Once Again It Is Time For My Annual Unsolicited Endorsement of WordPress

John Scalzi

And that is because it was around this time, fourteen(!) years ago now, that I switched over to the service to host Whatever. Previous to the switchover I had been beset by issues with the site, stemming from backend hiccups and rough patches that never quite resolved themselves. But once I switched over to WordPress, things have gone swimmingly; the number of times the site’s been down since 2008 can be counted on one hand, and even then it was quickly back up to speed.

This is also where I again recommend that if you are a creator of any sort, but especially a writer, that you maintain your own site, one where people can always find you and where you have control of your content. As the various recent woes of the social media giants have shown us, none of those sites is immune to drama or is going to last forever at the top of the heap, and you will always be the product to them. Have your own site and no matter what happens to them, you’ll always be around. Whatever has been around for 24 years! That’s several generations of social media right there.

I annually recommend WordPress because it’s robust and seamless and easy to use, and because I like it. I have never had cause to regret using the service, and lots of reasons to be glad I do. WordPress doesn’t pay me to recommend it, or hints that an endorsement would be nice, or anything like that. I endorse it because I genuinely think it’s a good service. If you’re thinking of getting your own place on the Internet (and you should!), WordPress is a pretty great place to host it. Here are some of the various packages they offer; see which might work for you.

— JS

Trying More Misaky Tokyo!

Athena ScalziHello, everyone! You might remember back in July, I posted a piece over these edible crystal candies I found, made by a company called Misaky Tokyo.

Back in September, the company reached out to me and said that a few of their recent customers mentioned that they found out about them through my blog post, and they wanted to send me a box of their candy as a thank you for posting about them. So, if you were someone that mentioned my blog post to them, thank you so so much!

I was very excited to receive this offer from them, because not only did I enjoy their Pride Box that I posted about, but I also enjoyed their Wishing Star Box about a month later. I didn’t post about that one because I shared it with two of my friends, but I will say it was super good and had some really great flavors like white peach and black currant, lavender and coconut, and blueberry.

Moving on, they ended up sending me not just one, but two boxes! One was their Tea O’ Clock box, and the other was their new Halloween set, Treat or Treat! Which is funny because I was actually planning to buy the tea set one anyway, so lucky me!

Before we continue, I will say that even though I received these products for free, it will not influence my review over them. I am grateful to have received the items, but being truthful about them is important to me, so this is an honest product review!

In my first post over them, I mentioned how cute the rainbow ribbon was on the box. Turns out all the boxes come with ribbons! The tea one had an aesthetically matching brown ribbon, and the Halloween one had a cute sparkly black one.

Two dark green candy boxes, both with Misaky printed on the front in red letters. The box on the left has a sparkly black ribbon around it, and the one on the right has a light brown ribbon.

I decided to try the Halloween box first, so I set up some props to enhance the spooky vibes.

The candy box, now open, sitting between a zombie bobblehead and a fake human skull. Five pieces of candy sit inside the box. One is a black ghost with white eyes, a hexagonal yellow gem, a red one that looks like rock candy with a black bat on top, a purple coffin, and a hexagonal brown gemstone with orange pieces on top. The flavor card sits between the candies and the lid.

Then I realized you couldn’t really see the flavor card and its descriptions, so I took a closer shot.

All five pieces of candy laid out alongside each of their images on the flavor card. The ghost is all the way on the left, the bat is above it in the center, the aventurine is at the top right of the flavor card, and below that is the coffin in the bottom right, and finally the gardenia crystal is between the ghost and the coffin.

As you can see, the ghost is hazelnut and vanilla, the gardenia is coconut and cinnamon, the coffin is sweet potato and pineapple, the aventurine is pumpkin and apple, and the bat is hibiscus and cranberry.

I thought the ghost was the cutest, so I started with that one. You know when you smell vanilla extract and it smells so dang good, but then tastes horrible? Well, this piece tastes like how vanilla extract should taste, like how it smells. As someone who loves vanilla a lot, this was a great piece to start with. It wasn’t overly sweet, but still conveyed that yummy vanilla flavor, and the eyes were extra crunchy.

I tried the aventurine next, and this one also had extra crunchy pieces on top! So that was nice. As for the flavor, it definitely has that classic fall flavor palette of warm spices and sweet apple. I was pleased with this one, as I generally really enjoy pumpkin flavored things.

Returning to the spooky ones, I gave the bat a try. You can probably tell from its appearance, but it was the crunchiest in the box! It was like biting into a pile of rock candy, so it was super satisfying. I wasn’t sure what to expect with the flavor, as I haven’t had many hibiscus flavored things and I generally don’t love cranberry, but this tasted like a fruit snack! It was sweet and fruity and made me think if they had Gushers for grownups, it’d be this.

The gardenia was next, and it was the thickest, most gummy-filled in the box. Besides being coconut flavored, it also had a layer of shredded coconut covering the bottom of it! I thought that was a great touch, both texturally and in terms of flavor. If you don’t like coconut, this one is not for you, as clearly it is very coconut-y. With coconut flavored things, I usually find the issue of them tasting like sunscreen. However, this one did not have that problem at all!

Finally, the coffin. Though this one was a bit on the thin side gummy-filling wise, it had a ton of crunchy pieces on top, and was the largest in size. This one was probably the least sweet in the box, as it had a mild ube flavor, so it was more subtle. Personally, I really like ube. It’s not usually a flavor I can get unless I eat Japanese sweets from snack boxes, so I’m always happy to have it.

So, there you have it! Each piece was a hit, and the special shapes of ghosts and coffins is a really fun touch. If you’re looking for a festive treat, maybe to serve at a Halloween party, this is a great option!

Of course, there’s also the tea box!

All five pieces of candy laid out on a saucer, arranged in a circular pattern. The saucer has black and gold detailing, and matches a teacup sitting next to it, filled with chai tea, which is dark brown in color. Next to both of those is a small glass hexagonal jar of honey with a yellow ribbon around it. There is also the flavor card laid out underneath the saucer.

I finally had a use for my teacup collection. I realized some of the flavor card got cut off, and the yellow one is a bit out of focus, so again I took a closer shot.

The five candies laid out next to the flavor card in a circular pattern. The matcha is a tear drop shape, dark green in color, with gold flecks on top. The strawberry rooibos is a red, rounded square with dried flowers on top. The thai tea is a yellowish brown rectangle, with a ton of dried yellow flowers on top. The chai tea is a tear drop shape as well, but much wider, like a fat tear drop. It also has gold on top, alongside a helping of crunchy bits. Finally, the earl grey and lavender piece is actually two pieces on top of each other. The bottom one is bluish purple colored and a roundish mound of the crystal candy, while the top piece is a dark brown color and hexagonal, with dried flowers on top.

This set had to be the most visually stunning I’ve seen yet! The gold and dried flowers really amped up the presentation.

Getting right into it, I started with the matcha because I’d already had this piece before in the Pride Box. I remember not liking it that much before, but it was a lot more pleasant this time. It was less bitter, and seemed more balanced. I still think it is very pretty appearance-wise, as it was the most visually pleasing in the Pride Box, but it has some pretty strong competition in this box.

