Friday, July 24, 2015

How to Make Refreshing Elderflower Champagne - without explosions



Our first attempt was elderflower champagne which, strictly speaking, isn’t champagne at all. It hardly has any alcohol, yet it sparkles and is a refreshing spritzy drink even for kids.
Elderberry Champagne:
You’ll need
·       approximately 10 liters of water
·       15 big elderflower clusters
·       ¼ liter wine vinegar
·       2–3 untreated lemons
·       1 kilogram sugar.
Besides these ingredients, you need a big stone or earthenware pot and thick-walled glass bottles, preferably old champagne bottles that can be secured with a cork and wire. Screw tops do blow off under pressure. Wait till you hear that story!

First, go for a walk to cut these elderberry blossoms, fully blown, but not over yet. Boil the water, dissolve the sugar in it and cool down. Wash the untreated lemons in hot water and cut into slices.
Check the elderflower blossoms for little critters and dirt. Use as much as possible from the thick green stems and then put the blooms together with the lemon slices into the stone pot. Add the wine vinegar to the cooled sugar water and pour over the flowers and lemons in the stone pot. Cover with a cloth and leave in a sunny place for 4 days. Stir every day with a wooden spoon.

Pour the liquid into the bottles; filter it through a muslin cloth or very fine sieve. Leave 4 to 5 cm from the surface to the rim.

Seal the bottles and secure the corks! The best place to store them is in a box. Bring to a cool place (like the basement) and leave at least 14 days to mature (bottle fermentation). The champagne sparkles a little already, but at maturity, there's real power, or then again sometimes not.
The development of carbon dioxide differs from year to year. It must depend on the weather or the condition of the blossoms. You can’t predict the amount of CO2 in the bottle.
So be careful when opening the first bottle, unless you want to paint the ceiling anyway. Or even better, open the first bottle in the garden. Elderberry champagne tastes best chilled — a great refreshing drink on hot days.
OK, now to that explosive story. We had started to make out own cider. We poured it into screw-top bottles, laying them on the shelves in out pantry. We waited patiently through the fermentation process until we could have our first degustation (tasting). 
One night, we were woken by a loud banging from downstairs. Terrified, I clung to my husband who was a sound sleeper and had barely heard a sound. There it was again. Another loud bang and Mac was wide awake. “Burglars,” I whispered. He sealed his lips with his finger and grabbed the rifle he stashed behind our wardrobe. “Stay here, I’ll go and have a look”. He made it down the creaky staircase as quietly as he could. My heart almost stopped beating when I heard another gun-shot like noise … and then loud laughter emanating from the kitchen below. “You must come down and see this for yourself!”
“Is it safe?” By now the children were peeking from behind their doors.
Some of the three dozen bottles had decided to explode one after another, creating the racket. The sticky cider was leaking down from the shelves onto the sacks of wheat that were stored underneath. Shards scattered everywhere and the sweet juice also stuck to the floor and windows. “Mind where you step! I’ll get it in the morning.” I said. For weeks to come our home-ground flour had the distinct flavor of apple and cider.
We never used bottle fermentation after that, and wine-making in the following years was never as exciting.


Monday, July 20, 2015

Kickstarter Project by Gary Bloom





What's Red Lance? New heroes for a new generation? A brand new comic book that doesn't have footprints in the early 20th century? New world, new stories and new characters from Olympus Union creator Gary Bloom? I'll take "All of the Above for $1000 Alex!"
Red Lance was initially inspired by the #wheresnatasha campaign, which begged the question: why is Black Widow so left out? That campaign left the Olympus Union creator to wonder what the world would hold for for his year old daughter. Enter Cinderhawk.
Red Lance flowed out of the creation of a single female character, Cinderhawk. 'Hawk would be strong, confident, upbeat and powerful. Based on the personality and actual body type of a friend, this would be a character built as a hero - and not a sex symbol - from the very beginning. It wasn't enough, however; there needed to be level interest between men and women.
Expanding the concept, three other friends were pulled in as hero templates. The real life brother of Cinderhawk's model became the template for her in-story brother, Bricker. A methodical and even-keeled friend became the template for speedster Raceway. Another woman agreed to step in as Stonefish, lending her martial arts background to inspire another strong female character.
The comic now hand a strong super team, but needed a special villain set. One, a brilliant technical mind, would be driven crazy by another, the villain maker. Armed with a psionic push and a desire for fomenting chaos, Vycia literally created Cataclysm from a lonely isolationist. As Red Lance moves forward, we'll see more villains created by the sadistic with, whose sole joy is the pain of others.
The only way that this comic can come into play, however, is with the support of others. Pledging to a Kickstarter will help bring this unique storyline to fruition. Strong female characters without a need for re-imagining ages old heroines. A chase to stop a hellacious villain maker. A brand new take on powers - the Drenals - where powers are finite. Help make Red Lance happen. Go here and donate: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1340355997/red-lance-comic-book-heroes-with-gender-equality

Gary Bloom 

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Blue Writings: Self-Doubt, Self-Reliance, and Sad Inspiration



This, surely, was the greatest test of my writing.

