3/9/18

Last Wild Dragon




Last Wild Dragon


 

It was impossible.

A dead dragon.

But dragons didn’t just die. Only thread or old age could kill a dragon. When it was time to die, dragons went between.

Besides dragons lived in weyrs, and Telgar weyr was seven days walk from the cliffs of Xadu. From the top of the cliffs, not the bottom.   

Wild dragons simply didn’t exist.

Except this one had.

Kyte had noticed the carrion birds while she gathered herbs for the Hold’s healer who was too frail to venture into the forest. Five massive birds circled a few kliks away. More than one herdbeast had fallen from the cliffs of Xadu where the forest dissolved into a fifty-foot drop. Shrugging on her knapsack, she began walking.

At the edge of the forest, Kyte looked down an arrow nocked on her bow focusing her sight on the still form. The carrion were becoming braver as they hopped toward the massive form. Weyr dragons were purported to be huge, though this dragon seemed smaller than the ones Calon, Lord Holder’s son, had bragged about when he had been chosen as a candidate to impress a dragon. Kyte snorted. At least those newborn dragons had enough instinct to know better than to impress upon him.

The carrion’s voracious appetites would destroy the dragon hide as they attacked the carcass with talons, beak and teeth. Arrow drawn, Kyte ran into the clearing to chase them away, shooting one with her arrow. Quickly nocking another arrow, she let loose volley after volley until the carrion scattered in the wind and her quiver lay empty.

They would return, but not today.

As Kyte picked up the spent arrows she kept a leery eye on the dragon, bemused as the scales changed color as she walked around it. Black, but not black. Green, but not green. Purple, but not purple. Blue, but not blue. Colors changing at will with light and shade, blending into the surroundings.

Hiding in plain sight. 

Its spiked tail curled around its head and body protecting itself as if it slept. Open eyes, once iridescent and full of vitality, were now grey and dull with the film of death. Spanning her hands between its eyes, Kyte whispered a blessing. Sadness at the loss of life drooped her shoulders. Sadness for the desecration she must commit. Dragon hide would fetch a steep price on the black market. Marks, she and her mother desperately needed. Inhaling deeply, she shook off her melancholy.   

A quick glance at the sun confirmed a few scant hours until sunset. The body of the dragon blocked a small cave at the base of the cliff, and would provide shelter for the night, while a fire near the entrance would discourage any curious night creatures.

Three hours later, a fire blazed while she scraped the dragon hide she’d removed. Guilt over violating such a magnificent beast warred with the necessity of removing the hide to prevent it from rotting. She’d worked around the bony spikes riding the dragon’s spine to cut even sheets of hide. Though she had to sharpen her blade numerous times, she harvested over twenty weaver’s lengths of hide. Sprinkling salt over the scrapped raw side of the hide, she placed them back to back. Tomorrow she would build a travois to carry the hide home.

Tossing a thick branch on the fire, she smothered a yawn as she placed her knife on the ground. Wrapping her cloak around her, she curled toward the fire and rested her head on her arm, closing her eyes to allow sleep to claim her.

Terror ripped through her body as Kyte woke, gasping for breath. Her heart pounded so rapidly it felt as if it would explode from her chest. The fire had burned down, but it was the numerous pairs of yellow eyes peering at her from their shadow shapes that triggered her fear.

Wulvines. Pack hunters. The smell of death brought them. Fear rippled through her, though not as intense as it had been when she’d first awoken.

Kyte grabbed a burning log with her left hand and held her knife in her right. “It’s okay. I’ll just scare them away. There’s plenty of dragon for the entire pack to eat.” She didn’t know whether she talked aloud to comfort herself or convince herself she could chase them away.

Yelling and brandishing her weapons, she charged the wulvines. Their yellow eyes winked out as they slunk behind the dragon’s carcass, growling and snapping at each other. Releasing the breath she hadn’t known she’d held, she placed more logs on the fire stoking it into a cheery blaze. There was more than enough wood to last the night. She lay down, trying to sleep, but sleep eluded her.