I went counter clockwise through the circle, so the strawberry rooibos was next. I’ve never had rooibos tea, so I can’t speak as to how accurate it is, but it tasted light and fruity. This was another one where it makes me think of a grownup fruit snack, in the way that a charcuterie board is a grownup Lunchable. The dried flowers didn’t add anything flavor-wise, but were a fun addition nonetheless. Overall, I liked this one!

Next was the Thai tea. Y’all know I love some Thai iced tea. I will drink it basically any chance I get, and I love its unique flavor. This candy conveyed that special Thai tea flavor so well! I definitely enjoyed this one, but also had to brush off some of the flowers, as there were a few too many for my liking on top. Not that they tasted bad or anything, it’s just not something I’m used to consuming.

Okay, now for the one I was most excited for! The chai tea. I drink iced chai lattes almost daily, so I was extra stoked for this piece. Also, I think this one just might be my favorite appearance-wise. I am a huge fan of the gold, and I like the wide teardrop shape. Though I liked the flavor, I wouldn’t say it tasted like how I was expecting. It’s not like an iced chai latte, it tastes much more like a traditional cup of chai tea, like the one in the first photo I took, without all the milk and sugar. It was still sweet but more of a spiced flavor than what I’m used to since my chai comes from Starbucks.

Finally, the earl grey and lavender. This was the biggest piece in the box, and I realized it’s because its actually two pieces! The top one is the earl grey, and the bottom is the lavender. I actually had the lavender in the first box I tried as well, and just like before, it was super crunchy and the perfect blend of sweet and floral! Definitely a top contender for me, as I absolutely love lavender. The earl grey was a mild flavor with a nice touch of sweetness, a great compliment piece to the lavender, but the lavender piece was definitely the star here.

All in all another great box!

It’s hard to say which box I liked better, each had some really delicious pieces. And as much as I love the Halloween one for being festive, I also love the tea set one because I adore tea parties and collect teapots and teacups. Having nice treats at tea parties is a must, so definitely consider adding this box to your next one.

I can’t wait to see what set they come out with next!

Which set looks better to you? Which flavor would you have liked to try? Let me know in the comments, and have a great day!

Oh and I replied to some comments on my last post, be sure to check and see if I replied to you!

-AMS

The Big Idea: Jason Denzel

Author Jason Denzel knows the challenge of enticing readers to one book — but what about an entire trilogy. With this Big Idea about the final installment in his Mystic Trilogy, Mystic Skies, Denzel is going to give it a shot… and be sure to check out the book trailer at the end.

JASON DENZEL:

At long last, an ending. 

Trying to convince people to check out your debut novel is hard. Trying to pitch your second book is even harder, especially when it’s the middle child of an unfinished trilogy. So now, with the release of Mystic Skies, the third and final book in the Mystic Trilogy, I’m finally able to discuss the Big Idea for the whole series. 

Namely, that this is a generational saga that spans decades. It explores the long life of a lowborn woman who dares to defy law and tradition in order to unveil a magic inside her heart. The books barrel through her adventures, but they also explore the heartbreak, pain, and devastating challenges that come from living a long life in a world that rarely has your back. The main character, Pomella, is a woman striving to be heard from the very beginning. Gone is her boundless youthful energy from the first book, replaced now in this concluding volume by tempered patience and a desire to care for the few remaining people in her life. 

One of the important ideas throughout all three Mystic books is the idea of lineages. I love exploring the idea of what we leave behind: what’s important to a person? What defines their legacy? If we could go back and change things, would we? 

The first novel begins with Pomella trying to become an apprentice to a master living in a mystical forest. Now, sixty years later, she’s on the other side of that relationship, trying to guide somebody young and special to her through a world that’s betrayed them. Pomella is not blameless when it comes to the world’s darker state. Her actions and decisions from the previous books have had real consequences. Like all of us in life, she has to live with those choices. But unlike us, she has the power to re-experience them and perhaps, just maybe, once more make a change that can benefit people. 

It’s been a long road for Pomella, as it has for me. I’ve written before, in the Big Idea for Mystic Dragon, about how the upheaval of my life influenced the darker tone of the second novel. In this third book, Pomella and I crossed the finish line as weary companions. She helped stabilize me during those difficult times. Her strength was modeled on the persistently valiant women in my life. I’m delighted that we finished her story, and now I invite you to join us and experience the full story together. 


Mystic Skies: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indiebound | Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s site. Follow him on Twitter.

Watch a book trailer:

Beware! Kaiju!

This motley assemblage of very large beasts greeted me at the bar I went to for an aftershow meetup, following the event with me and Andy Weir in Louisville. The bar, appropriately enough, was called Kaiju, and was possibly the hippest bar I’ve gone to in years. Which is admittedly not saying much as I don’t drink and almost never go to bars outside of convention spaces. But even so! Cool place, nice toys, got the t-shirt.

Tonight I am in Lexington, interviewing Neon Yang about their new novel The Genesis of Misery. We’ll be at the Joseph-Beth at 7pm. Please come say hello to us!

— JS

The Big Idea: Brandon Crilly

Look, up in the sky! It’s not a bird, or a plane, it’s… squid gods? Author Brandon Crilly gives us a look inside his newest novel, Catalyst, and what it means to have faith; especially in something you can see.

BRANDON CRILLY:

When I was a kid, I grew up with two very different family branches. My dad’s side: devout Catholic. My mom’s side: Christmas meant presents and turkey. Since my dad was the rebel of his side, I grew up given the choice to decide my faith (or not), leading to a very observational relationship with both religion and spirituality. 

I flirt a bit more with the latter every year, and faith has always fascinated me. Why people believe what they do. The signs people look for. How they explain phenomena when it feels like more than luck or coincidence (something I experience more and more). Where and why people disagree on matters of faith. 

On Aelda, where Catalyst takes place, both religion and belief are complicated by the gods coasting across the sky at some point every week. Aelda was about to burst open at its core until the Aspects arrived (that would be the giant squids on the cover!) and encased the world in an atmospheric bubble so that life could go on. The Fracture and Salvation, most people call it centuries later, and that’s about the only thing people can agree on. I love epic fantasy that features gods, like Erikson’s Malazan Book of the Fallen or Hanrahan’s Black Iron Legacy, but I knew I didn’t want gods that occupy specific roles in a pantheon where everyone knows who they are, what they represent, and which ones you can trust or not.

Early in my worldbuilding, I envisioned the Aspects as four parts of a separate whole, working in tandem like a collective. Presence. Hidden. Vital. Catalyst. Though they connect telepathically to people on the ground, offering a sliver of their power to a select few, there’s never a real conversation – more an exchange of feelings and impressions. Which meant thinking carefully about how that would affect belief systems and organized religion over time, and a lot of fun coming up with different interpretations of what the Aspects embody, based on geographic location, culture, history and more. Someone might pray to the Presence as Passage for a safe journey via windship; or maybe they believe the Catalyst as Protector is more responsible for that. I’ve got a chart dotted with interpretations that never get mentioned in the book, simply from having fun tweaking meanings to be just different enough that it would make sense for some group to be worshipping them somewhere. 

