Saturday, March 31, 2012

Touring the Blogs

Recently, a couple of people have passed on blog awards to me, and I thought it was time to look into that subject a little deeper, and pass them along myself.  I'm normally a little reserved about doing this thing myself, which is probably why I've put it off for so long.

There are a large number of blogs out there, and many that are helpful, entertaining, insightful, creative, or intriguing in some way or another.  These awards are designed for the little blogs, to get them more attention.  So, to that end, here are two more.

The Versatile Blogger

Guilie, who maintains the blog Quiet Laughter, passed this one along to me, and I have been a little slow to pass it on myself because, well, 15 blogs is a lot of friggin' blogs!  It's taken a while, but thank you again, Guilie.

The guidelines behind this one are threefold:
  • Thank the awarder and link back to them
  • Share 7 things about myself
  • Pass this award to 15 blogs I've recently discovered
The seven things about myself, well, that's easy.  Seven non-incriminating ones?  Yea, I can do that too.  Here goes:

1.  I once was nearly run over by Mario Andretti.  True story. I was walking down the paddocks area at Laguna Seca Raceway with my dad and a couple of friends during the Indy race when he barreled up from behind on a moped.  Dad hollered for me to watch out, and just in time.  Let's just say it's a good think I have cat-like reflexes.  And there's a damn good reason people use the expression "drive like Mario Andretti"!  Bonus tidbit: I've also been around that track in the pace car.  Very fast, and very fun!

2.  I'm a beer snob.  Four wonderful years of living in Southern Spain and touring around Europe completely ruined American mega-brews for me.  There are so many fine styles around the world, but one of the best things about the Pacific Northwest is that it's the micro-brew capital of the world.  Bonus tidbit: I can make a pretty decent micro-brew myself.

3.  I am somewhat the expert on wilderness survival.  As a young man living in Southwest Montana, my buddies and I used to go out camping in the woods.  Day or night.  No matter the weather.  No matter the season.  We never used a tent, never brought much food, if any, and would go for as long as jobs or school constraints would allow.  We'd eat the animals and plants available there.  And many's the time I remember waking up to a bright sunny winter morning as I peeked up through a tiny hole through a foot or more of snow on top of my sleeping bag.  Bonus tidbit: I've touched a wild porcupine on the nose, out in the wild.

4.  I'm a big sports fan.  It's no surprise the Seattle Seahawks are my favorite team, but I'm a sucker for pretty much any sport.  Hockey comes in a close second, with the Colorado Avalanche as my favorite NHL franchise - at least until Seattle finally gets a team again - but I'll watch pretty much anything.  Baseball, racing, rugby, soccer, you name it.  Bonus tidbit: I've been to several NFL Pro Bowls.  Go for the experience, the activities, the autographs, the barbecue, not the game.

5.  I like a variety of music, and it all depends on the mood I'm in.  I'll listen to Rob Zombie one day and turn around the next and listen to Boots Randolph.  The one stipulation is that each story I write has its own special soundtrack.  That way the mood, the feel of each story is the same throughout.  Bonus tidbit: I like a lot of foreign bands and singers.  Much of what I listen to is not English.

6.  I'm not a very big self-promoter.  Weird, because I'm very outgoing and gregarious as a person.  I have few very close personal friends, but a lot of casual ones, and enjoy meeting folks.  I just don't like tooting my horn all that much.  I'm sure that affects how well I'm able to get my work out there for folks to see, and I bet I could prove it too.  Problem is, it's not all about that.  Bonus tidbit: I'd love it if others promoted my writing, but this is probably as close as I'll ever come to asking.

7.  I'm not a very serious guy.  As much as I don't write the stuff, I love irreverent comedy.  Love finely crafted humor.  I just don't do it very well most of the time.  And I've been told only about a tenth of the humorous things I say is actually funny.  Bonus tidbit: that tenth thing is usually pure comedy gold, however!