A rock clattered from the depths of the cave as a curious snuffling echoed. Heart pounding, she held her breath as she listened. She’d searched the cave earlier, but not as thoroughly as she should have done. Knife in hand, she carefully rolled over to peer into the darkness.

Emotions rolled over her. Loneliness. Fear. Hunger . . . intense, creeling hunger.

But they weren’t her emotions.

Whatever was in the cave, it didn’t want to hurt her. “It’s okay. You can come out. I won’t hurt you.” Staring into the cave’s depths, she laid her knife behind her and held out both her hands. “Come on out. I’m a healer’s daughter. I can help you.”

With an awkward gait, the creature wobbled toward her. About the size of a large canine, but not any type of canine she’d ever seen. Green ichor oozed from a cut on its front leg as it limped, wings dragging, toward Kyte until she could touch its muzzle.

A dragon? A baby dragon?

“Now, what am I to do with you?”

Its eyes whirled red, orange and yellow as it tilted its head.

Feed me?
********************************************************************************
    This short fanfic story is an homage to the Dragonriders of Pern by the late, great Anne McCaffrey.
   While it was entered in a Random House contest, there are many more entries much better than mine, I really enjoyed the challenge of writing a new story. Yes, I did use the same character name as all my other stories. To be honest, it's because I suck at naming characters and this one works for me.
    While this story was streamlined to fit the 1000-word limit, I have been thinking about how I can develop a plot to fit this submission. The rusty wheels are starting to churn in my brain.
Maybe, just maybe, I'll come up with another story.
Write on!

 

  

3/8/18

Editing Down versus Editing Up

I learned something new the other day.

Did you know there was such a thing as editing down verses editing up?

Me, neither.

I read an excellent article on Critique Circle called Working with an Editor by John Berkowitz. While his article was focused with the particulars of hiring editorial services, I did take home the value of various types of editing.

Many years ago, I belonged to a critique group. Many of these writers were EDITING UP type of critiquers, focusing on grammar, punctuation and sentence structure, in other words, the minutiae of the story. This type of critiquing worked for this particular group, but the writing I submitted was raw, first draft stuff. Nowhere near ready for this type of critique. They tried to help me, and I tried harder to give them what they needed. Eventually, I left the group. I probably should have left earlier, but everyone was too nice to tell me that we didn't work well together, and I was too obtuse to figure it out on my own.

While this type of critique is beneficial, BUT only at the right time. If you end up deleting 30,000-words because 1) you started at the wrong spot, 2) the plot/characters/story are weak and need serious work and tweaking it simply won't work, or, 3) world-building or structure needs an overhaul, then you have wasted everyone's time and effort.

This type of editing is the last step prior to proofreading before submitting to a publisher (whether self-publishing, searching for an agent, or submitting to a traditional publisher).

On the other hand, I have always known I'm an editing down type of critiquer, though I didn't know this was a thing. I also use this technique to judge writing contest entries. And don't ever ask me to edit for grammar/punctuation, it is NOT my forte.

When I look at someone's writing, I look for flow, big picture items, and the "does this make sense" sort of stuff.

This is also how I approach my own writing.

Recently, I wrote a 1,000-word short fanfic story called "LAST WILD DRAGON", as an homage to the late, great Anne McCaffrey. I'll post it tomorrow.

I look at the big picture flow, then I work on each paragraph, and then individual sentences. I had the added challenge of making this story fit the parameters of a contest:

In 1,000 words or less, write yourself into a scene set in the world of your favorite book!

I think I edited this short about six times, but I still would find weird mistakes, or flow problems. I had one stupid sentence that needed to be in the story, but after tweaking and editing the story so much this sentence didn't fit in the paragraph it had been originally placed.

So I cut it.

Cutting it from the paragraph made the story flow better.

And then, I found a better spot to place the rewritten version of this sentence, not the original sentence as it was written.

Everyone should learn to edit their own work. It's hard. And it doesn't get any easier, but you do learn how to write to engage your reader, to bring them into your world.