Dreaming up interpretations for your squid gods is a blast, but I also needed ground rules and structure for Aelda’s religion(s). One of the reasons I lean more spiritual than religious is because the “organized” part of religion never connected with me, so I also had to be very conscious of my bias when building what essentially became a theocracy – or maybe more akin to Europe pre-Reformation, where rulers ran their realms but still listened when the Pope spoke. Aelda’s Highest Voices operate on a pretty simple principle: when the gods are literally responsible for holding your world together, it’s best not to accidentally insult them. Not every interpretation can be sanctioned, then, and the Highest Voices wouldn’t see that as repression, but as pragmatism for the good of humanity’s continued survival. I’m sure you’re already thinking how that conceit is ripe for various kinds of conflict, since naturally people are still going to question the higher powers and want to practice their own interpretations, trusting that the Aspects are too benevolent to let the world finish exploding because no one can agree on what They think.

I tend to deepen my worldbuilding after coming up with my core characters, and luckily (or tactically – thanks, subconscious!) their goals and motivations dovetailed nicely with this theocratic world of orbital gods and interpretive religion. My shifting relationship with elements of faith shows up in different places, whether it’s people grappling with their spirituality, or questioning the status quo, or debating beliefs and interpretations. Much like how every Catholic has a different perspective on God, I wanted my characters to all have different perspectives on both the Aspects and the Highest Voices, either based on their personal experiences with either or the political and social circumstances where they live. 

But the final piece I needed for myself was to not make Catalyst a heavy book. I’m a hopepunk author at heart, and part of that is deliberately injecting fun throughout, sometimes when characters poke at each other about matters of faith. People looking up at an Aspect passing overhead and thinking, Can’t you just be straightforward with us, for once? Maybe? Please?

Naturally, no one expects the Aspects to answer. But even if they did, I wouldn’t count on it making things easier…


Catalyst: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indiebound | Kobo

Visit the author’s website. Follow them on Twitter

Hey, Ohioans: Today is the Last Day to Register to Vote (for the Nov. 8 election)

If you live in Ohio, are a US citizen and are over 18, you should register to vote. And if you are registered to vote, you should check your registration status to make sure that indeed you are still registered to vote, and if not, to re-register. Fortunately you can do both online here: https://olvr.ohiosos.gov/

Get it done, this is a preeeety important election, folks.

If you’re not in Ohio, but are a US citizen, you should also register to vote/check your registration. Here’s a link to do that: https://www.usa.gov/register-to-vote

Vote, folks. There are other things you can do, too, but voting surely is one of the most important ones.

— JS

I Finally Tried Crumbl Cookies

That’s right, you heard it here first! I finally got a chance to try Crumbl Cookies! If you haven’t heard of them, they’re a pretty popular cookie company that comes out with new specialty flavors weekly.

I’ve been watching @gofredo15 do weekly Crumbl cookie reviews for a while now, and this last box he reviewed looked so incredibly banger, I knew I had to try it for myself.

@gofredo15

⭐️RATE THAT FOOD: CRUMBL COOKIE EDITION🍪#crumbl #cookie #crumblcookies #crumblcookiespoilers #crumbltiktok #crumblreview #crumbltasteweekly #foodtok #crumblcookiesoftheweek

♬ original sound – FREDO

Thankfully, I’m in Minneapolis this weekend, so I didn’t have to try too hard to find one near me! When I got there, there was a line out the door.

A line of about six people standing out front of the Crumbl Cookies building. The line goes all the way back to the parking lot.

I should’ve dressed warmer because it was like 47 degrees and I was totally chilled when I finally got inside. Upon walking in, there are tablets along the wall where you can place your order. They even have chip readers so you can pay with your credit card without even interacting with a person.

The inside is super minimalistic, there’s basically nothing except the wall of tablets and the bakery:

A shot of the packaging station. There's stacks of pink boxes on a counter to put the cookie orders into. The walls are white and it is drab other than the pastel pink boxes.

And this logo on the pink walls:

A simplistic black outline logo of a little face wearing a chef's hat. The wall is painted a pastel pink.

Obviously I had to try all six of their flavors this week, so I got the half dozen box. It was about 4 dollars a cookie. Here’s their cute little box:

A Crumbl Cookie box. It is pastel pink with black words all over the front, reading

And now, the moment of truth:

All six Crumbl cookies sitting neatly in their box.

Athena ScalziHoly smackers, those look soo good. And they’re way bigger than I thought they were going to be. The mildly expensive price started to make a little more sense when I saw how much bang you were getting for your buck.

I couldn’t wait to try them all, so I cut a sliver off each one and got to work.

I started with the top left, the Pumpkin Roll. It’s described on their site as a pumpkin cookie topped with a swirl of vanilla cream cheese frosting. I had a feel this one was going to be good, but I was not prepared for how wildly good this thing actually was. It tasted like the single greatest slice of pumpkin pie I’d ever had, with extra sweet creamy goodness from the frosting. It was cinnamon-y, soft, and overall totally delicious. I give this one a 9.5/10, and the only reason I took half a point off is because the cookie texture is actually more like a soft cake and less like an actual cookie. Still tasted great, though.

Moving on, I gave the peanut butter M&M one a try. I can’t remember the last time in my life I had an M&M cookie, but I definitely have never tried a peanut butter M&M one. This one was just okay to me, but I’m biased because peanut butter doesn’t taste that good to me anymore. I used to seriously love peanut butter, so much so I could eat it with a spoon, but COVID changed that for me, and I haven’t totally recovered from that aspect of it. So while peanut butter doesn’t taste absolutely horrible like it initially did after getting sick, it’s still not very good to me. So I can only rate this one a 6/10, but if you’re a peanut butter lover I’m sure you’ll really like it.

Next, I tried the Aggie Blue Mint. Personally, I love mint sweets like Junior Mints and Andes Mints, and mint ice cream, so this cookie was totally banging. The mint frosting on top is actually a buttercream, so it’s extra rich and delicious. The cookie itself had chunks of what looked and tasted like Oreo pieces throughout, and overall was a wonderfully chewy cookie. This one was a 10/10 for me. It is supremely minty, so if you don’t like mint, don’t go for this one.

Following that, I tried their Milk Chocolate Chip cookie, the one classic that they apparently never swap out. It’s hard to go wrong with a chocolate chip cookie, and this one is definitely above average. It was dense and chewy, and the chocolate chips were pretty sizeable. The fact that they used milk chocolate chips instead of something like semi-sweet is really interesting to me, and also quite tasty. This is an 8.5/10 for me, as it’s pretty good, but I make better.

The Pink Sugar was calling my name, so I tried that one next. It was super good, but I couldn’t place what the flavor was. I wasn’t sure if just the frosting was flavored, or if the cookie was, too. I thought about it for a while and still couldn’t really say what the flavor of the frosting was, so I looked it up on their website. It’s a vanilla sugar cookie with almond frosting. Apparently it’s a new recipe in which they now use real almond extract! I’m a big fan of vanilla and of almond flavored things (and pink things), so this one was a 9/10 for me. It was almost a little too sweet.

