't see the drows!

Check out the Kickstarter for Rise of the Drow!

But I don't let this issue bother me. Most of the time, it forces me to focus harder and slow down when I write. Hopefully the extra few minutes I take when I think over a sentence are worth it for the reader . . . wait! rather than reader, I wrote dreamer and had to correct it. Dreamer sounds better. Always write for the dreamer.

Stop back next Wednesday for further dispatches on writing, me, and all things Hamletville!

SteamU lectures start this Friday! Don't miss your first class!

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Zombie Monday Madness; Johnny Depp and the Wendigo

Sunday, July 14, 2013


Creature Feature: The Wendigo

The image of the living dead is prevelant in many cultures, from ancient Slavic to Native American folklore. One creature which may or may not be considered the living dead is the Native American wendigo.

The wendigo, sometimes spelled windigo, is described in a variety of ways. It can be an animal-like creature that hunts humans who wander too deep into the forest or it can be a human being who has become cannibalistic. The wendigo syndrome, generally considered a culture-bound psychosis, has its roots in the northern United States and Canada. Snowed-in during harsh winters, there are some historic records of humans becoming cannibalistic--going wendigo. This notion of a human going wendigo also has a more metaphysical definition. There are some accounts of wendigoism wherein a person is overcome by an dark spirit that cause a human to crave human flesh. That sounds pretty zombie-like to me! In fact, in Vol 1 of  work, "The Harvesting Series," a shape-changer causally mentions to Layla that her kind has finally gone wendigo.
The wendigo has other mythology surrounding it that relates in some regards to the modern incarnations of slenderman. There are many Native American folktales stemming from the Northern tribes wherein a slim man with a tophat or a slim creature is seen sliding in-between trees, watching humans from afar. Creepy. The wendigo has also made appearances in popular fiction from early works by Algeron Blackwood, to Stephen King, to reference in the recent production of "The Lone Ranger."  

Did anyone watch this movie?
Yahoo Movies explains the connection: 
"For Tonto, Cavendish is more than just a villain, he's a powerful evil presence. Tonto believes he is a "Wendigo," which is a cannibalistic demon in some Native American legends that can transform into or possess the body of a human. Tonto tells John Reid that being a Wendigo, Cavendish cannot be killed by normal means. Like other creatures in mythology — werewolves and vampires, for example — the purity of silver can break the evil magic, so Tonto gives the Ranger a single silver bullet. He'll only have one shot at ridding the West of this dangerous, and maybe even supernatural, criminal." Link.

It is fun to think of the wendigo as a werewolf like creature, but one has to wonder if such an interpretation of the original tribal meaning isn't lost in translation.

If you are interested in reading more about the wendigo, follow the below links!

Wendigo at Monsterpedia

"The Wendigo" by Algeron Blackwood  

The 1893 account of a wendigo as told by Teddy Roosevelt (yes, the President): The Wendigo

The Wendigo in Native American legend 

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