Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Enter Siren

Oracle's been getting a lot of love lately, and I've been horrible about sharing the blog posts. And I know you want to read more praise that confirms your good opinion of Oracle while simultaneously supporting the bloggers who have been gracious enough to read it. So I'm going to share a bunch here and make a concerted effort to share the blog posts individually on facebook and twitter over the next week or so. S

"A great first book in a series with some memorable characters.  If you enjoy urban fantasy, give Oracle of Philadelphia a whirl." - Minding Spot

"In Corrigan's hands, [Oracle's premise] makes for some nicely enjoyable reading; the characters are interesting (particularly Bedlam, the demon of Chaos who's every bit as erratic as you might expect), the moral questions intriguing, and the power dynamics involving. It's a shame, then, that the book never comes up with a story that's as interesting as the world it depicts" - Umney's Alley

"This book was wonderful!  I loved Bedlam (seriously, cow tipping??), Gabriel was so nice and Carrie was doing what a girl has to do to get results." - Quilted Reviews

Great story, great characters and a great foundation for this series! Not too dark, or edgy, Oracle of Philadelphia was a pleasant surprise with some great lines, great moments!- Tome Tender

"I was surprised by some of the twists the story took and satisfied by the way it ended." - Sharon Stevenson

"I like when authors think of new ways to tell stories and describe places that we think we already know about. It shows a fun creativity and Corrigan impressed me with how thought out the world she built was." - Pink Fluffy Hearts

Okay, so now that I've let other people brag about me, let's talk about something else. Like, perhaps, what I wanted to talk about today.

Raising Chaos is coming out sometime in the next couple of weeks (eeeeeeee), and when I describe it to people, I say it is about Bedlam. I mean, he's on the cover and everything. But I hate lying, and I'm a compulsive confessor, so I feel the need to say that the book is also about Carrie and a new angel named Siren. Then I want to tell people about Siren, because she is one of my very favorite characters. But I don't want to give away any spoilers for book 2, and I'm actually curious to see what people think of Siren.

But then I realized I could tell (or show) people about Siren without having to say anything more about Chaos. Because one of my spare time hobbies is playing Pathfinder, which is basically open source D&D 3.75, which basically means sometimes I sit around a table with dice and minis and fight monsters with other people. And whenever I play a role-playing game, tabletop or computer, I make a character based on someone from one of my books. And in one of the stories I just joined, I am playing Siren the Inquisitor. Pathfinder Siren doesn't have exactly the same powers as Earthbound Angels Siren, but the two have much in common. And since I just love the way Pathfinder Siren was introduced to the other characters---it's so quintessentially Siren-y---I thought I would share it with you.

Siren is from a region called Mendev, where she works as an Inquisitor to stop evil outsiders from taking over the world. An inquisitor's job is to hunt down enemies of her faith with weapons and spells, and while they can be good, they are rarely nice. Siren and a team of inquisitors had tracked an enemy to a warehouse, and during the combat, someone lit a black candle and summoned demons. Siren and her team were able to defeat the demons, but two members of her team were killed. Had someone asked her, she would have acted like this was a mild annoyance, but inside she was upset. These demon summoners had killed her people, and she was responsible.

Siren tracks the masterminds behind this endeavor to a small visit in the River Kingdoms that may or may not have been a few weeks' journey away. She discovers that the two people she's after are staying at the local inn. She considers persuading the local innkeeper to let her into the room, but then she remembers that she has no diplomatic skills and decides to just scare the woman instead. Yes, the authorities would be called, but a.) she's actually a good guy and b.) she plans to get out of there before anyone shows up anyway. When she gets into the room, she discovers a dead woman on the bed---not the woman she's looking for---from whom growing maggoty demons erupt. Siren kills as many of the maggots as she can, but five of them grow into giant flying demons.

Swearing her head off, Siren runs out the door and slams it shut. Three of the demons fly out the window and attack the rest of the party, who just happen to be approaching the inn at that time. Siren lets one of the demons out with her, and after she has killed it, the other one breaks through the door. So she kills that one too. She looks out the broken window and sees that the local heroes/rules of the kingdom have arrived. Instead of going to meet them, she continues to search the room with the dead body in it. 