Finally, the most eye-catching, the Caramel Apple. A cinnamon apple cookie with caramel cream cheese frosting, apple pieces, caramel drizzle, and topped with homemade streusel. They say save the best for last and that’s exactly what ended up happening here because wow. The Caramel Apple cookie was so unbelievably good. I thought the apple pieces on top seemed like a weird thing to put on a cookie, but it was actually a genius combination. The acidity from the tart juice of the Granny Smith cut through the rich cream cheese frosting beautifully, and added some great contrasting texture along with the streusel. This one was my favorite in the box, both in presentation and in flavor, and was a totally off the charts 11/10.

I’m so glad I finally got to try Crumbl, and I will definitely be trying them again in the future. I’m hoping they have some really neat holiday flavors coming up.

Which cookie looks the best to you? Are you an anti-mint sweets kind of person? Let me know in the comments, and have a great day!

-AMS

View From a Hotel Window 10/7/22: NYC

And I look to have parked myself (get it) across from the single largest parking lot on the entire island of Manhattan. Go, me!

I am town for New York Comic Con, and you can see me today at 1pm, as I do a signing at the Tor booth (#3027, if memory serves), and then on Sunday at 3:45, as I do a panel called “The Future is Not Unwritten” with Neon Yang, Jennifer Marie Brissett and Tochi Onyebuchi. That’s a terrific lineup. See you folks there!

— JS

The Big Idea: Nicole Dieker

Author Nicole Dieker couldn’t solve a mystery in her own life, so she tried to solve one in her newest novel, Ode to Murder. And as her big idea explains, there were plot twists in store for her as she made the attempt.

NICOLE DIEKER:

When I began drafting Ode to Murder, I had just two words in mind:

Stuckness vs. possibility.

Yes, I know that the abbreviation counts as a third word. 

I also know that “stuckness” isn’t a very good word — but I couldn’t come up with a better one. 

That’s what happens when a person gets stuck, days-weeks-months coagulating into continuous viscosity — and it’s important to note that stuck doesn’t necessarily suck, you can have a good life and still feel, every day, as if you were glued to it.

That was how I felt when I created Larkin Day.

I knew, from attending various writers’ workshops, that the worst thing a writer can do is center a story around a problem in their own life that they have not yet resolved. This is a variation of the whole write what you know thing, of course — and when you write about a problem you are currently working through in your own life, the piece you do not yet know is, of course, the resolution. 

The process of solving the problem.

The process by which your characters may also solve their problems. 

The story.

Like many writers, I decided to solve this problem (the problem of the unsolved problem, not the unsolved problem itself) by giving Larkin a life that was, on its surface, very different from my own — and, just under the surface, just as stuck. 

By giving Larkin a different set of externalities — a more impulsive personality, a tendency towards procrastination, a murder to solve — and a similar internal dilemma, I could use what she learns to get unstuck myself! I could get myself a better life and complete the first draft of a cozy mystery set in Eastern Iowa’s Creative Corridor, starring a snarky amateur detective with six figures of student loan debt and a failed theater career! A Miss Fisher for the Millennial generation!

This had serious potential — not to mention series potential.

Like many writers, I was unable to get this particular plot to work. Not in my own life, and not in Larkin’s.

The draft stalled.

If you read a lot of mystery novels, you understand that the best books — and, perhaps, the best Big Idea posts — are set up as a puzzle for you to solve along with the sleuth.

Which means you’re already anticipating what’s coming next, the big reveal that proves you’ve been reading carefully —

Before I could write Larkin’s story, I had to rewrite my own.

This took years. During that time, having no other recourse for resolution, I became resolute. If I could not write this novel, nor any of the other novels I tried writing while stuck, I would continue freelancing. My life would be as compact as a studio apartment, and if I couldn’t figure out how to expand it, I could be content.

I was not content, of course, but I could be.

If you read a lot of mystery novels, you know that the sleuth generally follows an incorrect path first; instincts fail as often as they prevail, especially if one is not paying attention to the details.

It was not content — in occupation or perseveration — that would lead me towards possibility.

It was connection. 

In the years between first and final draft, I fell in love. We bought a house and made it a home. I reconnected with friends and family — and with music, which had been my formerly failed career the way theater had been Larkin’s. As I write these words, the man who helped me do all of this is driving us both towards a day filled with expansion — we’re going to visit my parents, take a piano lesson from a composer whom I’ve known since I was five years old, and audition for a choir very similar to the one Larkin joins at the beginning of her story.

My story, including how I took Ode to Murder through its revision process and began collaborating with Alan Lastufka at Shortwave Publishing, continues in the Author’s Note at the back of the novel — so consider it the penulitmate reason to add Ode to Murder to your must-read list.

The ultimate reason is that it’s a laugh-out-loud cozy mystery that Kirkus described as “an entertaining whodunit with a captivating amateur sleuth” and earned a BookLife Editor’s Pick for being “a smart, snarky series kickoff” with a “surprisingly profound finale.”


Ode to Murder: Shortwave Publishing | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Apple

Visit the author’s website. Find out why she is no longer on social media.

Sign up for her newsletter to read the first three chapters of Ode to Murder for free.

“The Summer EP” Now Out to Streaming and Download

John Scalzi

As readers of the site well know, over the summer I wrote and recorded a number of musical tracks and posted them here and elsewhere; it was fun for me and hopefully enjoyable for other folks too, but it also meant that the individual pieces were scattered and somewhat disorganized. So I went ahead and collected the pieces up into a single collection for streaming and download and called it The Summer EP. It’s already up on YouTube/YouTube Music, and TIDAL, and will show up elsewhere in the next couple of days; arrival of indie stuff on music services is more or less at their pleasure.

Actually, that’s not quite fair of me. I have the ability to schedule a release, and in fact did schedule the release of this EP, under the slightly different name of How I Spent My Summer Vacation, last Friday, and sure enough, on midnight of September 30, HISMSV smoothly populated into all the music services. Whereupon I discovered that one of the tracks was not the actual track I intended, but a fragmentary test track of a plug-in I had just gotten. This meant I had to spend several days recalling that EP from every single service it was available on, and then reposting it under a new title so as not to create any confusion. Fortunately (heh), no one was expecting the release, so no one aside from me was inconvenienced in any manner whatsoever.

Likewise, as I pulled the initial EP release, I also pulled the previous “single” versions of the EP tracks, both to clear up visual clutter on my streaming service artist pages, and to help with tracking streaming and downloads, so they would not be split across two iterations of the same track. I initially hesitated to pull the single tracks because I was worried I would mess up someone’s playlists or something, but then I noticed that the most popular of the tracks had slightly over 100 streams on Spotify, and then I was all, yeah, it’s actually probably okay to do that.

In addition to being streamable, the EP will be/is purchasable at Amazon, iTunes and elsewhere; I set the price at $2.99, and the individual tracks at 69 cents (yes, nice, I know), which in both cases are the lowest amount I could set the prices via DistroKid, the service that distributes my stuff. I don’t have it up via Bandcamp, partly because I need to see if there are any conflicts with DistroKid with me putting it up there. If there aren’t, I’ll post it there soon. Buy it if you like! I will take your money! BUT–

— honestly, if you have any interest in this music at all I am perfectly fine with you just streaming this EP. I can, how to put this, be patient with the remuneration of this aspect of my creative life in a way that perhaps other people putting out music cannot. If you take the $2.99 that you might take to purchase this EP and instead apply it to the purchase of another independently-released artist, you know what, I would be good with that. I mostly just think it’s neat I can make music and then put it out into the world and have people find it.