Because that is the whole purpose of writing is sharing your story, isn't it?

Write on!




12/15/17

Homemade Caramel Sauce

Another totally easy recipe to make. All it takes are the ingredients and some patience . . . and your family with think you are a GOD.
Yeah, it's that good. 
 

Homemade Caramel Sauce


½ cup water
1 ¼ cup sugar
½ tsp. kosher salt
1 cup heavy cream
1 tsp. vanilla extract

In medium-sized sauce pan, combine water, sugar and salt over medium heat. Stir to dissolve sugar. Slightly increase heat, simmer and swirl mixture until color resembles the color of honey, about 6 minutes. When sugar mixture turns medium amber, add cream and reduce heat to medium-low. Stir constantly until mixture is 225 F on digital candy thermometer, or about 3 minutes. Stir in vanilla extract and transfer to heat safe container.


Tips & Tricks:

·            The hard part of making caramel (or any sugar based candy: brittle, toffee, hard caramels) is waiting for the color to change. . . and as soon as you think you can walk away . . .

                  It. Will. Burn.

·            Ignore the crap about using a wet pastry brush to wash down sides of pan. Which is why I left that part off the instructions.  Just stir or swirl to heat the sugar droplets into mixture again.

·            I placed my first batch of sauce in a candy squirt bottle. It didn’t have a meltdown.

·            With my second batch, I used a Kerr jelly jar with a fresh lid to heat seal. It sealed with a pop when the caramel cooled down enough.

·            It will thicken as it cools.

·            Store it in the fridge for up to a month.

·            It is freaking delish on ice cream, pies, cakes, or a finger. . .  just saying.

 

11/17/17

Foodie Friday -- Pumpkin Streusel Bread

My first Foodie Friday recipe after a long break.
I had some leftover canned pumpkin and needed to find a way to use it. This recipe is the result.
And it was polished off quite quickly!

Enjoy!

Pumpkin Streusel Bread


 

Streusel:

¾ cup chopped walnuts
2 T butter
2-3 T sugar
1 T flour
1 t. cinnamon

Mix well, using fingers to break butter into tiny pieces.


Pumpkin batter:

1 2/3 cup flour
1 ½ cup sugar
1 t. baking soda
¼ t. baking powder
¾ t. salt
½ t. ground cloves
½ t. nutmeg
½ t. cinnamon
2 eggs
½ cup vegetable oil
1 1/3 cup pure pumpkin
½ cup water

Sift dry ingredients together. Add eggs, oil, pumpkin and water. Beat well. Pour ½ of batter into greased and floured* loaf pan, sprinkle with ½ of streusel mixture. Swirl with knife. Add remaining batter and sprinkle remaining streusel on top. Bake at 325 degrees F. for about 1 hour 20 minutes, or until top springs back. Cool on wire rack for 15 minutes. Turn out of pan and cool completely.

Tips and Tricks:

·         I’ve become a HUGE fan of parchment paper, especially since my loaf pans are the “folded” kind, which means you can never get the corners completely clean.

·         Measure parchment and fold neatly so it fits the bottom of the pan. Flatten the corner edges and staple them into shape Repeat for all corners.

·         I did spray a little Pam on the paper, but probably didn’t need to.

·         Feel free to make more streusel. I only had ¾ cup of walnuts, so I had to make due.

·         To deepen the flavor of the streusel use brown sugar—dark brown sugar will give the deepest flavor.

·         Yes, sift the dry ingredients. I have a battery operated sifter, but any type of mesh wire sieve will work. Use a spoon to work the flour mixture through the sieve.

·         If you don’t have all the spices, you could probably make due with McCormick’s pumpkin pie spice. It has ginger and allspice along with the above ingredients.

·         I had to use about ½ cup of pumpkin from a 15 oz. can for a different recipe and this was what I had left. The original recipe called for only 1 cup. If you add more pumpkin (like the entire can) you might want to cut back on the water.