At least until the paladin duke of the area comes up to find out what was going on. Siren gives him a barely civil greeting and a cursory explanation of events. He insists she come down to the main room of the inn to discuss the issue with his cohorts, and she reluctantly agrees, on the condition that no one touch the body, because she needs to talk to it (Speak with dead is a useful spell). The party kinds of takes over her mission from there---sometimes excluding her---but she goes along with it because a.) they're doing what she wants and b.) the paladin seems to have a stick up his ass about people following his rules.

The crew gets some information and travels out to a town a ways to the east and finds the lair of the evil demon summoners. Siren gets to use some awesome spells---one where she rants at her enemies and they catch on fire, and one where she screams loud enough to do sonic damage. I can't tell you how the ultimate battle turned out, cuz it got called on account of people were tired and I had a three hour drive home. But I have faith we will save the day. And probably Siren will spend a lot more time hanging out with these people than she intended.

In updated baking news, the salted caramel pretzel brownies were highly disappointing. The recipe recommended 2 Tbsps of brewed coffee and 1 tsp instant espresso coffee granules, and... Hm. It's occurring to me that the problem may have been that I put it way too many coffee granules. I think I got the measures confused. That would explain a lot, because the recipe swore up and down that the brownies would not taste like coffee, and they totally did. 

In retribution, I made chocolate rolo bars, which came out quite delicious and went over very well at work, even though I didn't get a picture until they were almost gone. Actually, now that I look at them, they appear kind of gross. But they were, in fact, delicious. I also made cookie dough cheesecake bars, but though these were extremely delicious, they did not come out well enough to share. The top and bottom layers completely crumbled apart, so I have to eat them over a garbage can or get crumbs everywhere. I've found another recipe for brownie bottom cookie dough cheesecake bars that I'm going to have to try at some point. Cuz the concept is too awesome not to share. But next up are caramel surprise snickerdoodles and raspberry cheesecake brownies. I shall let you know how those go.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Scorched by Mari Mancusi and MOAR BAKING

In the acknowledgements of Scorched, Mari Mancusi thanks her editor, "who shouted 'I want this book!' after only a one-sentence pitch." That pretty much sums up how I felt about it. It helps that I liked the Blood Coven books, but I think even if I hadn't, the description here would have hooked me. Twin brothers travel from a future destroyed by dragons to the present day---one to destroy the first dragon and the girl who bonds with her and one to destroy them. I mean, this story has got it all---dystopic threat without having to see all the misery, dragons (in whom I'm starting to have more interest these days, and the very best kind of love triangle there is.

Overall, Scorched did not disappoint, though I'm feeling like I need to read more books in the series to get a good feel for everything. Which is totally fine by me, says the author who tends to spin stories out into 7 or 8 book sagas. Scorched had a lot of material to cover---how the future became terrible, how both factions came to be, how the boys traveled back in time. And then we had to have the actual plot---Trinity meeting the dragon egg and both boys vying for possession of it. And, of course, we needed to set up both sides of the love triangle in such a way that both boys are attractive but one boy is clearly superior. (I just hope that Mari Mancusi realizes which boy is the proper one.)  We get a good introduction to all of this, and I'm looking forward to seeing what more happens in the next book.

I've baked three things in the past week, two of which I have pictures of. I didn't take a picture of the red velvet Rice Krispy treats, which is a little sad, because it would provide pictorial evidence of what a fail baker I am. The ones in the picture at Lovin' from the Oven are red all the way through, while mine were more speckled. I don't know if it's because I only used 10 oz. of marshmallows instead of 10.5 oz. or because I let it set too much before incorporating the rice krispies in or because my measuring cups run large so that 6 cups of Rice Krispies was too much for my marshmallow goop. Regardless, I did end up with Rice Krispy treats with some red velvet flavor. So I'm calling it a win.