I do like the music I made, too. This particular EP is the sound of me figuring out my DAW and a bunch of my other musical equipment and software, and I think that shows in the production. On the other hand, unlike Music For Headphones, my previous release which was entirely loop-based, every sound on Summer is programmed and/or played by me, and that’s a significant development, at least for me. It’s all me, baby. And, uh, a whole bunch of software I’m still learning to get sounds out of. Summer represents my “state of the art,” as it were. It’ll be fun to see where it goes from here.

In any event: The Summer EP, by me. Out and about in the world. In fact, here are all the tracks, in EP sequence. Enjoy.

“The Vince Clarke Fan Club Convenes”
“They Were Not Aware They Had Become Ghosts”
“Perseus Galaxy Cluster”
“Calm O’er the Campus”
“The End of the Summer Skies”

— JS

The Big Idea: Mur Lafferty

Master storyteller Mur Lafferty is back, and in her new novel Station Eternity, she confronts the question of what would really happen if the one thing that always happened around you, was the one thing you wish would never happen…

MUR LAFFERTY:

I am of Generation X, and grew up with Murder She Wrote, watching Jessica Fletcher solving mysteries in her Angela-Lansburiest way. And even though we loved watching those mysteries, one joke became common: Jessica Fletcher was clearly the most successful serial killer in history. Why else would she conveniently “be around” to solve murders that frequently happen around her? 

As I got into more and more murder series, every story had the same thing: an amateur sleuth would happen across a murder and then solve it. Sometimes in a “sexy, exciting” way, like Miss Fisher, or sometimes in a “gentle, wholesome, eat your strawberry-scones” way, like Father Brown or Miss Marple. Midsomer Murders was the exception as those folks were homicide detectives, but their cozy English county had a per capita murder rate 248 times higher than England and Wales

The amateur sleuth is a trope, but it’s accompanied by another trope: no one ever mentions how it’s weird that murders always happen around our sleuths? They don’t even have to wander far from home before encountering a body–but if they do go on vacation, people die then too. I hadn’t found anyone that addressed this obvious thing.

It also bugged me how the protagonists in these stories are well liked among friends, if not local law enforcement. I always thought if Jessica Fletcher came visiting, people should run screaming. 

But if that happened, it would suck. Life would be really lonely. And so Mallory Viridian was born. 

In classic amateur sleuth style, Mallory is conveniently around for murders, and almost always solves them. Unfortunately, because of this, she is not a popular person. She can’t keep a job, so she makes a living novelizing her cases. She has no friends. Most of her family is dead. She stays away from her neighbors. Forget about a love life. And she’s terribly lonely. 

But hey, I’m a science fiction writer, so I like to solve problems with outrageous spacey stuff. I was inspired by these mystery stories but also Babylon 5*, and I wanted a space station with a lot of aliens who don’t think much of humans and weren’t too keen on them visiting en masse. 

But they’ll take an ambassador. And someone who asked for sanctuary. And someone with a really weird, murdery problem. So Station Eternity, a sentient space station, allows three humans aboard to live among species like alien hive minds and rock folks with surprising abilities. Among her new community, Mallory hopes whatever makes murders happen around her applies only to humans. 

When writing, the hardest thing I had to puzzle out was the actual murder magnet curse/ability. If I directly addressed the “murders happen around this person” effect, I needed to address why it happens. It took a lot of editing, and of course I’m not going to spoil it here, but I hope I stuck the landing. 

What I loved about this project was exploring the fish out of water story. Having only three humans on a station presents problems; even small issues like finding a hairdresser or dentist, or realizing that even with auditory tech to translate language, our humans can’t read alien script or body language. It’s challenging to create aliens that both are alien and also characters that readers can relate to, but a fun challenge. 

Station Eternity is my nerdy love letter to these classic cozies, using aliens and space to understand their most persistent, unspoken, trope. I hope folks find it fun and appropriately murder-filled.

* J Michael Strazynski wrote for Murder She Wrote and created Babylon 5. If anyone can get a copy of Station Eternity into his hands, I’d be much obliged. 


Station Eternity: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s site. Follow her on Twitter.

Trying Out A New Recipe: Pumpkin Spice Coffee Cake

I am someone who is a big fan of seasonal flavors. I like eggnog in the winter, floral flavors in the spring, fresh watermelon and tomatoes in the summer, and of course, pumpkin spice and warm apple-y flavors in the fall. So this Pumpkin Spice Coffee Cake by Handle the Heat seemed like the perfect thing to make. Plus, everything I’ve made from her has been banger, so I was excited to try this recipe.

Here is everything you need:

Ingredients laid out on a counter. There's Crisco vegetable oil, two brown eggs, Domino light brown sugar, Daisy sour cream, pecan pieces, granulated sugar, all-purpose flour, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, baking soda, and baking powder.

Athena ScalziJust kidding! My forgetful self completely left the butter and can of pumpkin puree out of the picture. Even though it’s PUMPKIN spice coffee cake. So, just pretend there’s a 3tbsp knob of butter in the photo and a big can of pumpkin puree, okay? Thanks.

For this recipe, I actually didn’t need to buy anything! I literally had everything on hand, which was surprising because I usually don’t have pecans, and sour cream is a pretty inconsistent item in my household, too. I had bought the pecans for a salad I made a while back, but it’s definitely the first time in a while I’ve had something like that on hand. As for the pumpkin puree, I specifically bought several cans as soon as I saw it come into stores so I could make seasonal stuff for the next couple weeks. This was my last can, though, so I’ll need to restock soon.

Moving on, the first thing I needed to do was make the streusel. All this required was melting the butter in a bowl and add the flour, brown sugar, cinnamon, and pecans to it. I just used a fork to mix it together and got this:

A glass bowl of the brown sugar and pecan streusel mixture.

Simple enough!

After that came the dry ingredients, which I just threw together in a bowl:

A white mixing bowl containing flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, brown sugar, and white sugar.

I actually found this recipe’s dry ingredients interesting, because it had me add the brown sugar and white sugar to the mixture. In most recipes, sugar gets added to the butter, eggs, vanilla, and other wet ingredients. It’s very rare for sugar to be included in the dry ingredients bowl, in my experience.

As for the wet ingredients, it was just the pumpkin puree, oil, sour cream, and eggs:

A white mixing bowl with a bright orange liquid-y mixture in it. There's also an off white rubber spatula sitting in the bowl with the mixture.

Another interesting thing about this recipe was that it had me add the wet ingredients to the dry. Usually it’s the other way around, but this one even had me make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients specifically to pour the wet ingredients into. I’m not sure it really matters which way you do it.

Anyways, it came together perfectly and I poured it into a parchment paper lined 8×8 metal pan:

A square baking pan containing the orange coffee cake mixture.

After pouring it all in at once, I realized I was supposed to have poured half in, then added half the streusel, and then add in the other half of the batter, followed by the rest of the streusel. Since I poured it all in at once, I just decided to put all of the streusel on top! Easy enough fix, I figured.