I am not, officially, a depression patient. (The time at the doctor's office where I failed the test doesn't count -- who the hell circles "never" instead of "sometimes" for Do-You-Ever-Feel-Sad questions?) There is no clinical diagnosis attached to my mellow, melancholic nature. No significant presence of tell-tale signs to link my off-days with WebMD-listed symptoms. No daily feelings of worthlessness (since age 19), regular insomnia (unless it's writing-spree-induced), or impaired concentration (well, aside from ADD-esque tendencies). The Thinking Frown is misleading; in general, I am a happy person -- easily pleased, easily awed.

Yet some months ago, as I was finishing my final undergraduate semester, I found myself in an odd place. Some strange little anguish had been seeping its way into my system. Much of it was likely a simple case of Senior-Year Blues -- graduation denial, job search bargaining, the usual stages. But this little anguish had nestled itself in other areas. It had found the guilt-producing sector of the brain and choked out the geek-on-steroids motivation that I'm used to. "Where is your inspiration?" it whispered. "What are you going to write now?"


I had no idea how much of a transition that semester would be. I had a significantly lighter academic load (una clase en espaƱol), and thus a lot, lot more free-time. It was the first time since my sophomore year that I hadn't been in a writing course, with some kind of paper or creative work due every week. As a hardworking student, I thought the transition from deadlines and scary professors to independent writing would be seamless, even welcome. Think how much more time I'll have to write, I thought, and how much more freedom to write what I want. I was foolish to think that. I soon began to realize that, for the first time, I was on my own. I had no threat of a lowered grade, no one to hold me accountable but myself. And oh sweet mother of Faulkner, it sucked.

It's a chicken-and-the-egg scenario, but whether strange little anguish caused it or vice-versa, inspiration was scarce in those days. Who would have thought that those nasty deadlines were actually helping to force the ideas to come? Now the ideas lay low. Ghosts of them flickered by every so often, long enough for me to jot a few words in my notebook, but nothing more. On one blizzard night, I fled the house and discovered pieces of the sky crumbling in white, and thought: I have something now. But returning indoors to my laptop, the resulting strained phrases were disheartening: they were words only, not life, not flame.

This, surely, was the greatest test of my writing. To still feel dependent, to survive a dry spell, to make my writing entirely my own.


When inspiration came at last, it was through somewhat unusual means. An open invitation to students popped up on social media for participation in a small study, involving three days of writing flanked by two in-depth surveys. "Why not?" I thought, wishing to assuage the guilt of being unproductive. I didn't know what to expect, especially after submitting the 20-minute pre-survey of psychoanalytical proportions. The rules were simple: you get one prompt for all three days, then write deeply about it each day for 15-20 minutes. (Diary time. Whoopee.) The evening before Day 1, the prompt came: write about the most upsetting experience in your life.

Oh. Something erupted. Strange little anguish temporarily lost its hold, and glimmers of inspiration were flashing wildly before I was even prepared to write. Oh, I realized, I can do that. The next morning, I got up earlier than usual, grabbed a notebook, and wrote the first day's work. These were handwritten notes, not prettied-up. No delete button, no stopping to look up words in the thesaurus. No limitations except to explore my feelings deeply. When I finished, I hesitantly put down the pen and sat back, looking down in shock at the scrawled notes.

Oh my God. I just wrote something good.

Feeling like I'd stepped off a roller-coaster, I glanced over at the clock, wondering where the time had gone. Oddly, in the rush of energy, I didn't question the possibility of what just occurred. I didn't ask how I was finally able to break the cycle after months of wordlessness. Because somehow, in the settling calm, I knew the answer.

This, surely, is the greatest test of my writing. To write about sadness. 



Inspiration doesn't want to come to me in pretty things, not right now. With strange little anguish in my skull, I could only write by indulging it (in it?), by channeling that despair toward the page. I was forced to dig deep through that despair and find it in past forms -- my age 19 feelings of worthlessness, my writing insomnia miseries, the trenches that carved and twisted me into a sad little person who needed writing (and eventually, into the easily-awed writer I am today). Is it a sorry predicament that pain is the easiest thing to write about? No, not right now. That's what's growing and growling most strongly in me at the moment, so best to feed it while it's here.

