A funny thing happened on Wattpad

I woke up to a ton of Wattpad notifications yesterday.  This was a puzzler, because I hadn’t posted there since last fall, and follow stats there plummet when nothing new goes up.

This caught my eye as soon as I logged into my profile:

9F9E377E-F968-4C58-82EE-8DDC3774340C

21? My big, ungainly mega-book about the past of my Restoration novels is at #21 on a Top 100 list? Sweet! But…it didn’t answer my main question: why now?

That’s where the message in my Wattpad inbox came in. Congrats! it declared, and went on to explain that Downrigger has been chosen as a Featured Book in a new Wattpad program called (wait for it) Featured Books.

For 21 days, Downrigger will be showcased to the Wattpad community at large. And I’m pleased to report a bunch of people are adding it to their lists–some are diving right into reading it.

Well, then. Color me happy, eh?

Edited to add: I’m told I need to provide a link to the book. No problem! Here:

Click here to open Downrigger on Wattpad.

I still don’t know why the book was chosen, but the whole “don’t look a gift horse in the mouth: thing comes into play. I’m delighted it’s getting attention. That’s the reason I put Downrigger out for public consumption after all.  I adore its main characters, and its weird twisty, sprawly plot is a thrill ride.

You might wonder why didn’t I buff it up and sell it, if it’s so good…well. Several answers:

  1. it is not professionally edited, and I’m reluctant to spend the necessary time & money on doing that for books in this series at this time.
  2. it’s much too big for one book but not big enough for two, and that would be another formatting headache I wouldn’t need on top of editing.
  3.  some of its concepts & continuity are outdated and would be hard to fix without rewriting from scratch. Which I’m definitely not interested in doing right now.

Despite all those obstacles, I have a deep-seated need to complete projects. Downrigger’s presence in my unfinished-books queue was a constant distraction and source of creative guilt. It needed a better home than my hard drive, a final destination  I could send it without feeling I should apologize for its unpolished, ungroomed condition.

Thanks to Wattpad, it now has a home. I was happy for that alone. Now it’s being featured?!   I’m grateful, entertained, and all around chuffed that it’s getting some reading love.

And in a total aside, I’m learning that Wattpad community members have the AWESOMEST names for their reading lists.

Thanks, Wattpad. Thank you, readers. May you enjoy reading about Hook, Doug & Misha’s adventures as much as I enjoyed writing about them.

Applesauce & Magic

This is my usual day for posts about my stories, but today I want to talk about apples and real life instead.

My love for apples is no secret, and I love them best as apple sauce, which isn’t quite as boring as it sounds. For one thing,  Real Applesauce tastes nothing like the putrid crap sold commercially.  Properly made, apple sauce tastes like your favorite apple pie melting on your tongue and dissolving into pure happiness. For another thing, there’s more to applesauce than taste for me. There’s memory and meaning.

I make applesauce the way my mother-in-law taught me before she was my mother-in-law. There’s a story about magic in that sentence, one I want to share with the world.

Back then SpouseMom was just my boyfriend’s mom. Even when I didn’t know her well I liked her. She’s a woman who carries around herself an aura of patient, welcoming courtesy, someone whose tolerance and dry sense of humor makes people comfortable even in situations that might be unbearably awkward.

SpouseMom is pretty damned special. I’ve learned many important life lessons from her. Apple sauce was among the first.

I can’t remember why I was at Spouseman’s house on my First Sleepover Visit to his family home. I recall it was during the college years in late summer or early fall.  I was probably stealing extra time away from my own turbulent household in the weeks between camp counseling and back-to-school in South Bend or on a long wekend.  “Boyfriend” was a good excuse to avoid the ever-present stormy atmosphere at home, a trump my parents could not outplay with their usual strong hand of guilt cards.

Anyway,  I was at not-yet Spouseman’s house, and I learned many things from SpouseMom on that visit. I learned it was possible to be a guest in someone’s home and not be nervous about my behavior all the time. I learned it was possible to have guests and not hover over them all the time. I learned that Spouseman had awesome parents.

And one afternoon SpouseMom had just put some kind of easy one-pot thing into the oven without drama or complaint. And then she handed me a saucepan. “Fill it up with apples for the tree out back,” she said. “We’ll have apple sauce with dinner.”

Dinner would be ready in an hour. Now,  I’d made apple sauce with my mother more than once in my life by then. It was a Full Scale Cooking Operation. It was a Major Project. Complicated Equipment was involved. The investment of time, energy, effort and emotion was huge. The results were never entirely satisfactory. It was in a word, stressful.

Just. Make. Applesauce. For supper. It didn’t compute. And yet…

SpouseMom seemed confident, so I rolled with it and dutifully went out to fight for low-hanging fruit with the neighborhood birds, bees, and flies.

The tree was an heirloom variety I’ve immortalized in Heartwood because I fell in love with it that day. Golden Transparents ripen early, sweet and winey, and they’re so tender they bruise from rough handling and brown up at the first touch of air. But oh, the sauce they make, and the hand pies, and…well. Enough about the apples. Onward to the saucing.