And wouldn’t you know it, it covered the top perfectly!

The orange coffee cake mixture now covered up by a generous layer of the pecan streusel.

I put it in the oven at 350 for 35 minutes. My house started to smell totally amazing, and finally I took this beauty out of the oven:

The fully baked pumpkin spice coffee cake, sitting on the stove.

Well, I guess you can’t really see what it looks like since it’s mostly just streusel.

While it was cooling, I made the maple glaze, which was literally just powdered sugar and maple syrup. I used Domino powdered sugar and Crown maple syrup, and whisked it together in a small bowl:

A small glass bowl with a light beige icing mixture in it. There's a small whisk sitting in the bowl with the glaze.

Definitely not that impressive looking, but once I put it on the freshly cut coffee cake, it looked damn good.

Three squares of the coffee cake with maple glaze drizzled on top, sitting on a black plate.

This coffee cake was literally fan-flipping-tastic. I really had to sit there and contemplate if this coffee cake was the single greatest thing I had ever made. And honestly, it might be. It was warm, perfectly spiced, wonderfully sweet, incredibly moist from the sour cream. This gets said a lot, and I mean a lot, but it tasted like fall.

Five squares of glazed coffee cake arranged in a single layer on a black plate. Behind them sits a cookie jar and a dark red crochet pumpkin.

I really cannot recommend this recipe enough, it was surprisingly easy, and the results are just amazing.

Both my parents tried the cake and said it was super good, and my friend I gave it to asked if I had bought it from an actual bakery.

This cake is an easy way to impress your friends, family, coworkers, even strangers will be blown away by this delicious coffee cake. I made another batch like two days later. I will probably make several more over the course of the next couple months. The recipe says I can just double it in a 13×9 and add like five minutes to the cook time, so I might try that next time.

Do you like pumpkin spice? Are you a fan of coffee cake? Let me know in the comments, and have a great day!

-AMS

Minor Housekeeping Note Re: AMP

Which is: I’ve turned it off because the AMP theme I was using wasn’t playing nice with desktop views, and I don’t really want to switch over to a new AMP theme because the primary theme I use works fine with phones/tablets and there is no longer any Google penalty for not using AMP. So, out the window it goes.

If you’re reading this site on your mobile device you might notice it looking different (and more like the desktop version); if you’re reading exclusively on the desktop (or getting RSS or email delivery) you probably won’t notice anything different at all. And of course if you have no idea what AMP is in the first place then you don’t need to worry about it, please continue in your blessed state.

— JS

Small Business Saturday: Twenty One Barrels

Athena ScalziHello, everyone, and welcome to another Small Business Saturday! It’s been a hot minute since I’ve done one of these, but I am extra excited for today’s featured business because it’s actually local to me. So local in fact that it’s literally across the street from my house!

I remember two years ago when I first heard that the new neighbors were turning the property into a winery. I was delighted, despite the fact that I didn’t drink wine at the time. It was just cool to me that there was going to be something interesting on our plain ol’ country road. It turned out it wasn’t just a winery, it was a cidery, too! I had never heard of a cidery before, but I thought it was nice that they had more options than just wine.

Over the next two years, my wine-tasting journey ensued, and now I’m so happy to be able to share with you all the amazing business across the street, Twenty One Barrels.

Twenty One Barrels was built, quite literally from the ground up, by Danielle and Shaun, a young married couple from Troy. They opened their doors in October 2020, and Darke County has been all the better for it.

As per usual, I’m going to include the disclaimer that all of my Small Business Saturday posts are over businesses that I have bought things from and liked enough to tell you all about them. I never receive money or free products in return for posting over these businesses. My only purpose with these is to support small businesses. Now that that’s cleared up, let’s continue.

I was never really a fan of wine, so I only ever bought bottles from them as gifts for friends. It took a while for me to actually try their products for myself, but when I did, I felt like my entire view on wine changed completely. Whether you like dry or sweet, they have something for everyone. Their menu is actually set up in order of dry to sweet, which is really helpful when deciding what to try.

The winery's menu. It is divided into three sections. On the left is the list of wines, in order of dryness to sweetness. On the right is the list of hard ciders. In the middle is the flights, as well as limited time only items. Underneath the menu sits their twelve tap handles, as well as plenty of wine glasses and cider glasses.

Not to mention they have different flights you can try! My favorite is the sweet flight, which has my two favorite wines, Harris Creek Red, and Harris Creek White. I’ve also tried Autumn Breeze, Diamond, Two Berries, and Catawba (if you couldn’t tell, I’m a sweet wine kind of gal). While all of those are great, you simply must try Autumn Breeze if you’re a fan of fall. It’s actually a blend of their Roundhouse Red with cider and mulled spices. With its warm spiced flavor, it’ll make you feel nice and cozy inside.

As for the ciders, I’ve tried more that are currently off the menu than on the menu, but out of the ones that are currently on there, the Maple Berry is the bomb dot com. My favorite flavor I’ve tried, though, was one of their holiday flavors from last year, Frosted Cranberry. Funnily enough, both the Maple Berry and Frosted Cranberry are pink in color. I like my drink to be aesthetically pleasing, as well as delicious.

Not only do they have fantastic wine and cider, Twenty One Barrels also has different local food trucks come out every weekend, as well as live music performances. If that wasn’t enough, they also have plenty of fun events like Sip and Shop markets, chili cook-offs, karaoke, and even goat yoga! You can find their calendar of events, as well as info about which food trucks will be there, on their events page.

Best of all, you can get their wines shipped to you! (Make sure to check out if your state is one of the few that they don’t ship to, some states have weird laws about that kind of stuff.)

They also have a Cider Club, which comes with tons of benefits! It’s basically a quarterly subscription that gets you four 4-packs of new cider flavors, access to their ever-changing members only tap flavor, invites to members only events (where glasses of wine and cider are discounted), and more! I actually just picked up my order a couple days ago:

Sixteen cans sitting in front of a black bag. Each can has a Twenty One Barrels label on it.

This season, the flavors are Spiced Pear, Pineapple Upside Down, Paw Paw, and Apricot Guava. So far I’ve only tried the Spiced Pear, which was very light and refreshing, and the Pineapple Upside Down, which was sweet and flavorful! Definitely a new favorite.

Twenty One Barrels is also constantly raising money for local charities, like the Darke County Humane Society and Darke County United Way!

All in all, they are an awesome business, run by awesome people, with awesome products, and I cannot recommend them enough. I never thought a winery could mean so much to me, but Twenty One Barrels is truly something special, and I feel so lucky not only to have such a wonderful small business in my little town, but to have such great neighbors right across the street.

Danielle was kind enough to let me do a quick interview for this post!

My first question was if owning a winery was a lifelong dream, or if it was a more recent thing, to which she informed me that it was more recent, specifically when Shaun and she started dating. They often went on dates to wineries and enjoyed exploring and trying different wines, which led them to envisioning opening a winery together. They actually started with making wine in the basement of their home in Troy before purchasing their 20-acre property in Bradford and constructing vineyards and a tasting room. Though those wines from the basement were mostly given as gifts to family and friends, they ended up winning local amateur wine competitions!