And now for the fifteen blogs.  I apologize if any have already been nominated for this, but I ain't checkin', and you can't make me.  So here they are in no particular order:

1.  Let's Get Digital - Author David Gaughran is now an established expert on the subject of self-publishing.  He's written the book on it, quite literally, and is also a pretty damn good fiction writer himself.

2.  Unexcused Absences - World travelers and ski addicts Kent and Heather chronicle their meanderings, explorations and adventures as they do what most of the rest of us only wish we did.

3.  The Sharp Angle - Young adult author Lydia Sharp is a prolific blogger, offering advice, tips, industry secrets, reviews and other assorted writing-related goodies on her blog.

4.  Seattle Sportsnet - Alex, fan of all things Seattle talks sports - Seahawks, M's, Huskies, and others - as well as a variety of other Pacific Northwest nonsense.  Some of it's even pretty good!

5.  Bibliophile Stalker - Author and science fiction afficionado Charles Tan links to an incredible amount of resources, information, and sites of interest on his blog.  A definite must-follow for fans of the genre.

6.  Foie Gras Hot Dog - Foodies and culinary explorers Ryan and Julie share recipes, food secrets, and accounts from the quest to find the perfect food for the perfect occasion.

7.  Dave Krieg's Strike Beard - Longtime Seahawks fan DKSB posts analysis, spouts fan opinion and rhetoric, and shares historical moments and achievements on the blog.

8.  Steam & Ink - Author C. J. Ivory runs a smart blog about Steampunk, Victoria Noir, among an assortment of musings, ramblings, reviews, and other fun stuff.

9.  The World in the Satin Bag - Science fiction author Shaun Duke blogs speculative fiction, writerly interests and other bits of interesting nonsense.

10.  Karin Cox's Blog - Editor and author Karin Cox serves up lots of good advice on grammar, writing well, and tips for writers.  She knows what she's talking about, folks!

11.  Seahawks Draft Blog - Seahawks fan Rob Stanton provides analysis, scouting reports, opinion, mock drafts, and other related awesomeness on his blog.

12.  Minetweeps - Author and Minecraft geek Roger Hoyt runs a new blog about adventuring in one of the most addictive time sinks known to man.  Get your geek on!

13.  Fangirl In Training - Fangirl Shelby blogs about baseball and a sundry other weird subjects.  Pictures from numerous games, practices and events make this one an interesting read.

14.  Adventure Without End - Comedy author Tony James Slater blogs about... well, as he puts it, leading a life with no holds bared!  Adrenalin, adventure, misadventure, yep, they're all there.

15.  17 Power - Seahawks fanatics Brandon and Scott run this site, a great place to find analysis, information, and opinion on the team, as well as links to other Seahawk-centric sites and resources.

The Liebster Award

J. W. Alden, who runs the blog Author Alden, gave this one to me. This award is designed to honor smaller blogs which motivate and inspire us, those with under 200 followers.  Thank you, J.W.!

The guidelines for this one are simpler:
  • Thank the person who nominated you on your blog and link back to them
  • Nominate up to 5 others for the award
  • Let them know by commenting on their blog
So, for the five blogs I feel deserve this award, also in no particular order:

1.  JetInk - Author Jettica runs a number of blogs, but this one's about writing, characters, stories, and various other musings from the other side of the pond.

2.  Die Laughing - Author Luke Walker blogs about writing, book reviews, movies, horror, the publishing industry, as well as a variety of other subjects.

3.  Jamie Todd Rubin - Science fiction writer Jamie Todd Rubin blogs all things science fiction and technology, as well as writing and other random musings.

4.  Writings, Workouts, and Were-Jaguars - Author Shiela Calderón Blankemeier posts about writing, the query process, literary agents, and other essential bits of information for writers.

5.  Steph Crawford's Word Barn & Letter Emporium - Author Stephanie Crawford talks writing, words, and other such interests on her blog.