Last week I made some peanut butter caramel shortbread bars---also known as millionaire bars?---and brought them into work. They went over quite well. The shortbread layer was a little bland, but the other two layers were pretty strong, so I think that was okay. They certainly looked pretty. And today I made salted caramel pretzel-topped fudgy brownies. The salted caramel came out kind of liquidy and very salty (I think maybe I shouldn't have used salted butter? But salty isn't necessarily bad), but I think they're good. I haven't gotten to try them yet, because they're supposed to set in the pan overnight. Plus, I don't want to eat them all before I bring them in to share at work. I was disappointed that we were only having half a snow day (especially since I have to work from home anyway), but at least I get to share my goodies.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

How L.J. Smith Has Changed My Life

I'm a few days late writing my blog post this week because I was at Illogicon in Cary, NC, this weekend, but I'm actually glad I did because I heard the most amazing news today that I want to share with everyone and that has inspired me to write a blog post I always knew I would write someday.

My favorite, favorite author in the entire world is L.J. Smith. She's most famous for writing the Vampire Diaries series, on which the television show is based, and her other series include Secret Circle (which also inspired a television series, but we don't talk about that), Dark Visions, Forbidden Games, and Night World (plus or minus some definite articles). I have read all of these books more times than I would be willing to admit in a public setting, if I hadn't lost count a long time ago.

L.J. Smith first published the Vampire Diaries in the early 1990's---yes, she wrote YA PNR before it was even a thing---and after a nearly 20 year break for other series and a long hiatus on writing entirely (more on that later), she came out with a new trilogy of Vampire Diaries books, which met with mixed reviews. She had a number more Vampire Diaries books planned---some I think even written---when her publishing company did the unthinkable: they told her she couldn't write the series anymore. Not only that, they decided to continue the series, written with a different plot by a different author, while still using her name to promote the books. Ms. Smith could not publicly say anything about the publisher's decision, but I can only imagine how soul-crushing the experience must have been for her. I know how appalling it was for me. I actually become quite riled when Amazon or Audible recommends one of the new books to me. "How dare you?" I say. "Even if the works of L.J. Smith were not more important to me than I could put into words, how dare you think I would betray any author by supporting a series that was stolen from her."

But today L.J. Smith made an announcement that I must, once again, describe as amazing. Amazon has a section called Kindle Worlds where anyone can write and sell fanfic set in universes for which Amazon has obtained the licenses. One of these worlds is the Vampire Diaries, which means Ms. Smith can finally publish her continuation---as fanfic. So now those of us who will have nothing to with the non-L.J. Smith-sanctioned Vampire Diaries can have resolution to the extremely dissatisfying ending to Midnight. And we know that Ms. Smith can continue her story, her way.

In light of this, I have decided to take the time to talk about what L.J. Smith's works have meant to me, because there has been no author who has been as influential in my life. I first heard about her works in 9th or 10th grade because my sister and neighbors were reading them, and I was skeptical. Vampires? Witches? That sounded too much like horror, and I hated anything scary. But they loved these books, and I found myself asking all kinds of questions about the stories. So finally I caved and decided to read the Secret Circle, since those sounded the least threatening.

So began my obsession. For the next 2-3 days, I did not put the books down. Any time I had a break even during classes, I had my nose in the pages, and under normal circumstances, I was a straight-laced, straight A student. My sister had told me the entire plot of the book, but that could not hold a candle to the experience of actually reading about Cassie and her club of teenage witches. My friends didn't understand what had happened to me, and I have to confess that even I was surprised by my furor. I don't think I have ever been as obsessed with a book while I was reading it, and I doubt I ever will be again.

I am now 32 years old, and the Secret Circle means as much to me now as it did when I was 16. Last summer, I needed an audiobook for a long car trip, and I wanted to pick something I knew could fascinate me for the entire trip, so I immediately picked the Secret Circle. And as I drove the distance from Richmond to North Carolina and back to Baltimore, I was struck again by how good these books were, how they spoke to something deep inside of me. This inspired me to gift the ebooks to my friend for his birthday. I told him that I would give him my favorite books, and, in exchange, I would read his favorite books. (Which reminds me that I need to finish The Dispossessed by Ursula K. LeGuin. Ordinarily we read similar things, but he trends more toward classics when selecting his very favorites.) And I got to share the worlds of L.J. Smith with one more person, not for the first time in my life, and hopefully not for the last.