I brought in a pan of scaly, bumpy backyard apples, SpouseMom handed over a peeler and picked up one herself and showed me how to peel and quarter the fruit in no time flat.  In five minutes, pish-pash-posh, we had the apples ready to go. Twenty minutes after that, I had my first taste of homemade apple sauce cooked without any bitter aftertaste of stress. It blew my mind.

Lesson learned: kitchens can be places for making family as well as food. They’re where you can try new ideas and share quiet time making things easier by making them together.

I make applesauce all the time now. The big trick is to use apples whose flavors I already like. I like my sauce to  taste like a fresh apple pie without crust that dissolves on the tongue, so Jonathans, Arlettes, and Winesaps are my go-to choices. And I think of SpouseMom with love and gratitude every time.

Here’s the practical side of the magic. Peel/quarter/cut out the seeded centers of a few apples, toss ’em into a stovetop pan, and turn the heat to medium. A splash of water or cider or other tasty liquid in the bottom helps if the apples are a dry variety. Sugar & cinnamon optional. Leave plenty of space above the apples because they bubble up before they collapse into sauce.

Simmer with a lid on until they’re so tender they start to fall apart. How long? That’s the tricky part. It depends on the apple variety. Golden Transparents? Less than 10 minutes. Granny Smiths? I like to live dangerously and turn the hear up to high, or else they take a half hour or more to break down.

Once the apples are steaming and squishy, stir it all up, mash out any major lumps with a potato masher or a spoon, and reduce the heat to low. Simmer another 5-10 minutes or as long as you want to boil off liquid. The natural sugars caramelize so it turns a deeper pinkish brown color. Keep cooking long enough, and you have apple butter spread. True story.

And here are some alternatives to apple sauce I’ve discovered for myself over the years:

(1) bake the prepped apples in a covered dish until they’re as tender as you like. The higher the temp the quicker the baking time. (Spouseman calls this “lazy sauce”) Beware the boilover effect, though. Burned apple on the bottom of the over smells NASTY.

(2) nuke the prepped apples in a covered dish in the microwave for 5-10 minutes . Note: I usually only do this when traveling because I hate the loud hum of the microwave and it only saves ten or twenty minutes. And in winter at home, why not warm the kitchen and make the whole house smell yummy?

Apple sauce isn’t showy, and it doesn’t make much of a spectacle on the table, but to me it will always be just a little bit magical.

 

Happy Author Bubble

TL;DR  The good: someone bought my ebooks as a friendly gesture because they knew me for reasons unrelated to writing. The better: they recommended the books to a second person who bought them too. The BEST: the second person liked the books even more!

Full explanation. It’s long, but I feel bubbly, so I’m sharing backstory and all.

I work the Butterflies & Blooms exhibit at the Chicago Botanic Garden every summer. It’s a volunteer gig done in four-hour shifts, and I’ve hopped from shift to shift over the years as as my library schedule allowed. Since many volunteers have worked the same shift all five years the exhibit’s been open, I’ve gotten to know dozens of fascinating, knowledgeable, helpful, friendly people.

The volunteer pool is a fascinating and inclusive group, mostly retirees from all backgrounds imaginable. Being casual acquaintances who might never otherwise cross social paths, we cover All the Usual Topics during quiet periods between visitor groups. You know the list: what do you do, where do you live, how’s the family, what’s new in your life, etc… Since I’m an author,  writing anecdotes are one of the things I end up sharing.

Few of the others are speculative fiction readers,  but they ask great questions about the nuts and bolts aspects and  are cheerfully supportive in a general way. Their reactions and respect are welcome reminders that the wide world is much bigger and more accepting of independent authors than the pop-culture and publishing pools where I spend most of my time swimming.

One of the volunteers on my new shift last year–let’s call her Butterfly Reader One–was so tickled to learn she knew a published author she grabbed some of my ebooks so she could say she owned them. Despite not being a speculative fiction reader (at all)  she ended up reading and enjoying the Partners books and Flight Plan, then read and loved Extraordinary. This made me giddy, and I was profuse with thanks and gratitude, but  of course I chalked up the praise to politeness and casual friendliness because that’s how I roll.

This year Reader One and I are both on a new shift together, and a few weeks ago I learned that  Reader One mentioned to another volunteer that I wrote books she’d enjoyed. (!) The way I heard this news was the truly glee-making part.  Reader Two approached me to say how much she had enjoyed Extraordinary, and did I have any print books–because she would love to own a signed book.

I restrained myself to merely hopping up and down and clapping, but picture the happy Kermit flailing inside. Yeah. There was flailing.

Of course I shared the news that I have two novels in print form, then issued the disclaimer that they are in a different series. We chatted about the two series and what she liked about Extraordinary (more strictly internal happy-dancing on my part) and she wrote down the titles of the other books in the Rough Passages collection.

I honestly thought it would end there, but this week…well. This week Reader Two brought in the copy of Controlled Descent she purchased, and handed me a pen.

Squeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!

Soon after that I handed out two business cards to two more volunteers who were delighted by the sight of the print book.

Color me happy.