Food. The easiest way to time travel.

I probably haven’t mentioned it much (neglect – oops!) but I do like cooking, and most of all, baking. I also have this strange need to buy cookbooks, and most specifically books where you get a little story with each dish , to satisfy my reading bug.

Something I also love (I love a lot of things), is when you combine history and food. Isn’t it the BEST when you can combine those two? When you get to eat a meal that you know has been around for centuries?   We had one such meal today. It was so ancient, in fact, that the family was a bit reluctant at first, but they ate it, at least. Maybe they felt the connection to the past, too?

The dish is called “Palt” and is a sort of dumpling, stemming from the northern parts of Sweden and made from wheat and barley flour, filled with pork or minced meat, or (as in our case) nothing at all. The dumplings are boiled in water and served with lingonberries and (as in our case) fried bacon.

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The taste is… not very impressive. It’s like a huge lump of pasta, but with a “darker” taste, due to the barley. The thing is, however, that you feel yourself going back in time when you eat it; it’s so… primitive, somehow, and so completely bound to traditions and natural resources. This is a dish that probably existed way before the potato (which came to Sweden during the 18th century), even though nowadays, it’s common to mix the dough with potato as well, probably giving it a bit sweeter and “rounder” taste. You probably eat it the way it has always been eaten, too, with lingonberries (that are easy to come by over here). So awesome!

I’ve touched the subject before, but food is something I try to incorporate in my writing. My characters do eat a lot, and I try to find recipes and dishes that are typical of the period (even though I sometimes fail, as I did in this particular case)(note: this has been corrected in the new edition). Just think about it. Taste is actually one of the senses we can use to understand and connect to old times, just as hearing (for example, if you listen to a hundred year old clock, you will be listening to the exact ticking or chiming, as those who lived a hundred years ago).

 

Tonight, we’re having smoked mackerel for supper. Our own catch, of course. Smoked in our own smoker. Simple and delicious, as it should be. Which is how they’ve always been eating fish in the area where we live.

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Ah yes. Food. A completely safe and convenient time machine.

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First drafts…

shit

There is a vast variety of quotes on writing the first draft, and the above is by far the most prosaic and the least eloquent, but also the truest.

It’s really a new experience for me to be writing new stuff with old characters. And to be writing new stuff, period. I’m more used to editing old stuff – it feels like I’ve been doing that for the last couple of years. So now when I’m writing the sequel to Legacy, currently called Secrecy (I know this will change, but for now, that’s the name), everything about it is a novelty. And everything about it is shit. Truly.

I have spotted a certain logic in my writing process, however, and that’s interesting. First, I seem to be writing the most pivotal scenes in the order they pop up in my head – so basically, I’m jumping around in the story in no particular order (but as the scenes emerge, I know roughly where they need to be in the document, so I place them there immediately). I also seem to be writing down the dialogues first. What I end up with is a sort of skeleton containing all the key scenes and mostly talk, no descriptions. And the writing is really flat, too. Telling, not showing. It’s truly horrible. I’ve also noticed that in this book, the men are pissing a lot. They’re drinking a lot of ale and are always in need of a piss. That makes sense, but perhaps I need to tone it down for a bit.

That said, it’s not all bad, and I love how the story is developing. With any luck, I’ll have the draft ready within soon, and then I can start the editing, which is when the REAL fun starts.

To finish off this post, here’s a little Sunday snippet. Completely unedited, fresh from the press:

“Lyndon, defender of the weak,” he said and leant against Lyndon, butting at him with his shoulder. “If it’s not wounded rabbits or lost kittens, it’s young ladies. Always have been like that, hasn’t it?”

Someone has to protect them from you,” Lyndon said and opened his eyes fully, glaring at him. “And you have no taste, if you can turn what happened into a joke.”

“I’m not.” Charles leant back again and burped. “I’m just as sad that it happened as you are. Wasn’t my fault, you see.”

“Whose fault was it, then?”

“My wife’s.”

Lyndon peered at him, trying to discern what it was Charles was up to. Perhaps it wasn’t strange that he’d approached Lyndon – they were in a cramped space after all, and it had to happen sooner or later – but it sure was strange that Charles was this open. The question was, however, if there was any point in asking him to explain himself. Probably not. And Lyndon didn’t need to, either; not really. One look at his brother revealed that Charles was brimming with rage. Lyndon could see it in the tense jawline, the white edges of his nostrils, the darkness in his eyes. Furious, he thought with a shudder, and moved from Charles as if he was afraid he would catch it.