I started reading L.J. Smith right around the time the Night World books started coming out, and during that time, I had really bad depression and OCD. High school, overall, was a bad time for me, because I was in desperate need of mental health care, but I didn't know what to do about it. When a new Night World book came out, it was like a brief moment of light in my otherwise dark existence. Every time I went to the bookstore at the mall, I would run to the YA shelf at the back, hoping beyond hope that there would be a new volume. The new stories about Rashel and Hannah and Jez and Keller brought me joy at a time where very little else did. If any of my books can ever do for anyone what L.J. Smith's books did for me then, my writing---really my entire life---will have been worthwhile.

In December 1997, I read Witchlight in one evening and got to the fateful words at the end: "Don't miss the next Night World Strange Fate (Coming in Spring 1998)." At the time this was alarming, because the books had been coming out at two month intervals (which I now realize is a ridiculously progressive schedule, and I am so grateful to Ms. Smith for getting the books out that fast). I didn't think I could wait 3-6 months for the next one. I counted out the $4.23 I expected I would have to spend on the paperback and left it on the corner of my dresser, reserved for the day when it would arrive. 

L.J. Smith fans know where this story is going. Strange Fate didn't come out in Spring 1998, or Summer, or Fall. Now, Winter 2014, Strange Fate still has not come out. It's something I mark to myself at various points in the year---15 Decembers since Witchlight, coming up on 15 springs since the first promised publication date. For years, this made me angry. Where was Strange Fate? I needed this book, and it wasn't there. Amazon has announced a publication date on more than one occasion, even given me cover art and publication dates, only to take them away again.

Then one day a few years ago, I realized something. I have gone through so much since the evening I read Witchlight. I grew up, went to college and graduate school, had 4 jobs. I went through the darkest time in my life and then finally had the courage to seek mental health care and climbed out of that hole, a hole I've fallen into and climbed back out of more than once since then. I've made friends and lost friends, become obsessed with new book series only to grow tired of them, and written books of my own and become an author in my own right. I've gone from being a devout Catholic to an agnostic on my best days. I have changed my opinion on just about everything I ever believed in. But I realized that, in all that time, no matter what happened, never, not for one moment, did I doubt that some day Strange Fate would be released. I still believe it today, and I will believe it until the day I declare the release day a personal holiday and finally hold the book in my hands. 

That is why L.J. Smith is my favorite author in the world. Not just because she wrote amazing stories that are still being reprinted 20 years after their original publication. Not just because her books helped me through the worst time in my life. But because L.J. Smith reminds me every single day that there is a place for faith in this world. And I would wait another 15 years for Strange Fate for that.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Pancakes and Computer Games

Today is a sad day in Elizabeth's baking world because I had my first failed baking attempt. Well, not first ever in my life, but first in my recent baking endeavors. I've been meaning to make sour cream cinnamon roll pancakes since Christmas, and I finally made myself do it today because I bought the sour cream and didn't want it to go bad. I dunno if it was because I had a little too little sour cream---I had to eyeball half a container and wanted to err on the side of less---but the batter was way too thick. I found myself glopping blobs on the griddle, and there was no way I could swirl cinnamon in it. I was going to just throw the glop away, but then it seemed to be baking, so I thought I would grill it and see what happened. The result didn't taste too bad, but it definitely was not the cinnamon swirly goodness in the pictures.

I also made some red velvet oreo brownies, and while they look pretty, they taste kind of soggy. I think I put too much cream in the ganache, but that doesn't explain the brownies. 

But that's not what I want to talk about today. I want to talk about... Well, ordinarily I'd give you a book review, but I don't have a new book, for a couple of reasons. For one, I've mostly been reading my friend Stephen Kozeniewski's hardcore horror novel The Ghoul Archipelago, and I'm not reviewing friends' books on the blog, and for another, I've been making an attempt to read more adult urban fantasy. "I'm an urban fantasy author," I tell myself. "I should read more urban fantasy." Unfortunately, as I read them, at this point in my life, I really want them to be young adult paranormal romances. So the result is that I am uninspired by anything I am reading. So I might just go back to reading YA PNR, with some near future sci-fi mixed in, authorial expectations be damned.