This led to me asking why they had chosen Bradford as their location, and if they had seen themselves ending up in Darke County. It turned out that they had originally wanted a property in Miami County, but every time something suitable would be on the market, it would get snatched up immediately. Then, the property in Bradford went up for sale, and it ended up being the perfect place. Danielle said that upon touring it, it was really somewhere she could envision the winery. There was something about going up the gravel drive, over the wooden bridge, past the weeping willows to the 1800s farmhouse that evoked a certain feeling in her, and it was a feeling she wanted to create in everyone that walked into their winery. They wanted it to be a welcoming environment, somewhere inviting and cozy and that felt good to be in.

Of course, I had to ask if she likes wine or cider better, to which she replied cider the majority of the time, but wine seasonally or with a steak dinner.

Out of the flavors of cider and types of wine they sell, I was curious as to which was her favorite. The Blushing Berry is her winner for wine, as it’s not too sweet, not too dry, and goes well with lots of different dishes. Though she did give an honorable mention to their 1933 wine. As for the cider, the Blood Orange was her number one choice, as its something that can be enjoyed year round, and the flavor isn’t too over the top.

And finally, I asked what the best part of owning the winery has been. Put simply, it’s the people. Danielle says they’ve met so many people since setting up shop, made new friends, and forged so many connections. They’ve been elated with the support they’ve received, and the welcoming attitude everyone has had towards them. When they first opened, they were afraid no one would show up. But the people came, and they haven’t stopped coming. The community continues to support them and make them love what they do.

So there you have it, folks! If you are in need of good wine and good times, look no further than Twenty One Barrels.

What flavor would you be interested in trying? Do you prefer red or white wine? Have you ever done goat yoga before?! Let me know in the comments, and have a great day!

-AMS

All Shot Up

I have two arms, so today I got two vaccines: On the left, this year’s edition of the flu shot, and on the right, the latest bivalent COVID booster. The latter is ever-so-slightly precipitate, as I caught COVID in June and therefore only barely inside the window for getting the booster, but inasmuch as I am traveling to New York, Kentucky, California and Nova Scotia during the month of October, I figure I owe it to myself and others to be as fully protected from both giving and getting flu and COVID as possible (and if I do get it, keeping it from messing with me too much). Simple — I made the online appointment for a local CVS in the morning, got both shots in the afternoon — quick, and no fuss. And just like that, I am all caught up. Please do the same, when you have a moment. Thanks.

— JS

The Big Idea: Rob Wilkins

Rob Wilkins was close enough to beloved author Terry Pratchett that the two of them shared the same Twitter account. From that vantage point Wilkins was able to see Pratchett as a friend, as a writer and as a human being – one who had a thing for hats, magical, metaphorical, and material. All of this comes together in today’s Big Idea for Terry Pratchett: A Life With Footnotes.

ROB WILKINS:

Terry Pratchett had a magic hat. In fact, he had a collection of them, assiduously acquired over many years from the stores of some of the world’s leading milliners, from London to New York, and from Sydney to Burford, in England’s Cotswolds, where a shop called Elm offers a good selection. In my fifteen years as his personal assistant, I shopped for hats with Terry a lot because he considered it one of life’s reliable axioms: ‘Any day with a new hat in it is a very good day indeed.’

And if it was a magic hat, then even better.

True, his collection included hats that were not magic. For instance, there was the John Rocha-designed mortar board lavishly decked with black feathers, a sensationally gothic headpiece presented to Terry in 2010 on his accession to the post of Honorary Professor at Trinity College, Dublin.

‘Is there any type of hat associated with this position?’ Terry had asked when Trinity first rang him in his office to sound him out about the role. The College indicated that there could well be a hat, thereby clinching Terry’s acceptance.

And then there was the battered old hat in which he would venture out into the grounds of his Wiltshire manor house when the rain was coming down in stair rods but the tortoises still needed feeding. And no doubt somewhere at the back of a cupboard – because Terry threw very little away – there was the peaked leather cap he wore when he worked in the press office of the Central Electricity Generating Board in Bristol. It was a garment which, in tandem with his beard, inspired his co-workers to call him ‘Lenin’ – though only when he was out of earshot.

And then there was the top hat he bought in Manhattan on a whim, and the bowler I bought him for Christmas. There were, as I say, many hats.

But none of those were magic. The magic hats were the black, broad-brimmed Louisianas for which Terry was famous. People would insist on referring to them as ‘fedoras’, but Terry would sigh and, with varying degrees of patience, correct them: it was not a fedora, it was a Louisiana. Such distinctions mattered to the true hat aficionado.

Then came the slightly awkward day when the staff at Lock & Co. in St James’s Street in London explained to Terry that the style of hat he had been favouring was a fedora, and not a Louisiana at all. And Terry had to take their word for it, because those Lock & Co. people really knew hats: they supplied Winston Churchill with his Homburg and Charlie Chaplin with his bowler, and even Admiral Nelson with the tricorn he wore when he came to a sticky end on the deck of HMS Victory. And since 1988, they had been supplying Terry Pratchett with his Louisiana which was in fact a fedora.

Ah well. Terry still favoured it. And it was still magic.

And this was the magic: he only had to put it on his head and he became Terry Pratchett, the author. That hat gave him, with almost absurd ease, an image. In his earliest days on the road, he would team the hat with a black Levi’s jacket – Levi’s made such a thing in those days – black Hugo Boss jeans and a black leather satchel, but it was the fedora that was the key. It instantly turned him into Terry Pratchett, the public figure that he was increasingly required to be.

And, by extension, when he got home he could take off the hat and be all the other Terry Pratchetts that he was, including, incidentally, Terry Pratchett the writer, which, by the way, is a different thing from being ‘an author’ – or ‘a nauthor’, in Terry’s self-mocking coinage. As he discovered when success came his way, the duties contingent upon being ‘a nauthor’ – the tours, the readings, the book-signings, the press interviews – frequently threatened to prevent you from doing the thing that had turned you into ‘a nauthor’ in the first place, i.e. writing books. The hat was a useful way to enforce the distinction. Hat on: nauthor. Hat off: writer. Terry referred to it as ‘an anti-disguise’.

All of which means that when I came to put together Terry’s authorized biography, a task which fell to me after his death at the cruelly early age of sixty-six from a rare variant of Alzheimer’s disease, I knew one thing with absolute clarity from the very outset: that if this book ever made it into print, it would have on its jacket a photograph of Terry Pratchett without a hat on.

That single gesture, it seemed to me, would send the clearest signal about the book that I was in a unique position to write, if I could manage it. Because, yes, of course I would want to write about Terry Pratchett the author, the public figure whom people knew. But I would also want, and even more urgently, to write about the Terry Pratchett who would be less familiar to people: the Terry Pratchett I saw every day, at his desk, without his hat on – Terry Pratchett the writer.

The publishers took a little persuading, because having a hatless Terry Pratchett on the jacket of a book is a little like opening a McDonalds and not using the arches logo on the store-front. We went back and forth on this, amid some frank exchanges of view and with some wide eyes occurring in the marketing department. But I stuck to my guns and I managed somehow to prevail. And that’s why on the jacket of the UK edition of Terry Pratchett: A Life With Footnotes, Terry is entirely hatless.