“You’re not an easy man to live with,” he chose to say.

He got an amused snort from Charles. “I’m easy for those who make it easy,” he said with a shrug, and seemed to relax again. “Treat me well, and I will treat you well. The old Stanford dictum, eh? Should really be put on our family crest – ‘an eye for an eye’.” He laughed. “Come to think about it, it’s not a bad idea at all. We all have these blasted eyes, don’t we? An eye for an eye…” he repeated, with a low chuckle. “Maybe I’ll put it there when the old man dies. Shouldn’t be too long now.”

“That’s really what you’re waiting for, isn’t it?” Lyndon said, with dismay. “Money and power is all you think about.”

“You mean there’s more to life?” said Charles and smiled. “Ah yes – women. But women are mostly a nuisance, better not lose one’s head with them. How is your woman, by the way? How is our lovely Eileen?”

Our lovely Eileen… Charles did that on purpose, and Lyndon clenched his jaws together, and closed his eyes not to have to see his brother’s mocking face.

“She’s dead,” he murmured.

I only have one working week left to go, and then, it’s holiday time for me! If I plan to write? you bet!

Have a lovely Sunday!

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A creative week full of learning

This past week, I’ve learned two things. Or possibly three.

First of all, I’ve learned that when I haven’t been able to write for a while and get a few days off work, I end up a complete hermit who can’t really speak coherently and who will choose those kinds of mundane tasks (when it’s needed) that enables me to cook up new scenes. This is a side of me I don’t like (why can’t I be… normal?) but very well – it’s proof that my creativity is back and flowing. And BOY, have I been writing. I was a bit worried, when it was time to start writing the sequel to Legacy, (called Secrecy) that I wouldn’t have enough fodder to turn it into a whole book. Turns out I had nothing to worry about. Just like with Legacy, new scenes are popping up, one here, one there, in a sort of disjointed, jumbled order, and all I can do is write them down. On a side note, it’s funny how scenes I wrote for Legacy and moved to THIS book because I didn’t have the heart to discard them, actually fit into the story. Needless to say, I hadn’t foreseen that when I wrote them. There is, for example, a scene where Charles gifts Daniel with a pretty knife. The other day, I realised why I’d written the scene, and that the reason was very important to the book. All I had to do was to rewrite it for a bit. How is that done? I have no idea. The brain sure is a mystery sometimes (and author brains are probably damaged…).

Another thing I’ve learned has to do with covers. Maybe. I posted the new cover of Legacy on Facebook and got some interesting reactions. It seems like those who have read the book, mostly prefers the old cover, while potential readers like the new one better – actually just like I predicted in my earlier blog post.  The sad girl does fit the story, and in a way, she’s more representative for the general feeling of the book. But potential readers appear to prefer the more optimistic cover, which is also correct for the story, of course. When choosing covers, maybe one has to look at the reader’s expectations and perceptions? Look at it from the perspective of someone who has no idea what the book will be about?

pyMother's Day

It will be interesting once I have to choose for Moving in with Murder, my upcoming contemporary whodunit. If I get to choose. Maybe not. I got my first rejection the other day, you see. Two weeks ago, I submitted a query to one of the larger agents in the UK. Mostly for fun and to see where how far I was with the story – you can always tell from their responses how your writing is perceived: standard rejections usually means it’s not interesting and that you have to work with it a bit more. Last week, I got a reply back that was surprisingly positive. Rejection, yes, but they mentioned that the manuscript stood out from most others they get. It was half standard, half personal, and a good response this early on in the process, which felt positive.

I’m not very stressed when it comes to this story, however. I’ve ordered a manuscript assessment during the first week of August and haven’t decided on what to do next. I like self-publishing but wouldn’t mind trying the traditional way – but that’s all up to the agents, of course. And I’m not sure I’m willing to put that much effort in this story. It’s supposed to be a fun read, a bit of a Stephanie Plum goes to Midsomer – a counterweight to all these dead serious, bitter and mentally burdened detectives out there. I think it’s commercially legit, but perhaps it’s a bit TOO light. No idea. It will be interesting to see what the editor will say during the assessment.  Could be that it sucks balls, of course… In that case, it’s goodbye and good riddance to this book.

