A Gift for the New Year

I finally posted Peril’s character page today.  I know, it took me long enough, but because his sketch gave me so much trouble, I thought I would do something different with his page and give you a little bit of backstory, which took some crafting.  There is always a struggle in just how much to give.

Anyway, let me just say that anyone who has read book one of The Eleventh Age is in for a couple of surprises.  And if you haven’t read yet, then what exactly are you waiting for?  A signed first edition hard copy? Who knows?  Maybe 2015 will be the year.

For now, I hope you enjoy this little bit of Peril’s past as my new year’s gift to you.

 

peril eyes2

‘Tis the Season…

The next few days in the Kennedy house will officially be spent turning this pile of lovely possibility:

Christmasinto seven cheesecakes (some drenched in homemade caramel and/or dark chocolate ganache) and at least five batches of the most scrumptious chocolate chip cookies in the universe, to be given as gifts to friends and family.

As my children have gotten older, baking has become our unexpected holiday tradition–unexpected because for years I wasn’t very good at it.  Once, I set our oven on fire while baking Pilsbury slice and bake sugar cookies, which take a stupendous lack of talent to ruin, let me tell you.  Our children, however, all have a knack for baking, so we spend hours on end, for at least two days leading up to Christmas Eve, cooking our little hearts out and delivering joy to those who have brought us joy throughout the year.  Even though it is work (hard work–have you ever made a cheese cake), it is easily my favorite part of the holidays.

Since I can’t give all of you a slice of cheesecake, I thought I would share the recipes we use so you can try your hand at making your own and impressing your own friends and family–my gift you you! These are not our recipes, though I couldn’t tell you who they belong to, but they have seen us through many Christmases and school projects, birthday parties and team dinners, some have requested we make them as gifts for them to give to others and we get special requests throughout the year.  And of course we love them enough to eat them as well, even after we have stood for two days straight slaving over them for others, so they are proven recipes.  We hope you enjoy!

Cheesecake

Note: All ingredients should be room temperature.

5 packages of cream cheese (8 oz)

2 cups sugar

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

1/4 tsp salt

5 large eggs

2 egg yolks

2 tsp vanilla extract

1/4 cup heavy cream

directions:

• Preheat oven to 325°, position rack in the middle of the oven.  Meanwhile, set a pot of water to boil on the stove.

• In a large mixing bowl, beat cream cheese, sugar, flour and salt until smooth.  Set mixer to low, and add yolks and eggs, one at a time, beating well between each addition.  Finally, add vanilla and cream.

• Grease a 9 inch cake pan or spring form pan and line bottom with parchment paper.  Pour batter into pan.  Place cake pan into large roasting or broiling pan.  Fill the roasting pan with boiling water to halfway up the sides of the cake pan. Our recipe calls for 35 to 45 minutes in the oven, but we always end up baking them 1 hour, which is a testament to each oven being different.  Start checking every 5-10 minutes at 35 minutes and bake until the cheesecake is firm and slightly golden on the top.

• Remove cheesecake from water bath and cool to room temperature.  Add crust (see below), turn onto plate, if adding chocolate or caramel (see below) now is the time, cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.  Make sure to use plenty of wrap, as cheesecake tend to take on refrigerator smells.

Cheesecake Crust

1/2 cup real salted butter

1 package graham crackers (not the whole box!)

1/2 cup dark brown sugar

directions:

• In a plastic bag, crush graham crackers to smithereens (this part’s fun).

• Melt butter and brown sugar in a heavy sauce pan, just until sugar is melted.

• Add the crushed graham crackers to the butter and sugar mixture, stirring.

• Allow to cool to the touch before adding in an even layer to the top of the cheesecake, pressing in gently.

Chocolate Ganache

8 oz semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped

1 cup heavy cream

1/8th tsp coarse salt

directions:

• Place chopped chocolate in heat-proof bowl.

• In a sauce pan, bring cream just to a boil over medium-high heat.

• Pour heated cream over the chocolate, adding coarse salt and making certain all of the chocolate is submerged–do not stir.

• Allow to stand for ten minutes before whisking smooth.  Allow to cool before adding to cheesecake.