Meanwhile, my writing schedule is in limbo. I really want to get the first book in my new fantasy series ready to query before I buckle down on Earthbound Angels book 3---yes, some of this is just me avoiding EA3---but it's with gamma readers (what I call my third-stage betas). I thought about starting another series that I've been thinking about---a fabulous New Adult Fantasy---but that's taken a left turn in plotting that's made me a little less excited about it. Plus, the actual writing part has always been something of a chore for me.

And then on New Year's Eve, I thought to myself, "Do you know what I want to do? I want to play computer games!" Now, see, I suffer from pretty bad depression, so I often go through phases where I don't want to do anything at all. So when I actively want to do something, I go with it. So I went onto Game Stop and hoped to find something new to appeal to me, which I knew would be a challenge. I basically want all games to be Neverwinter Nights 2, and Dragon Age is just a sorry imitation. But I found Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, and from the reviews, it seemed to be a pretty good game, so I thought I'd give it a go. After the 2.5 hours it took to download.

As the game starts, you are dead. Gnomes drop your body onto a pile of rotting corpses, and you wake up and are basically like, "Wtf??" Which is definitely an interesting start for a game. From there it goes on into an epic adventure where you have to find out about your past and future, aid various factions with their internal struggles, and save the world from rampaging evil fae, all while finding the time to kill all the giant rats in the land.

 A couple of reviews described Reckoning as a single-player WoW, and I would say that's a good description. And since the biggest problem I have with WoW is other people, overall, I enjoy playing it. I've spent countless hours since Tuesday doing so. (Well, not countless. The computer actually keeps track, but I haven't checked in awhile. Probably around 40 at this point? God, if only that were my work week.) I just finished what amounts to Act II at this point---not that it has acts, per se. If I were a technical game reviewer, I would say one of the problems of the game is that it can't decide if it wants to be linear or a sandbox. Which, you know, is fine, because I like a combination of the two, but sometimes I end up doing quests in what seems like the logical order, and I'm fighting low-level monsters and doing a lot of backtracking.

You don't pick a class or anything, just assign ability points to warrior, sorcerer, and/or rogue. Interestingly enough, this is entirely separate from your ability to stealth, and if you decide you want to craft armor, you can make things for all hero types. Which reminds me of a little rant I have. Games know I am a rogue. They can tell because I have put all my points in finesse. And I am the only one playing. So why at the end of quests do they sometimes give me warrior or sorc armor? I want leather! I want daggers (or, in this case, faeblades)! And they know this. So stop giving me the stuff I don't want and can't use!

Some people like to talk about the graphics of a game or the challenge of the combat. Me, I say put it on easy mode and let me plow through the enemies. (And Reckoning gets lots of points for calling their lowest level mode "Casual." So much less judgmental!) What I care about is the story. I want an interactive story experience. I would definitely like to see more main story from Reckoning. I want to know why I am special and important and how I can save the world, and instead I spend a lot of time doing side quests that often don't go anywhere. The story that's there is good, and there are lower tier faction quests that are interesting, but I want MOAR. And I would definitely like it to have more twists. 

I would also like to have funny companions following me around, I may choose to fit the situation. Reckoning does not have this feature, which is disappointing. On the bright side, on the occasions when you do have (not at all funny) NPCs accompanying you on your quest, they have next to no impact on the battle. They neither take nor do much damage, so you don't have to worry about equipping or healing them, and they don't pull enemies or steal kills. So I can live with them. Though I suspect I'm not going to get a romance at all.

I'm trying to decide how much replayability I think Reckoning has. On the one hand, after seeing some of the stuff enemy spellcasters can do, I'd like to give being a sorc a shot. But I don't think I have any impact on the story, so I suspect playing it again would be doing the exact same thing with a different set of skills. So I think it's something I might pick up a year from now and try again. Of course, I'm not sure how much replayability is something I value. Mostly I want to be a neutral good aligned rogue type who talks people out of things as much as possible. So even when I re-play replayable games, I end up doing the same things over and over.

All in all, I'm having lots of fun with Reckoning. And I've found another game called Darksiders, where you get to be the four horsemen of the apocalypse, that looks interesting. So it's possible I have re-opened an age of gaming for myself. Maybe I'll even go back to WoW! Let's hope not, though, because if that happens, I may never write again.