The third thing I’ve learned is that having a good spell-checker / grammar program installed makes SUCH a huge difference. Why didn’t I invest in this before??!! I’m using Grammarly, which picks up mistakes as I’m writing and suggests improvements. Perfect! I used it to go through Legacy for a bit, seeing I had to update it anyway, for the new cover, and I honestly do think it made the text stronger.

This weekend, I’ll write a few more scenes of Secrecy, try to be a bit more social, and start my book about Swedish executioners during the 17th century from a social perspective (come to think about it, I’d fit right in with the Addams family…)

wednesday

 

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I’m back – with some news!

Remember back when I did the A to Z April Challenge, how I said I was going to be a good girl and blog every day?

*insert mad laughter*

Nope.

It didn’t work out. Life – work, family, garden – came in the way. For a while, it was really bad: I didn’t have the time (or energy) to write, which actually (and I’m serious now) not very good for my mental health. I know some people say that writing is like breathing to them – without it, they wouldn’t survive. Personally, I think that’s to exaggerate for a wee bit, because you DO survive. Actually. I know, however, that whereas I’m concerned, if I don’t get to write or do anything of those artsy things that I love, I start to feel very disconnected after a while; rootless. I don’t feel comfortable in my own skin, and my mind gets terribly overactive. So that’s not good. Luckily, the period with no writing (or any other artsy stuff) didn’t last for that long. For the rest of the time, I’ve been rather active (I think I made up for the inactivity…).

So… An update. This is what I’ve been doing (in terms of being artsy):

  • Editing AND completing my contemporary whodunit, currently called Moving in with Murder (I’m not going to recount all the various names this novel has had over the years – and I’m not sure I’m going to keep this one, either…). I will get back to you on this one, but as it is right now, I’m very pleased with how the story developed after my last edit. It’s tighter – I killed a lot of darlings – and hopefully an easy, fun read. I’ll submit it to a few agents, just to see what happens, before I take any decisions on self-publishing.
  • Reading. This was mainly done on a sunbed in Greece (yes, I did get a bit of holiday in between all the work – and it was lovely). I finished The Life I Left Behind by Colette McBeth, which was totally okay. And then, finally, I got to read Dawn French’s According to Yes. And as always, she made me cry. This kind of twisted Mary Poppins / von Trapp family tale (I saw so many fun references to fairy tales all over the place) where the main character is really just playing the part of catalyst for the minor characters really touched a nerve. I love her books!
  • Checking book covers

The last point, I’d like to talk about some more. I love browsing book covers on the Internet. There are so many beautiful, premade covers out there!! For Legacy, when it was time to publishing it, I couldn’t find a good one. It wasn’t until I found Lee Avison’s photo of the sad girl holding her flowers that I finally felt I had something good. The toned-down image really captured the gist of the story. So I bought the license and designed the cover, and I think I did pretty darned well, too!

Covers are a tricky business. They matter. More, I think, than one can imagine. There are so many examples out there of books that have just hideous covers… Diana Gabaldon’s Swedish version of “Lord John and the Private Matter”, for example… If you didn’t know it was a mystery novel, and you didn’t like (or love) Gabaldon’s book – would you pick up this one?

plaga

Especially since it’s translated to “Lord John and the sweet torture of love” (seriously – wtf??).

While the current cover for Legacy is elegant and beautiful, and while I love it to bit, it MAY be just a bit too introvert for some readers, and they may refrain from buying it. Just a theory, and I haven’t really seen it as a problem… but now that it IS a fact that I will lose the license for it, it could be interesting to change approach.

I didn’t have any alternatives until the other day, when I was browsing a cover for Moving in With Murder (for fun!). I came across a cover I actually liked – but for Legacy. Totally unexpected, and at first, I told myself to get over it, but I kept returning to the image and I was pulled to it. This cover is so much different from my current one – this one shows a woman who is looking outwards, her eyes aglow with dreams and visions, radiating hope and pride. Her slender figure makes her fit the image of the main character, Emily. You also see a garden, which can be both symbolic and connected to the story – that’s up to the reader to interpret.

Needless to say, I went ahead and bought the cover. I made sure to change a bit on the wraparound, adding paragraphs and making it look a bit more professional and easy to read. Soon, I don’t know when yet, I will start pulling back the old Legacy from the shelves and introduce this one.