And there we have it.  A bunch of new blogs to run down and follow.  You're welcome.  And yes I am an author, running an author blog.  No, not all these blogs are author blogs.  Some of them, in fact, have a pretty good amount of traffic already.  It doesn't matter.  Broaden your horizons, because if we don't get out of our incestuousness little author circles, the world stays pretty small.  And you're still welcome.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Fun with Words: A Wee Rant

"You keep using that word.  I do not think it means what you think it means." - Inigo Montoya, The Princess Bride.

Seems all the time I think similar thoughts, seeing people use words the wrong way.  They're powerful things, words.  Just a single one can make a huge impact on a story, a speech, a conversation.  They can raise you up, and they can cut you right back down to size.

But words, like the character of Inigo Montoya stated so eloquently, do not always mean what one thinks they mean.  We often use words wrong, for wide variety of reasons.  And because we use them wrong, others learn them wrong and perpetuate their wrong use.

Now I'm not talking about words like "then vs. than", or the spectacular failure that seems to be our understanding of "their, there, and they're", or any other malapropism.  I'm not even going to go there, because I don't want to get that worked up.  I can do without the aneurysm.  No, I'm talking about words we mistake the meaning for, those we think we're using correctly but aren't at all.  It's irritating, because the more they're used wrong, the more their wrong use is perpetuated.  And don't give me that lame "but language is always evolving" excuse.  I know how languages work, thank you very much.

And by the way, a hearty thank you to Alanis Morissette, for the wonderful, unintentional lesson on the misuse of irony.  Irony.  That's a very good place to start, don't you think?

Irony.  i·ro·ny [ahy-ruh-nee, ahy-er-] noun, plural -nies.  Several of the dictionary definitions include: The use of words to express something different from and often opposite to their literal meaning.  An expression or utterance marked by a deliberate contrast between apparent and intended meaning.  Incongruity between what might be expected and what actually occurs.

Good job there, Alanis.  You very aptly described coincidence, not irony.  And the misuse of it here isn't really ironic, either.  It's unfortunate.  It would be ironic if Ms. Morissette were an English teacher instead of a singer.  As to the lyrics, hardly any are the least bit ironic.  The fact you called the song Ironic however, is quite ironic.

If I was afraid of flying and died in a plane crash, that would be a coincidence that fulfilled my paranoia.  If I was afraid of flying and took a bus because it was safer, only to die in a bus crash, that would be ironic.  If I was an aircraft safety inspector and I died in a plane crash, that would be coincidental.  If, as that aircraft safety inspector, I died in a plane crash in an attempt to show just how safe the plane was, after inspecting it myself, that would be irony.

Literally.  lit·er·al·ly [lit-er-uh-lee] adverb.  Dictionary definitions include: In the literal or strict sense.  In a literal manner; word for word: to translate literally.  Actually; without exaggeration or inaccuracy.

Something literal is "word for word".  It's the actual, really real definition of something.  The way it in fact is.  And it's used in place of the word "figuratively" more often than it's used correctly.  Stop it.  Literally, just stop it.

"I literally died laughing at that joke!"  No, you didn't.  You died figuratively.  If you'd have literally died, I'd literally be on my way to the morgue with your cold corpse.  Or the hospital.  How much I liked you could quite literally affect my destination, if I was figuratively that cold-hearted.

And just now, I mentally threw a book at your face for saying that.  Mentally.  Figuratively.  Not literally, because it would have been impossible to literally throw a book at you, seeing as you're not even in the same room as I.  You could use the word "figuratively" in the example above.  There's nothing wrong with that word.  You could even say "I died laughing at that joke," without any modifier, because that would be simple - and obvious - hyperbole.

Penultimate.  pe·nul·ti·mate [pi-nuhl-tuh-mit] adjective. Definitions: Next to the last.  Of or pertaining to a penult, the next-to-last syllable of a word.