Caramel Sauce

2 cups sugar

12 tbsp unsalted butter

1 cup heavy cream

Salt to taste

directions:

• In a heavy saucepan, heat sugar over medium-high heat, whisking as it melts.  Stop whisking when melted.

• Cook sugar to a deep amber color (reddish brown with a slightly toasted aroma and just a tiny bit of smoke) to 350°.

• Add butter all at once BUT CAREFULLY, whisking until melted.

• Remove from heat and slowly pour in cream (again carefully).  Whisk until all of the cream is incorporated and sauce is smooth, then add salt as desired.

• Allow to cool before adding to cheesecake.  Remainder may be refrigerated for up to two weeks and reheated prior to use–we recommend caramel sundaes!

 

May you be blessed with Peace, Love and Joy this holiday season!

tree

Merry Christmas!

 

 

Drawing Lessons: Lesson Three: Oh! The Perils

For once, I have a story about my adventures in sketching characters that doesn’t involve bad art–at least not in the traditional sense.

This is Peril, or Alistair Godfrey, as his parents called him.

Peril

It’s been several weeks since I’ve updated the character pages because of Peril, which is strange because from the beginning I believed he would be one of the easier characters to present.  Instead he’s proven the most difficult so far.  Even worse than Ash, which is saying a lot.

Book one of The Eleventh Age has been completed for some time now, and while I’ve been going through the usual rigamaroo as a new author trying to gain notice in the publishing world, just one more unknown in a sea of countless unknowns, all looking to be discovered, I’ve also been hard at work on book two, which naturally means that in my mind the characters are all different people than who they were at the beginning of their story, or even at end of book one.  In building this site, I have had to be very careful not to allow the changes the characters experience through the course of the writing to taint how I present them to the world.  This sweet-faced boy was a massive challenge for me in that respect, because he is one of the characters who is most changed from book one to book two, and as I drew him (repeatedly), those changes were visible in his eyes, in the hardness of his lips.  I had to put him down, go back and remember who he was before, so that I could show you the Peril Elli meets on her sixteenth birthday.

Heraclitus is quoted by many a philosopher as having pointed out the inevitability of change as a constant, the river’s flow being an apt metaphor for the universal flux we experience not just from day to day but from moment to moment.  On this Plutarch writes:

“It is not possible to step twice into the same river according to Heraclitus, or to come into contact twice with a mortal being in the same state.”

This is a beautiful truth that is so easy to miss, as we are only privileged enough to experience the changes within ourselves as we meander through this life.  Too often we fail to realize that anything we see of other people, even those we love and hold most dear, is just a small glimpse of who those people are at one bend along their stream.  Like a river, every person is always flowing with new waters gained by their own experiences. Each of us is polishing our own boulders into smooth pebbles and cutting our channels deeper as we go.

To live is to change.

Peril will never again be the sweet-faced boy in this picture.

A Fate More than Metaphors and Rhyming Schemes

Oftentimes when prophecy plays a role in a story, it is static and unbending in nature.  Fate proves to be merely what is fated, a concrete idea of a predetermined purpose, and there is little to be done about it once set in motion, try as one might, and even less to explain why such a purpose is necessary, except that without it there would be no story.  An author may employ metaphors or plays on words in order to make prophecies appear to have multiple meanings, so that it is only in the end that one can see the symbolism interwoven throughout the tale all along, hinting at deeper truths, if only the protagonist could have seen.  More commonly, stories involve self-fulfilling prophecies, in which belief in a prophecy is required for it to come to fruition, a character’s own attempts to avoid the certain outcome proving to be the very cause.  And of course, prophecies are generally vague, leaving plenty of room for doubt, and providing a decent excuse when an interpretation turns out to be completely wrong–just ask Nostradamus.

In The Eleventh Age, things aren’t so simple.  Early on in my writing, I began to explore the idea that in order for there to be any sort of prophecy in the first place, Fate actually had to have a purpose in mind, which meant Fate was at least quasi-sentient.  This realization marked the birth of Fate as a living, ever-changing character, a character that interacts with the other characters in the story on a continuous basis, rather than being relegated to a stagnant existence as just another fortuneteller spouting pretty prose. But as such, Fate’s role and the nature of prophecy could not just be to provide convenient plot twists that keep the “real” characters on their toes.  Fate in The Eleventh Age requires goals, desires, intentions, and otherwise serious character flaws, and trust me when I say that thinking about Fate this way has not been easy.

