The Cicada Tree

For your entertainment: 20 seconds of the very loud cicada swarm loitering on the crabapple tree in our front yard. They’re definitely swarming right now. Also, enjoy the crabapple tree while you can, it’s mostly dead at this point and we’ll be replacing it soonish. All things must pass, some quickly, like cicadas, and others in a more deliberative fashion, like the crabapple tree. Sorry, that got dark, didn’t it.

— JS

Athena Scalzi

I Went On A Donut Tour In Chicago And It Was As Awesome As It Sounds

Athena ScalziThis past weekend when I visited Chicago, I did all the usual things such as visit the aquarium, go to the top of the Willis Tower, and ride the Navy Pier Centennial Wheel. Though I’ve done these things a few times before, it was still enjoyable. There was one thing, though, that was new to me, and it was amazing. I’m talking about Chicago’s Underground Donut Tour.

What is a donut tour, you may ask. It’s a roughly two mile long walking tour where you get to not only see four of the best donut shops the city has to offer, but try several different donuts along the way! The donuts you receive on the tour are included in the cost of the ticket. You get to try either one or two pre-selected types of donuts per stop on the tour. If it’s one type, you get half the donut, and if it’s two types, you get a quarter of a donut (so it still equals a half after you’ve had both kinds). The guides that led our tour also provided historical, architectural, and donut related fun facts and stories, so that was a bonus.

On the tour I went on, we went to Doughnut Vault, Firecakes Donuts, Stan’s Donuts, and Do-Rite Donuts & Chicken. I had never heard of any of these places before, but after trying one (or more) types of donuts from their establishments, I can see why they’re on the tour.

First up was Doughnut Vault. We were told that they have a different specialty donut every day, and they change the lineup of specialty donuts every week. What I would give to try every flavor! Alas, I must be satisfied with the one flavor we got to try on the tour, which was Chocolate Hazelnut.

This bad boy started off the tour strong! If you like Nutella and Ferroro Rochers, you would love this donut. It was the perfect amount of decadent without being too much. This one was in my top three for sure, I’d even say it was the runner-up for best donut.

After walking for a bit and crossing a bridge along the way, we arrived at Firecakes Donuts, where we were provided with two different types of donuts: Tahitian Vanilla Iced and Churro.

The Tahitian Vanilla Iced was a smidge subtle, but delicious nonetheless. It was like, almost delicate in terms of the vanilla flavor. The Churro on the other hand was a little more meh, but still perfectly enjoyable overall. We were told that Firecakes Donuts also sells ice cream donut sandwiches, so that’s super cool!

Next on the list was Stan’s Donuts. I actually didn’t get any pictures of the two we tried from there because I was busy drinking the bottle of water the guides handed out (that was our second bottle, both bottles we received were included in the ticket cost).

Honestly, I’m not too torn up about not getting pictures of the Stan’s Donuts donuts, because it was my least favorite stop on the tour. We tried a Biscoff Cookie Spread Donut, and a Red Velvet Donut. As much as I love Biscoff Cookies and Biscoff Cookie Spread, the donut was just okay, and the Red Velvet was fine, as well, but nothing special.

The last stop was the real show-stealer. Do-Rite Donuts & Chicken. You wouldn’t think a place that sells chicken sandwiches would have the most incredible buttermilk old-fashioned donut you’ve had in your life, but you’d be wrong, because they absolutely do.

Honestly, they look a little weird, but trust me when I say this donut is a game-changer. This donut was the single best donut I’ve ever had, and I’ve had a lot of donuts in my day. I’ve even tried several kinds from Voodoo Donuts! This old fashioned really takes the cake, and was by far my favorite on the tour.

There was another donut we got to try at this location, but I was so completely donut-ed out that I couldn’t bring myself to eat it, and I don’t even remember what the flavor offered was. Sorry about that! I’m sure it was good, though.

Anyways, the point of this post is not just to make you jealous with photos of incredibly delicious donuts (that’s just a side benefit). The point of this is to recommend the Underground Donut Tour to you! Not only do they do two different tours in Chicago, but in several cities across America as well! You’ve got an Underground Donut Tour in New York City, Boston, Seattle, Portland, and Philadelphia!