This word is often misused in sports.  "They had the penultimate season!"  No, they had the ultimate season.  The team they beat in the final game had the penultimate season.  Penultimate, in this context, isn't a grand accomplishment, eclipsing all others, it's the agony of defeat, ultimately failing after getting oh-so-close.  The Seahawks won their penultimate game in the 2005 playoffs, resoundingly, only to become the penultimate team of that season.

Proverbial.  pro·ver·bi·al [pruh-vur-bee-uhl] adjective.  And the dictionary definitions: Of, pertaining to, or characteristic of a proverb.  Expressed in a proverb or proverbs: proverbial wisdom.  Of the nature of or resembling a proverb.

Again, used heavily in sports broadcasting.  I don't know how many times I've heard about being on "proverbial cloud nine", or throwing the "proverbial perfect pass", or that "proverbial monkey on one's back".  It's uttered about once a game, or race, or match from some broadcaster or another.  We hear it all the time in television.  And in movies.  And it's wrong.  "Idiomatic" is usually the word they're looking for.  When they say the "proverbial perfect pass", what they really mean is the "quintessential pass".

"Cloud nine" does not come from a proverb.  It's an idiom.  And there are no proverbs that speak of throwing a touchdown, or making a daring pass on a race track, or any other sporting events for that matter.  Jesus never spoke about making that hard-to-throw spiral.  Aesop never recounted a tale about the awesomeness of being on the ninth cloud.  And a "monkey on one's back" comes from nature, not parable.  It comes from observing baby monkeys of many species, how they ride on their mothers backs, and don't come off, no matter how the mother jumps around.  It's an idiom for something you just can't shake, no matter how hard you try.

Myth.  myth [mith] noun.  With dictionary definition: A traditional or legendary story, usually concerning some being, hero, or event, with or without a determinable basis of fact or a natural explanation, especially one that is concerned with deities or demigods and explains some practice, rite, or phenomenon of nature.  An imaginary or fictitious thing or person.

We owe at least a little bit of the misuse on this one to the television show Mythbusters.  Now don't get me wrong, it's a great show.  I absolutely love it!  But they're only sometimes busting myths.  Sometimes it's just misconceptions. doesn't always bust myths either.  Mostly they bust inaccurate perceptions and misconceptions, based on rumors and inaccurate information.

And those constant advertorials proclaiming to have the answers for the "10 Myths about Drinking Alcohol", or 10 Myths about Mental Illness", or whatever other misconceptions there are, aren't really myths either.  There is, to my knowledge, no fictitious or imaginary being known for touting the dangers of that demon alcohol.  Say it with me now, people:  those are misconceptions, not myths.  Dionysus was a myth.  Pan was a myth.  And those are the closest things you'll ever find if you're looking for myths about drinking.

Sentient.  sen·tient [sen-shuhnt] adjective.  Having the power of perception by the senses; conscious.  Characterized by sensation and consciousness.

As a science fiction writer, this one strikes near and dear to my heart.  We see and hear it all the time.  "Ooo, a sentient being!"  Well, no shit.  There are a lot of sentient beings besides humans on the earth.  In fact, our world is teeming with them.  Your dog is sentient.  He's self-aware; he knows he exists.  He knows those are his own balls he's licking right now.  That's why he's licking them: they're his, and he can lick them all day if he wants to.

And while sometimes yes, sentience is what someone means when they're talking about a self-aware machine, what they are often referring to is sapience.  It comes from the same root as homo sapiens.  Sapiens, meaning "to be wise", or "to have taste" in Latin, refers to an ability to make decisions based on wisdom, experience and judgment.  Yes, it's very much human-like, a trait we humans share with almost nothing else on the planet.  While some animals can learn, and associate certain events with others, higher deductive reasoning and judgment is peculiar to humans.  At least until we let those mad scientists in the genetics labs go nuts.  Kidding, folks, kidding.  Only a few of us really want to see giant lab rats with super-human intelligence and cognitive reasoning.