While Elli Foote, the hero of the story, is told at the beginning of book one that her predestined worst enemy is Roviello Tofal, the evil wizard who has survived more than ten thousand years for the sole purpose of being her arch nemesis, by the end of the book, it is fairly clear that what she has been told and what is reality can be very different things, especially where prophecies are concerned, and she begins to understand that Fate is her enemy as well, a decidedly worse enemy than Roviello Tofal in many ways.  This is not to say that Tofal is not particularly evil, or that he will not prove himself to be a spectacular adversary (oh,he is, and he will), but Fate’s role as progenitor of tragedy for Elli throughout the series is certain, as is Elli’s role of seeing Fate as her personal universal foe, even though most people would think the idea of Fate having it out for one person in particular is pretty silly–but what teenager hasn’t thought that the world is out to get them?  In this case, she might just happen to be right.

Discover why Fate has a dark side…  Read The Eleventh Age.

 

How To Avoid Spoiler Alerts

I know it isn’t the most intellectually stimulating entertainment to be had, at least not on the surface, but I have to admit that I actually enjoy the continuous tragedy that is The Walking Dead. Believe it or not, I find the show to be an interesting examination of the nature of evil. As one might expect, the primal cause for all of the characters on the show is avoiding becoming lunch for some dead guy, yet inevitably the greatest source of disaster for the temporary survivors of the slow extinction of the human race is other people just trying to survive. The characters, good and bad, are constantly forced to choose between evils, which leaves the audience with a perpetual knot of repulsion tangled up in awkward commiseration sitting hard in their bellies.

At the end of this Sunday’s Walking Dead, when _____ was ____ in the _____ by that _____ from the _______, my sixteen year old daughter burst into convulsive tears, howling in agony, like ____ was one of her best friends (neurologically speaking, she was a good friend, but this is not another Theory of Mind post). My daughter’s was the titanic sort of meltdown that teenagers are especially prone to when something terrible happens to their favorite character, the kind of meltdown that had her questioning all of humanity and making deals with the universe. She just could not believe ___ was ___, and she wanted someone—anyone— to take it back, to undo “all the feels,” as she muttered through the synthetic fluff of her pillow. For the record, I cried too, but not nearly as hard or as long as she did, though to be fair my own upheaval for ____’s sake was interrupted by a minor internal drama of my own, as I listened to my daughter carrying on about deaths in movies and television shows and books, because as I consoled her I was reminded of my biggest fear as a writer (well, it’s actually my second biggest fear, but my first biggest fear is beside the point… try to stay on point here, people). My (second) biggest fear is that I will fail as an author to make my readers fall apart the way my daughter fell apart Sunday night—completely, and without shame.

As she sobbed over ____ _____, I quietly considered my own duty to provide that visceral explosion within my own audience on a regular basis. It is a duty. No matter the genre of choice, we read to experience a full range of emotions, to live vicariously through the heroes of our imaginations, so a writer who fails to incite chemical riots in the mind and bodies of the masses has no room to call himself a writer. As a writer, I must make certain readers of The Eleventh Age ____ ___ ____ as ____ and ____ ___ ____ ____ by penning small betrayals of their trust along the way. If I want a part of you to ____ when ____ _____, then I must first build every reason for you to believe that can never happen, while at the same time leaving you continuously afraid it will.   And in order for you to feel ______ when you figure out that ____ ____ is a _____ and is ___ ____ _____, I have to lie to you and then make you hate me a little when you discover the truth. It is my job to paint those screaming, crying, throw-the-book-across-the-room-in-rage (but a good rage, not a “What the heck do you mean by it was all a dream!!?!” rage) moments that cause your heart to break right in the middle of soaring. I have to make you laugh and cry and fall madly in love and just as madly in hate, and it scares the_____ ____ out of me that I might miss the mark.   This fear is irrational, along the lines of worrying obsessively over the potential for losing one’s keys. But the reality is I’m writing to young adults, and every year I get a little, er, less young and more likely to lose my keys.

For the record, my daughter is presently telling me all about the Slated trilogy, by Teri Terry (a good review), which is why this post wound up named “How To Avoid Spoiler Alerts”.  The answer is to write MadLib-style blog posts.