I don’t know if all the guides are as awesome as the two from my tour were, but if they are, you’re in for a real treat. The donut tour was one of the most fun things I did in the city, and I’m so glad I gave it a shot. It’s something that’s different and interesting, but won’t break the bank. Tickets are only $30 a person, and kids tickets are even cheaper! They also accommodate to dietary restrictions and allergies! Honestly, what’s not to love?

The next time I’m in Chicago, I’m hoping to get a chance to take their other tour. I did the Downtown one, but they also have a West Loop one, so that’s pretty neat.

Have you ever had donuts from any of these locations before? What did you think? Have you done a donut tour before? What’s your favorite kind of donut? Let me know in the comments, and have a great day!


Big Idea

The Big Idea: Stuart Jaffe

If you want proof that good ideas — indeed, big ideas — can come from anywhere, well, Stuart Jaffe’s got you covered with his tale of how his latest novel, The Water Blade, came into being.


Like most of my books, the Big Idea for The Water Blade (indeed, for the entire trilogy it kicks off) grew out of a small idea. In this case, a joke. A stupid joke, at that.

I was helping my son move across the country from California to North Carolina. Knowing we had several days of driving ahead and that I had agreed to put together a trilogy proposal for Falstaff Books, I thought this was a good time to think through ideas. John Hartness, founder and publisher, wanted a high fantasy/mystery hybrid, so I decided to start with some world-building and finding a good magic system. My son, drawing upon our many years of childish scatological humor, said to me, “You know what you should do — poop magic.” We then spent too much time expanding that idea in all of its ridiculous silliness to our road weary amusement. 

But then my writer brain thought — I wonder if I could actually pull that off.

Obviously, I couldn’t use the word poop. Much too giggle inducing. But when you step out of the silly side of it and think of it as a practical catalyst for some kind of magic, suddenly it becomes dark and disturbing. A bit disgusting. A bit scary.

I could work with that. And I did. I took this one aspect of a people and explored how it bloomed throughout their entire culture. Because that’s what cultures do. One tiny event will ripple through a culture changing big things and small.

In The Water Blade, I created a world with three major countries, each with its own culture, and pitted them against each other. In the western Feral Lands, the Dacci witches use waste matter of all kinds along with bones and teeth to cast their magic. Cultural shifts included an entire religion around what bestows upon them their power to the way a village is shaped (to collect as much waste as possible) to what people wear.

On the eastern coast, a country exists that is having a technological revolution. Guns are replacing swords. Electricity is becoming controllable. Horseless carriages are a reality. Magic is no longer needed. These technologies are shifting the cultural norms, changing the power structure of who is valued and why, as well as bringing pressure on the old religions who can no longer be the sole source of miracles.

Caught in the middle of these two divergent cultures is the Frontier. This land is, on the surface, a typical high fantasy world complete with a King, his knights, and of course, horses. But the pressures from the magic-wielding witches on one side and the growing technological might on the other is fraying away the Frontier’s desire to remain neutral. The kingdom is caught between making alliances and cautioning enemies — never entirely sure which is which and trying not get crushed by the tension.

All of that, of course, could have been nothing more than world-building, but like real-world cultures, these weave throughout the lives of our adventurers. Their actions — big or small — often trigger ripples through the world. And like all books, we see the truth of the idea in our own reality.

When I started writing The Water Blade, nobody had ever heard of COVID. But that small virus has altered everything. And the depths of those changes will be felt for well over a generation. Whether through small things — that wearing masks by some will probably be commonplace for the rest of my life — to much bigger things — the demise/rise of many companies as people shift to online retail and never shift back.

The political fallout is enormous. Worldwide. While there’s a good argument to be made that Trump might have won re-election if COVID never happened, the fact that he lost puts a very different man in the White House. That changes the way the US deals with other countries in the world. And that changes the stability of the world as a whole.

All because of a virus.

Little things grow into big things. And little ideas grow into big ideas.

The Water Blade: Amazon|Barnes & Noble

Visit the author’s website. Follow him on Twitter.

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