Nemesis.  nem·e·sis [nem-uh-sis] noun, plural -ses  [-seez].  In classical mythology, the goddess of divine retribution.  An agent or act of retribution or punishment.  Something that a person cannot conquer, achieve, etc.  An opponent or rival whom a person cannot best or overcome.

A nemesis isn't just an antagonist or an enemy.  He's not the bad guy the good guy defeats in the end.  He's more than that.  He's the one foe that knows and can exploit someone's Achilles' heel; the one thing they cannot conquer.  A nemesis is the unbeatable, that agent of retribution which one cannot defeat.  So chances are, unless the hero dies in the end, it's unlikely they met their nemesis for the last time.  They were probably the antihero's nemesis instead.  In fact, an "agent or act of retribution or punishment" sounds much more like the hero of most stories, meting out retribution to wrongdoers, instead of the villain.

Ok, I'm finished.  That's all I can produce off the top of my head.  I'm sure a few more examples will come raging to the forefront of my mind once I've posted this.   Oh well, it's probably a big enough rant for now anyway.  Now back to your regularly scheduled programming.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Steve Hutchinson and the Deus ex Machina

Ok.  So everyone here probably already knows I'm a pretty big Seattle Seahawks fan.  And by "pretty big", I don't mean in a large-sized sort of way.  I mean it in an I'm going to have to get a bigger closet for all my Seahawks gear when I buy another jersey sort of way.  I live and breathe Seahawks.  Twenty-four friggin' hours a day.  Drives the rest of the House of Dalar up the walls at times, especially the times when there's a game on.  'cept the boy.  He's cool like that.  I'm raising him well.

The Greatest Place on Earth, © Jonathan Dalar

So when the news broke that left guard Steve Hutchinson would be visiting the Seahawks, I naturally assumed the Mayans were right about this whole "world is ending in 2012" thing.  The writer in me took over, however, and the first thing I did was start to think about plot twists in a story.  Well, no.  Technically that was the second thing I did.  I first checked the temperature in Hell.  Astonishingly, snow was not in the forecast.

For those of you who are not following, I'll bring you up to speed with a little back story necessary to understand why this would be so improbable.  Actually the back story is the story.  The visit is simply the climax at the end.

Hutch is an absolute beast, a high-caliber player that tremendously impacts the success of a team.  He's been to the Pro Bowl seven times, four of them with the Seahawks.  They picked him with the 17th pick in the 2001 draft, and he quickly became a cog in one of the best offensive lines we've seen in the NFL.  Between 2001 and 2006, he played beside Walter Jones, forming if not the best offensive line tandem in the game, certainly one of a select few great ones.  He was tremendously valuable to the Seahawks, and a big part of their trip to Super Bowl XL* after the 2005 season.  Ah, things were going well!

But then things went sour, and they did so quickly.  In 2006, Hutch was scheduled to become a free agent.  The Seahawks front office, then led by a somewhat discordant team of head coach Mike Holmgren and president and general manager Tim Ruskell, placed the Transition Tag on Hutch instead of the safer Franchise Tag.  The move saved the team $500,000.00, but cost them the ability to secure his services for another year while they worked out a long-term contract.

The Minnesota Vikings were quick to take advantage of that situation, and offered him a huge poison pill-laden contract, at the time an unprecedented amount of money for his position.  The poison pill was two-fold: first, the contract stipulated he had to be the highest paid lineman on the team (on the Vikings he would be; on the Seahawks, Walter Jones deservedly earned more), and second, he could play no more than a half a dozen games in Washington State (the Seahawks play eight home games a year).  If either of these provisions were not followed, the entire $49 million contract was guaranteed.  Of course, that made the contract impossible for the Seahawks to match.  They took it to arbitration, but lost, and Hutch became a Viking.