How it looks? Well, here you go….. *drumroll*…..

Legacy_Kindle

As for Moving in with Murder, this one is a tough nut to crack. I have no idea how I want it to look. Is it fun? Should I go for a glossy, quirky look? Or a serious one? This is where the title plays up against the story, and where I feel there is a clash. So…. this one needs to brew for a while. I’ll probably fill you in on this as we go.

Next on my to do list, is to finish my contemporary romance novel. Mainly because it’s such fun to look for covers…

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Z for Zebra #atozchallenge

Z

So… Today we’ve reached the final letter in the alphabet (at least the English one). Z.

I’ve chosen the word Zebra for this. No reason, other than that I ate zebra a couple of weeks ago, and it was just So. Darned. Delicious. Which I, quite frankly, hadn’t expected… and that’s why I chose this word.

Sometimes, it’s fun to do something that you wouldn’t normally do. Be a bit crazy. I’m not saying that eating a zebra is particularly crazy, but it’s not as safe a bet as a sirloin steak. What I’m saying is, that it’s fun to try new things once in a while. And not only fun: it’s necessary. It’s like the book I bought yesterday (yes: I still think you should read it! Read it!!), The Life I Left Behind by Colette McBeth. There, you can find this line, spoken by one of the main characters, Eve, who already at the start of the book is dead – killed – and stuck in limbo with other dead people in the same situation:

Some of the times, we talked about the lives we’d had. There was a game we played, listing our regrets and the things we were grateful for. Mostly it wasn’t the profound stuff you might expect. People started out saying things like I’d have allowed myself to be happier, but when you pinned them down, you found that it was the mundande preoccupations they would change. I wouldn’t, for instance, have agonized for weeks over which shade of white to paint the walls in my flat. White is white, people.

[…] No one, according to my unscientific straw poll, wishes they’d had less fun.

Life isn’t just work and mundane tasks. Life should be about enjoying oneself, and to challenge yourself to new and exciting things. Sometimes, one just has to go for the zebra. But to be honest, it enough to go out and enjoy the feeling of sunshine against the face. Life is wonderful, full stop. And it should be enjoyed, in between all the musts.

With this pretty profound message, it’s time for me announce that I’ve now done my very last post for this April challenge. Yay! I made it! And its been real fun – not only to write the posts, but also the response, and the discovering of new blogs. Lovely!

Thank you for sticking with me, and I hope you will return to my blog in the future!

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Y for You’re welcome #atozchallenge

Still on the road…. Just driving through Oslo. It’s evening, the sky is a steely grey and I have a cup of Starbucks’ Caramel Macchiato (hey – one has to indulge one in awhile) next to me, with my name and a heart on it. Love you too, Starbucks!

The flight from Trondheim to Oslo was delayed. I was annoyed and in need of something to do (waiting for delayed flights is rather tedious), so I headed into the bookstore (English section) and grabbed something that looked interesting. It happened to be ‘The life I left behind’ by Colette McBeth. Now, I’m only a few chapters in, but I know a good story (and writer) when I see it. Forget Gillian Flynn and all this bitter character stuff – this thriller has heart, soothing human insight and a unique voice. 

You’re welcome!

Tomorrow, I’m back home, so I will be able to finish off the Blogging From A to Z April Challenge with a bit more time and thought behind it. And with that, I can ACTUALLY say that I made it. Yay!!!


 

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X for… Xhit #atozchallenge

Almost at the end of the Blogging from A to Z April Challenge, and here I am in the beautiful city of Trondheim, Norway (in my opinion, this area is one of the prettiest in Norway – and it’s also a city I learned about through of one of my absolute fav fantasy series, so it’s always extra great to be here)…. and I don’t have a laptop. So blogging is possible but not fun (I hate writing on my mobile)… and thus we’re in for two days of nonsense posts. Xhit!

Tomorrow, we’ll cover the letter Y. Sane thing there: I’ll be on the road. But I’ll be darned if I won’t make that one too!

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W for Work #atozchallenge

W

Work is what one needs to do both in order to sustain a decent living, and in order to get to where you want to be. I’m no stranger to working hard, but yesterday, it was just TOO much, so I’m really, really tired today.