·         I used the convection oven setting for this recipe. I wanted more circulation around the pan due to the longer time in the oven.

·         After removing the bread from the pan, I let it cool for a little longer before removing the parchment paper so the bread could cool completely

 

11/15/17

Afghan

While I have less yarn in my stash (only one blue tub) compared to most crocheters and knitters, it was time to thin out my stash.

READ: save money, but fulfilling the need to keep my hands busy to keep from going crazy.

How does one get a yarn stash?

Well, sometimes it's because you crochet tighter than the gauge for the project resulting in extra yarn. Or the bigger the project the greater the chance of erring on the side of too much yarn, especially when one is trying to keep a particular colored lot number.  Or you calculate 1 1/4 skein of yarn for a particular project, which means you have to buy 2 skeins.

Over time, extra yarn builds up. Luckily, I tend to like certain colors that work well together. Unless I happen to crochet a baby afghan there will not be any pastel colors in my stash. I do have some odd leftover yarns: a red from making a  couple of 'shark' hats, and camo from a baby hat and booties.

Yes, I have made this pattern before. Many times. The dark flower is a deep purple, not black. These gloomy days don't provide adequate lighting to take a picture. I added another row of seven which made 42 squares for this afghan. Finished size 54 x 64 inches.


10/31/17

Foodie Friday Links Active!

I finished linking and verifying all my Foodie Friday recipe links.

Some recipes will appear in two different places. For example, Flemings mac and cheese, appears under Pasta Entrees and Sides. While it is served as a side at the restaurant, we tend to eat it as our main meal. HELLO, HEART ATTACK! Yep, it's that rich . . . and that good.

Or there might be multiple recipes that might seem like a duplicate, but they aren't. For example: Chili.

I really enjoyed linking these recipes because it gave me a chance to remember some forgotten recipes, along with remembering the people and stories that go along with them.

Please flip through the selection and enjoy!

MAG's

10/25/17

Cake Pops 101


The other day I wandered into Starbucks for my freebie coffee and spotted their glass case of food.

Did you know they sell cake pops for $3 each? Or 2 for $5?

Really? Crazy pricing, but people pay.

Selection of my decorated cake pops

Anybody can make cake pops. This was my first time. It isn't hard. Time consuming, yes. Hard, no. All you need are the ingredients and decorating supplies.

Allow at least one day to make the pops. They can keep on the counter for a day or two, or in the fridge for up to 5 days. I sent them with the hubby to work to get them out of the house.

For the cake balls (Walmart):
Boxed cake mix
Tub of icing

Decorating supplies (Michaels) in the candy/cake section:
Styrofoam form (I used a 12-in square form, 2-in deep)
Treat sticks
assorted colors of white melting chocolate (white, black, dk green, red, orange, yellow, neon green, orchid, etc)
sanding sugars (black, orange, white)
candy eyes
candy bones
assorted nonpareils (the wee black and orange balls)
and whatever else strikes your fancy. If you want to bag them individually, then you need small plastic goodie bags and some black and orange curling ribbon to tie around the stick.

How to make a cake pop:
No pictures. Sorry.
I didn't think about blogging until AFTER I finished cleaning up the cake pop mess.

Start with the center of the pop, I opted for chocolate cake and chocolate icing.

Bake the cake according to the directions. I made the 13 X 9 size. Cool. Crumble cake into large bowl. Add icing (start with 1/2 can) and fold until mixture comes together. I used almost the entire icing tub, except for a couple tablespoons. Using a 1 1/4-in. cookie scoop, scoop rounded ball of cake and roll into a ball.

This is where you need to decide if you want to make any shapes other than balls. I made Frankenstein into a rectangle. The tombstone has a rounded top and is fairly flat. I did put ridges in the pumpkins, but it didn't make a difference, though I did make an indent in the top and flattened the ball a little. Make triangles if you want a candy corn, or cone if you want to do a witches hat. Or whatever floats your boat.