It was a divorce straight from the script of The War of the Roses.  Hutch, frustrated with the Seahawks' dysfunctional front office, had very little nice to say about the split.  Seahawks fans everywhere took affront.  Hutch instantly became one of Seahawks fans' most hated players in the game.  He was branded a traitor, and much worse.  "It was all about the money!"  "What a greedy, selfish bastard!"  "Huck Futch!"  The insults came hot and heavy, and sentiment regarding Hutch didn't really change, even as the years passed and memories faded.  His money-grabbing move crippled the Seahawks' front line, triggering the team's sharp downward spiral just a season away from the Super Bowl.  He took something away from us.  Seahawks fans had every right to be pissed.

Or did we?  Hindsight is 20/20, so they say, but we don't have the luxury of hindsight when we're in the middle of a story.  We read it as it plays out, and react accordingly.  But what we see isn't necessarily all that's going on behind the scenes, and it's only at the end that we start to figure out what's really going on.  This has never been more true than with this story.

Self, © beholder via Flikr

We fans were still quite enamored at the time with Tim Ruskell.  He'd come to the team at the beginning of the 2005 season, and a few key moves that year were what propelled them to their best season yet and a trip to the big dance.  It appeared he was the mad genius, the final missing cog that brought the team to glory from a rather dismal and emotionally draining past.  "In Ruskell we trust" became many fans' byline, almost overnight.

In the years since, that façade has crumbled away, as decisions made then did the exact opposite of what we expected.  The team plodded to back-to-back horrible seasons, mired as ineffective moves came back to haunt it.  We've come to understand that there was far more dysfunction and discord in the front office than we realized.  Ruskell, no longer the hero, was now judged by his track record, and it wasn't a pretty record at all.  The decision to assign the Transition Tag to Hutchinson is viewed by many as his worst, the fatal blow that ripped the team from playoff contention and mired them once again in mediocrity.

Since those dark days, the team has had an entire reboot.  An entire new front office was installed, and the team no longer has a single player from that magical 2005 season left.  Not one.  At least not until Steve Hutchinson re-signs.  It's definitely not your daddy's "Same Old Seahawks".

Re-signing Hutchinson may be just what the team needs.  He's older, but he's still a great player, and would make an outstanding mentor to the younger linemen on the team.  As an emotionally involved fan, I'm split.  I still vividly feel those feelings of betrayal and letdown when he scorned us for better pastures.  It still hurts.  But I also realize he'd be good for the team.  This is not the same Seahawks team he left, and there's no reason to assign correlation to the old front office.  Business is business in the NFL, and this is no different.

So how does this story apply to the concept of deus ex machina?  Simple: it's the perfect example of how to write a story and avoid having to use it.  Thinking your plot through a little deeper allows you as a writer the ability to create wild, unexpected plot twists, without having to sideswipe your readers with something out of the blue, something that only serves to shove your plot in the direction you want it to go, but can't get your characters' actions to get it there.

So what if that bad guy wasn't really that bad a guy after all?  What if actions earlier were done for completely different reasons and motivations than were assumed?  Suddenly the dynamics of your plot shifts naturally, without the need for a character epiphany, or sudden change of heart, or mandate from an outside force.  In Hutch's case, he isn't having an unexpected change of heart.  He's not repenting, coming back to a team he spurned before.  He's operating exactly the same way he always has.  He's staying in character, making a move that's aligned in his best interests.  This new front office is looking for a capable, talented guard, and he could well be the man for the job.  It makes perfect sense now, even if such an ending would have been viewed as completely absurd halfway through the story.

I don't know about other Seahawks fans, but I think I'd be willing to root for him again in blue and green.  The unlikely story will have come full circle.  What was once thought impossible is now possible, because things weren't quite as we once thought they were.  It's not exactly ironic, but it is about as unexpected a plot twist as one can imagine.

And is it just me, or is it poetic justice that it's all happening on the Ides of March?