So that was the jacket sorted, exactly as I had imagined it. After that, all I had to do was write a book to go inside it.

Terry Pratchett: A Life with Footnotes: Amazon|Barnes and Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Follow Terry and Rob’s account on Twitter.

How To Annoy Your Dog

Keep her securely in the house while these three creatures are wandering about the yard.

Yes, she wanted to make friends with them, very much. However, it was reasonably certain these three would be fine not spending any time with her. Charlie is sulking about it. She will get over it, I’m sure.

— JS

A Fancy Mustard Review

I went to a local market in Troy for Kewpie mayo, but they were sold out, so I sadly wandered the store looking for something else to buy. I came across these three flavors of mustard:

Three glass jars of mustard. They all have a Terrapin Ridge Farms label. The three flavors are raspberry wasabi mustard, pecan honey mustard, and peach honey mustard.

Athena ScalziI’d never heard of this brand before, but these mustards looked pretty quality, so I decided to grab all three flavors and give them a try.

Interestingly, all three of them were priced differently. One was $7.50, another was $8.00, and the last one was $8.50. I’m not sure why they were different to begin with, or why the difference was so small.

I enlisted the help of my parents, along with a bag of pretzels, to get the job done.

We started with the raspberry wasabi mustard:

A top down view of the inside of the raspberry wasabi mustard jar. It is filled with yellow mustard that has flecks of red and seeds throughout.

Before tasting it, I gave it a whiff, and it totally cleared my sinuses. I was worried it would taste as strong as it smells, but that wasn’t the case. It was bold without being too much, and my dad agreed the wasabi flavor was definitely present, but not overpowering. It had a kick, but wasn’t necessarily hot. I and my parents agreed we didn’t really detect any raspberry, but it was still pretty good. My dad said he would definitely put it on a sandwich, and gave it an 8/10. My mom said it was pretty solid, and gave it an 8/10, as well. I thought it was good, but I’m not the biggest fan of wasabi, so I gave it a 7/10.

Next up was the one I was most excited for, the pecan honey mustard:

A top down view of the inside of the pecan honey mustard jar. It's filled with thick brown mustard.

Unlike the previous flavor, which was mustard forward, this one was honey forward. It was sweet, thick, sticky, and totally yummy. Both of my parents said they wouldn’t put it on a sandwich, which makes sense since the label calls it a “glaze, cheese topper, and pretzel dip”. It was  perfect for the pretzels we had, but my dad and I got creative and spread a dollop onto a slice of provolone (it was the only cheese we had), and it was totally bangin’. My mom said this one just wasn’t her style, though, and gave it a 5/10. She didn’t care for it but didn’t hate it. My dad liked it more than she did, and gave it an 8.5/10. I totally loved it, and could honestly smash the whole thing if I wasn’t careful, and gave it a 9.5/10.

Last on the list was the peach honey mustard:

A top down view of the peach honey mustard jar. Its contents are an orangish, looser looking mustard, with some chunks throughout.

The first thing I noticed about this one was that it was a much looser consistency than the previous mustard, and slightly more so than the first mustard. Both my mom and dad made a point of mentioning how peach-forward this one was. My dad said it had an almost alcoholic sharpness, and that it doesn’t work on its own, but perhaps would be good as a glaze for something like chicken or a salad dressing. He settled on a score of 5.5/10. My mom said she’d like it on a sandwich, and gave it a 7/10. As for me, it reminded me of an overly mushy peach that you think “man, I need to eat that before it goes bad” and then as soon as you start eating it, you realize it’s already kind of not good anymore. So it’s a 6/10 from me. Not horrible, but definitely my least favorite.

After totaling up the averages, the first two got an overall score of 7.6/10, while the last one got a 6.1/10.

I was curious about what other flavors this brand had of mustards, and after visiting their website, I discovered they have more than mustards! They have jams, salad dressings, dips, and more! If I could try any of their other mustards, I’d try the smokey bacon maple mustard, the champagne garlic honey mustard, and the creamy garlic mustard.

All in all, I’m glad I tried out this brand, it was a fun little taste test with my parents.

Which one sounds the best to you? Have you tried this brand’s products before? Let me know in the comments, and have a great day!

-AMS

The Big Idea: Laura Kat Young

Laura Kat Young was determined to write a story that she wanted to read, even if at first it was difficult to find a place for it amongst the shelves. Read on to see how The Butcher came to be.

LAURA KAT YOUNG:

An Eye for an Eye

A horrible crime had just shocked the nation, and my friend and I sat in the square of an idyllic British town discussing what the courts were doing with the assailant. Like the many around us who held in their hands newspapers, phones, glossy magazines highlighting the case, we were hypnotized by the leniency shown towards the criminal. I asked my friend: what if it had been your loved one? What justice could be served to make it, well, even? My friend went down a rabbit hole. I followed, nodding yes, and at each and every turn. It was fun to think of ways to make the bad people pay–isn’t that what a hero does in the end, after all? Or is that an anti-hero? Perhaps my characters are a bit of both–I’ll let the reader be the judge. 

No Way Out

Toni Morrison, one of my favorite authors of all time, said, “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” I want stories of terrible societies, speculative and dystopian worlds and inescapable situations. In The Giver, there was the next town. In Lord of the Flies, they were rescued before everyone killed each other. In The Handmaid’s Tale, Canada is their safe haven. But what if there wasn’t an out? What if there was nowhere to go? Or what if you did escape, but you had to go back?

On Women

It was also important to me to write a book in which there was a strong female lead whose storyline was not contingent upon seeking out a romantic relationship. Growing up I read books in which women had two choices: get married and have kids or die alone. I wanted to give my lead a story that I don’t frequently see on the page (still): that a woman’s livelihood is connected not to who desires her but what she desires for herself. All books should live up to the Bechdel test.

The Tenets

The idea of radical self-love and forgiveness is an important theme in my work. Sometimes people do terrible things, but what does it say about us if we cannot forgive them? And if a person should misstep, how can they work to forgive themselves? The systems in which we are trapped contribute to our own oppression. We should all work towards dismantling them, towards fighting those that seek to subjugate us. As a high school teacher, I focus heavily on said systems, exploring the dysconsciousness and subsequent perceptions and attitudes that bind us to the very thing we should be trying to escape. 

Finding a Home

The Butcher had a difficult time finding a home. Too gruesome, not gruesome enough; where would this title sit in a bookstore? I kept at it, though, and entered Twitter pitch contests and went to agent panels at conferences. I was chosen for #Pitchwars, a mentoring program that matches published authors, editors, or industry interns with an unpublished writer. I did a deep revision, landed an agent (after many, many queries), and on the eve of the pandemic, Friday, March 13, 2020, my novel went on submission. 

A Final Word

I think that if I can impart any wisdom, it’s that it’s never too late. I’m a forty-five year old woman who doesn’t hold an MFA. I have two lovely children and teach high school English full-time. It’s possible. But even if this book had never found a home, the fact is that I wrote one. Sometimes we can be the hero of our own story.


The Butcher: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound | Powell’s

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