Note: do NOT roll the balls too tightly. It will bite you in the butt later when the chocolate-dipped balls dry and crack open. It appears to be random, but prepare to do a little 'doctoring' of the wounded cake balls.

Place balls on parchment lined cookie sheet that can fit into your refrigerator. Repeat until all of cake mixture is used. I ended up with 65 balls. Chill balls.

Time to get your workspace organized.
  1. Pre poke holes in Styrofoam--allow enough space for the wet pops to dry. Place parchment/waxed paper over Styrofoam form to catch drips, and the occasional Oopsie where the cake ball falls off the stick. Use toothpicks to hold paper in place over foam and poke into pre poked holes in foam.
  2. Disposable plastic cups (16-18 oz) to melt chocolate wafers. Fill cup 3/4 full of wafers to equal about 1/2 cup melted chocolate.
  3. Cut large cups in half if you don't have small cups to hold sanding sugars, nonpareils, eyes and bones . . . and whatever else you want to use to decorate.
  4. Waxed paper covering your workspace. Easy clean-up for drips and to set your chocolate dipped cauldrons to dry.
  5. Snack-sized Ziploc baggies to melt chocolate wafers for decorating. Put about 10 wafers in baggie. Melt the chocolate in the microwave about a minute. Squish to make sure wafers are melted. Cut off tiny bit of one bottom corner of baggie. Squeeze to decorate.
  6. Whipping cream--use a tiny bit if chocolate is too thick to dip into. Some of the colored chocolate doesn't melt quite right. If you don't have cream, add a little bit of melted vegetable shortening. Mix well.
Dip tip of treat stick in chocolate--what color depends on your preferences and what you are making. Poke chocolate coated end 2/3 into cake ball. Refrigerate. This will help adhere the cake ball to the stick. Work a couple of balls at a time, leaving the rest in the fridge. Dip cake ball into melted chocolate, completely coating it. Spin between fingers in cup to remove excess chocolate. Turn upright and continue twisting to smooth chocolate. Place in Styrofoam holder to dry. Repeat.

 *The cake pops that look too perfect to be true are made with FONDANT, NOT dipping chocolate.*

Use the plethora of Internet pictures for ideas. Here is what I did:

Mummy--white chocolate base coat. Let dry. Add a neon swathe and place eyes. Dry. Use Ziploc baggie of white chocolate to make bandages. Dry.

Frankenstein--dark green base coat. While wet, dip top into black sanding sugar, add eyes, and jab bones into neck. Dry. Add mouth and eyebrows. Cover cracks with black 'scars'.

Tombstone--White chocolate base. Dry. Dark green for grass. Dry. Black for RIP and add cracks to tombstone.

Jack Skellington/ghosts--White chocolate base. Dry. Black face. Dry.

Pumpkin/Jack-o-Lantern--Orange chocolate base. Sprinkle with orange sanding sugar. Dry. Add dark green chocolate stem and vine AND/OR black Jack-o-lantern expression.

Nonpareils--Dip in desired color. After excess chocolate is removed, add eyes and roll in cup of nonpareils. Dry.

Cauldron--Dark chocolate base. Tap off chocolate (need excess chocolate to form rim of cauldron). Place on waxed paper with stick in air. Dry. Add 'flames'. Red, orange and yellow. Dry. Turn over. Don't worry if the chocolate comes off the cake ball. Blob neon, or purple, or dark green into cauldron. Add eyes, bones, excess bits of colored chocolate (red, yellow, orange, etc), a few nonpareils and a touch of sanding sugar. Dry.

By the end of the day, I was beat and just dipped the last few cake balls into yellow chocolate for a moon effect. After they dried, I drew a bat or a witch riding a broom. I also used the green and orchid chocolate for monsters (the ugly cake balls) and added random eyes. I tried making a Dracula, but it didn't work out, but he tasted good! Oh, and I made a legless spider (I didn't have any licorice legs!) Dipped him in dark chocolate added eyes and rolled him in black sanding sugar.

And there you have it--Cake Pops 101.

Have fun creating!

Margaret