Update:  So we don't get our happy ending.  He's accepted a three-year contract with the Tennessee Titans, reuniting him with former teammate Matthew Hasselbeck, at least for now.  Still, the sentiment stands. And of course, your story is your own.  You can write the ending any damn way you please.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Cooking up a Good Story

*** Warning: the following post contains a lot of gratuitous food porn! ***

The other day I was perusing Twitter, trying valiantly not to get sucked in for too long while taking a break from editing, when I saw a few tweets by literary agent Victoria Marini ‏ (@LitAgentMarini), comparing book revisions to baking cookies.  She's one of many literary agents I follow, and often has great advice.  This is what she said:

"Revision is not just addressing some comments in the margin. It's a lengthy, pensive process in which you look at your WHOLE work again.  If you baked cookies and I said 'they're too light,' you wouldn't just add flour to the same left over dough. You'd make a new batch!  Most of the recipe would stay the same, but you'd need to revisit the whole process to get the new batch right."

Great advice!

Magic Marshmallow Crescent Puffs (with wholesome nutritious filberts). © Ryan Schierling

And it got me thinking, which is rarely a good idea.  It also got me hungry, which is never a good idea, but we'll get to that later on.  Anyway, so many parallels between cooking and writing raced through my mind at reading that, I decided to share them here.  Enjoy.  And wipe that drool from your bottom lip.

Sweet potato fries w/ gravy and over-easy egg. © Julie Munroe

Don't leave it in the oven too long.  Nobody likes that hunk of meat that's been baking for an hour too long, and they certainly won't like your overcooked novel.  It's overdone, dry, and nasty.  If it drags on and on, it's going to bog down, and your readers will put it down at some point.  And if it's dragged on long enough, they're not going to pick it back up because it isn't interesting anymore.  It doesn't matter if you have complex, flawed, and interesting characters, or if your plot is wildly unpredictable and original, if it drags on too long, readers will lose interest.  Cut it, trim it, season it, and pull it out of the oven at precisely the right time.  Do it right, and you have a mouthwatering dish that readers won't be able to put down until they scrape the last crumbs and morsels from the plate.

Sauerbraten, with semmelknodel and rotkohl. © Ryan Schierling

Know the proper measurements.  A dash is not a tablespoon.  A pinch will not suffice when the recipe calls for a cup.  There are limits, but you can get away with adding more or less of something, or using a suitable substitute.  To a point.  Similarly, an author can usually get away with an extra 20,000 words in an epic fantasy or science fiction story because of the world building, but when writing young adult, there is a much shorter word-count constraint to work with.  There are general word count boundaries that are accepted by most in the industry, and they vary by genre.  Words are not like bacon; they're like onions.  There is a limit on the amount you can add to a story and still keep it palatable.  Know the boundaries for the genre you're writing, and the lengths a literary agency or publishing house accepts; they're not always the same.

Root vegetable-creamed linguini with bacon and parsley. © Ryan Schierling

Use the right ingredients.  There have been many great pieces of advice on creating realistic, believable characters, such as this helpful blog post by literary agent Vickie Motter (@Vickie_Motter).  Thing is, you have to put in the ingredients best suited to the dish (or character) you're creating.  If you're making steak in an upscale New York restaurant, you're not going to use a low grade chuck or round cut.  Conversely, if you're going for the flavors and textures of a greasy soup kitchen meal, you're not going to use cuts of Filet Mignon or Châteaubriand.  It doesn't matter what you're making, but you have to use the ingredients that give it exactly the flavor, smell, and texture you're looking for.  The ingredients for tacos come in a wide variety of shapes and tastes, but in the end, they still make tacos.