Been vegging out in front of the TV for a bit, and reading my new book (a true crime story), but now I’m going to bed. So… a short post today, but I’ll be back tomorrow with a longer post for the letter X (always an interesting one). Can you believe it – soon, April is actually over! And I’ve completed the challenge! Woohoo!

G’night, my lovelies!

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V for Villain #atozchallenge

V

Funnily enough, I have yet to meet a writer (myself included) who’s had a problem crafting the villains for their stories. And the readers often respond by loving them, or perhaps rather hate-loving them. This is what one reader had to say about the villain Charles Stanford, in my book Legacy: 

And of course no book is complete without its villain. At first the villain, Charles Stanford, appears fairly one-dimensional, straight up awful. But as we read we find out there is more that lies beneath the surface and perhaps some reasons he’s so awful. Still not an endearing character, but promise of more to come makes me want to know more about what makes him tick.

(currently free on Smashwords, so do swing by and grab a copy to see for yourself)

I actually think that’s the key: it’s not that we readers LOVE these characters, but they fascinates us and we want to know more about them – what made them into who they are?

I wrote a good post about Villains in the blog challenge three years ago (gosh, the years really fly by…) which you can find here. Some of the pics have fallen out due to the shift-over from another blog, but I’ll see if I can rectify that later on. I think that’ll have to do for today – a bit of a trip down memory lane.

Tomorrow we’ve reached the letter W in the Blogging from A to Z April Challenge. Flying through it, people, flying through it!

 

 

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U for Utensils #atozchallenge

U

 

After yesterday’s daily dose of Outlander Season 2, I was tempted to make a post about urine, since healer Claire tasted some while trying to establish what kind of disease a sickly woman was suffering from (diabetes, but unfortunately, it wasn’t very convincing – I saw the late, acute stage of diabetes-1 when my daughter fell ill six years ago, and believe me: it was nothing like that). I decided not to, however.

Instead, I thought about the fact that I have a rather deep obsession with writing utensils. At my work place, the lady who sells me office material knows this, and makes sure she brings samples of pens (my pen collection at the office is rather impressive, if I may say so myself). At home, my husband growls at the piles of notebooks I’ve collected during the years. They are all unused, their pages blank and virginal. They will probably never be used – but that’s okay. I own them. Their mine.

Unfortunately, I seldom use pens and paper for my creative writing anymore. I used to – notebooks and pencils were necessary tools for me back in the days when I had no typewriter or computer. There was something very special about putting my sharpened pencil against the paper, scribbling down all those scenes and thoughts… I had a killer handwriting back then, all neat and exact – and I could write fast, too. But well… that was then. It’s just not for me anymore: for my creative writing, I prefer my laptop.

Writing utensils have always been important to me. At school, nothing was as holy as those days after the summer holidays, when school was about to start again. New pens, in a shiny new pen case; new ruler; erasers that smelled of strawberry and cherry; brand new notebooks… Something to look forward to, for sure.

And I remember when I worked as a waitress in Scotland. I earned £60 per week, which wasn’t all that much (especially considering I was mainly working two-shifts)(but complain and it was the boot, and if there was one thing I didn’t want, it was to be forced back to Sweden, so one had just to suck it up and deal with it). If you wanted something out of the ordinary (like schampo or food, or shoes when the old ones got worn out), you had to plan and prioritize. One of the first things I saved up for, was a Real Pen. A Real Parker Pen. Burgundy and brushed steel, replaceable cartridge with the smoothest ink imaginable… A super pen. It wasn’t hugely expensive, but more so than a normal one. I didn’t regret spending money on it however – with this puppy, I could work in style.

For pens, it’s  not the price that dictates the experience: it’s the overall feeling when you write.  For example, I love the cheap Bic Cristal – great quality, nice to hold (I have very small hands, so the pen needs to be thin) and lovely smooth ink.

For notebooks, however, I’ve found that it’s the opposite:  the more expensive, the better the quality. And it’s not just about the paper quality, but also the design. Who doesn’t love the beautiful, legendary Moleskines or the classy Rhodias? And those babies don’t exactly come cheap. Here’s a nice little online store for buying (or dreaming about) writing utensils, by the way.

And there you have it. After today, there are only a few days left of the Blogging from A to Z April Challenge… And I already know I’m going to miss it… Strange, isn’t it, how quickly you get used to things? In any case, see you again tomorrow, for another post!

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