This, surely, is the greatest test of my writing. To live with despair a little while. To ride out the storm.



                                


Emma Moser 


Twitter: @em_mo_write
Facebook.com/antiquedwriter
 

Monday, June 29, 2015

Marketing Your Book

The book launch is over! My baby got off to a fantastic start thanks to all who were involved:
16 faithful FB friends promoted my new release.

At the weekend I attended a lecture on "Marketing your book." First up I learned that I should have done this long before my book was even finished. In case you stumble and fumble around as I did, I am recommending strongly to do this when you have plenty of time ahead.


Marketing and communications consultant, RaffaellaMarie Fenn offered a seven step approach to sell more books, and she revealed the details in her presentation, “Marketing Matters—Seven Steps to Getting Your Book into Readers Hands.” In Marketing Matters, Marie presented these practical ideas published authors can put to work immediately. Here's the gist:
·      Learn to write an actionable marketing plan that will increase your chances of book sales.
·      Unearth your own unique “brand” and then use it in every aspect of your book marketing    efforts.
·      Discover audience segments that will help light a fire to your book sales.
 
You may have a wonderful idea for a book, even have written a fantastic manuscript but have you identified your target audience? If you're writing for a niche market, you want to target that in your further marketing and advertising plans. Plan a year ahead where you give talks, readings, signings etc.

Filling in her hand-outs will keep me busy for  awhile. They ask probing questions which I are not entirely clear in my head after the fact of having published several books. If you are like me, you probably stumble along and pick up tips and ideas up along the way.

Here's the opinion of a friend, the inimitable Sam Murphy, author of several self-help books:

As difficult and exhausting as writing can be, nothing compares to the challenges and sheer misery of self publishing. Just the huge numbers of electronic avenues makes this experience quite daunting. (I run into that word quite often). And as many of us have come to realize, it's not just the sheer numbers of Internet sites, it's the TIME you need to spend on them to make yourself credible. That's the REAL killer. I'll spend at minimum, a full day agonizing over THIS composition.
And so we Google: “How do I promote my new book?” Up comes millions of sites with easy sounding names, like “How to Sell a Million Books With One Click of a Button,” or “Make sure you become a member of the following 438 sites you can post on to make you book a bestseller,” and “Here’s a complete list of book bloggers that will review your book and make you wildly successful.”

Of course, The “One Click of a Button” leads you to websites that are impossible to navigate and probably useless, but for the sake of just one sale, for the next day or two, down the rabbit hole you go. The 438 sites? Let’s just politely say that it’s not that they are not interested in your life; they are just interested in theirs a little more. And then there’s the bloggers who will review your books - for only $29.99, but it will take about 3 months, and they have so many restrictions, and they always seem to be yelling at you, but that’s OK because most of them no longer exist or they inform you that they are not accepting new submissions until the Fall of 2015.


So here you are, all excited and duly proud of yourself for having completed something that you devoted weeks, months, even years to and you can't even get your sister to buy one and give it a five star rating on Amazon. You should be having this HUGE celebration with all your friends. Instead, you're fumbling around like a teenager in the back seat of your old man's Chevy, trying to add some kind of Pin to a Board on a site that you REALLY don't care about, and then Googling one inactive “Will review your book for free” site after another.  And it's TWO O'CLOCK IN THE GODDAMN MORNING!

But you've checked your numbers and you're 497,364 in Amazon's Best Seller Rank. So you text and you tweet. You create a fan page. You blog. You Skype. You Pin, and you Tumble. You contact every "friend" you have, and have them contact every “friend” they have, and every “friend” they have, and so on down the line. "Yes," they say, "I'll get me a copy of that new book you just published. I'm gonna read it, review it, and give it a whole passel of stars." Two days later and now you're 798,621. in Amazon's Best Seller Rank.
And so you text and tweet some more looking for support and ideas. But as much advice as you get; you write. I consider myself a writer. Maybe not a very lucid one at the moment, but a writer nonetheless. I have stories inside of me. Having them stay there while I attend to other business only makes them fester and this will ultimately lead to some really bad juju.
By nature I am not a tweeter or a texter, a Pinner, or Tumbler. I don't try to StumbleOnto anything. Don't much care for Skyping, and I secretly hate all of my "friends" on Facebook.
So here I sit, trying to promote my book on one more site, and it's now 3 o'clock in the Goddamn morning. I just keep repeating to myself, "I'm a writer..., this will work..., I'm a writer, this will work..., I'm a writer…"

Siggy Buckley
Sam Murphy
PS. Strangely enough I couldn't find Raffella Marie Fenn on Amazon...