Crock pot chicken tinga tacos. © Ryan Schierling

Create a brand and cater to that specific consumer base.  In a similar thought to the one above, a customer must be able to associate a specific product with a producer.  People go to In-N-Out Burger, expecting delicious, no-frills burgers 'n fries, and that's what they find there.  People buy a William Gibson novel expecting edgy, futuristic science fiction, and that's what he delivers.  We want to get what we expect.  If we don't know what to expect from something, we're more hesitant, especially if obtaining it costs us our hard-earned money.  Creating a brand, and sticking to it, allows readers to readily identify whether or not they'll be interested in the book.  And a brand can't be a smorgasbord.  Trying to please all of the people all of the time never really works, especially with readers.  It's possible to write in several genres, especially if they're closely related, but many authors who switch genres, or write in more than one, do so under a different pseudonym for a reason.

Now I give you everything. © Ryan Schierling

Understand and cater to known tastes.  There's a reason why certain foods are paired with specific beers and wines: the flavors work well together, complement each other.  The same principle applies to books.  There is a reason why things fall into categories like genres and sub-genres, and why those genres are standard lengths, with standard elements in them.  A strong female main character works well in women's fiction.  A larger-than-life hero works well in fantasy and stories with heavily action-oriented plots.  For the same reasons lemon and rosemary go well with baked salmon, ornery dwarfs and mysterious elves go well with high fantasy.  It just works.  You don't always have to stick with the tried and true, as you'll see below, but stereotypes and standards exist for a reason.  Understanding that will help you create an original story that still falls with the bounds of consumer taste.

Cedar-planked Alaskan King salmon, ready for some heat. © Ryan Schierling

Stick with a recipe.  People also want to know what they're getting when they buy something.  If people are in the mood for prawns or crayfish, they're not going to look in the steak section of the menu to find it, and if they're in the mood for science fiction, they're not going to browse through romance books looking for it.  Understanding elements common to the genre you're writing and sticking with them will create an identifiable, quantifiable work, something that can easily find its proper place on a bookshelf.  If you identify your story as "more of a literary science fiction mystery, but with elements of romance and chick lit", a publisher is going to have a devil of a time finding a place on a bookshelf for it.  And guess what - if they can't find a place for it on the shelf, readers won't find it there either.

Crawdads, no. Crayfish, no. Crawfish, yes. Pot pie. © Ryan Schierling

Experiment, but do so correctly.  Although I'm quite the adventurous foodie, I'm not an especially good cook.  I experiment far too much, and usually my creations (using that term loosely here) end up mangled and often garbage-bound.  Luckily I don't have to be.  The wife is a supremely talented cook, and we eat quite well in the House of Dalar.  It's good to push the envelope, though, try things a little outside the box.  That's what gives us those new, exciting, discoveries that suddenly become the next big trend everyone tries frantically to copy before it becomes old.  That's a great thing in both writing and food.  But you gotta do it right.  You can't just add ingredients without knowing what they'll do to a dish, and you can't play around with story elements, grammar, and perspective without knowing what you're doing either.  A little tweak, a dash of daring, and suddenly your creation is refreshingly new and original.  You can play around with a baked potato, but the main ingredient is still going to be a potato.

Potato pavé w/ bison Texas red chili and smoked cheddar. © Ryan Schierling

Phew, that's a lot of food porn.  You had forewarning.  And now you're hungry; I know I am.  I'm going to saunter down to the kitchen to wrangle up something to eat.  And you can saunter on over to Foie Gras Hot Dog and find the recipes where all these wonderful photos came from.  It's run by my friends Julie and Ryan, a couple of great cooks, and adventurous foodies themselves.  You can also follow them on Twitter (@FoieGrasHotDog).

Papaquiles (the imaginary friend of chilaquiles). © Ryan Schierling

By the way, one of their uniquely crafted recipes - Papaquiles - is being served by the Today Food crew's food truck at this year's SXSW Music Festival in Austin, Texas, which starts today and runs through March 18th.  If you're in the area, be sure to check it out!

Grilled peach cobbler. © Ryan Schierling

Oh, and dessert.  Can't forget dessert.