Category Archives: Uncategorized

COVID Changes: Snacks

On Day 120 of Casa Cameron being in COVID-19 “stay at home” mode, I got to thinking about some of the things that have changed around here due to the pandemic. Some, clearly, are not good (masking, disinfecting, not being able to go anywhere, deaths, long-term health problems, etc.), but some are interesting.

Because I have a medical background, I took the epidemiologists’ warnings seriously back in February (especially after I got over my horrible respiratory bug that might have been COVID after all, but more on that in another blog post). I started doing incremental stock-ups every time I went to store — getting an extra pack of toilet paper here, extra cans of beans there, etc. By the time March rolled around our pantry was in pretty good shape in case one or both of us got sick (again) and we couldn’t go out to get food. (This, BTW, extended to wet and dry cat food and litter. Gotta make sure the J Crew is taken care of, after all.)

One issue with stocking up, however, was that certain things go really fast in this household, such as snacks. Now, I was able to snag enough flour and baking materials to make all the cookies we could possibly want, but sometimes you want something savory. We tend towards sweet potato and quinoa chips in that department, but my personal favorite is white cheddar cheese popcorn. I’ve found that a bowl of it in the afternoon can keep my brain up and running for quite some time.

Unfortunately, popcorn also tended to make me retain water, mainly because of that yummy, yummy salt. Yes, there were low sodium varieties, but those kinda tasted like cardboard. What to do? Then I remembered back to my childhood (because I am Olde™), when we used to make pots of popcorn on the stove. Could I still do that? Was unpopped popcorn even available anymore?

Turns out it was. I grabbed a couple of bags of popcorn kernels and some vegetable oil on my next food run, then returned home and experimented. The end result was that our 6 quart stock pot could pop enough popcorn for days — I could make a pot of it on Monday, put it into a big airtight container, and snack on it all through the week. In addition, that six quarts of popcorn was more than I got in your average bag of popcorn, and it represented maybe a sixth of my bag of popcorn kernels.

So, quantity plus savings — booyah, right? But it gets even better. Want to know the best part of making my own popcorn? I can control what goes on it. Kroger sells various popcorn seasoning flavors and I quickly fell in love with garlic parmesan, but meh — salt.

However, I remembered  that Alton Brown recommended putting nutritional yeast on popcorn. I already knew I liked how it tasted (kind of cheesy/nutty, very much an umami flavor), so I tried it. If I sprinkled maybe two tablespoons of nutritional yeast on the popcorn first, I only needed a shake of the garlic parmesan flavoring and the whole bowl tasted like cheesy, garlicky goodness, plus I was getting additional protein, minerals, vitamins, and GI bennies from the nutritional yeast, and there was no more bloating problems. Sweet.

So making popcorn at home and eating more nutritional yeast is one of the ways the pandemic has changed life here at Casa Cameron for the better. I’ll talk about some other ways in future blog posts — let me know in the comments if you’ve been able to find any, as well!

Unexpected benefits of cleaning

With five cats in the J Crew, this place gets haired up very easily so I kinda have to clean every day whether I want to or not, just to stay ahead of the furry apocalypse. In the process of cleaning the Bachelorette Pad yesterday (it’s a large wire crate with padding and cat beds on top, and a high-sided litter box inside. We refer to it as the Bachelorette Pad because the girls like to hang out there), I discovered to my dismay that one of the more … skilled felines has managed to pee over the 14 inch high edge of the litter box, spattering the bars of the crate and the floor and wall behind it).

As this is not the first time said skilled feline has managed this, I decided to take action. With a certain amount of effort I folded up the crate and dragged it outside to hose it down along with the crate tray, then located a piece of plexiglass that we’ll drill holes into and wire onto the back wall as a pee shield.

Then it was time to tackle the pee. To my increasing dismay, I discovered that the pee had run along the back of the cage and wicked into the base of a small wooden bookcase next to the Pad. This is one of two used bookcases that Ramón had picked up when he was in college, and I had always meant to refinish them when I had the chance. It seems that Fate intends that time to be now, so I unloaded the bookcase in order to move it into the garage, hit the affected area with Nature’s Miracle, then strip and refinish it.

(The floor? Eh, we want to replace the Pergo in there with hardwood anyway, so I’ll just Nature’s Miracle the crap out of it.)

In the process of moving the books, however, I found — well, I can’t really call it hidden treasure since it was out in clear view. Forgotten treasure, perhaps, in the form of a bunch of crime writer reference books (from back when I thought I would take a crack at writing mysteries and cop thrillers), plus a tome that is going to come in handy right now, Everyday Life in Regency and Victorian England. I bought this back in 2009 when I was working on Most Malicious Murder, and it was incredibly helpful in supplying accurate background details for Eddy and Charles’s adventure in 1850. Now that I need to do research on 1894 for Shadow of the Swan, this book is once again going to come in handy.

The moral of this story is, if you’re a writer you can Marie Kondo the rest of your house to your heart’s content, but don’t touch your library because you never know when a specific reference books is going to come in handy.

I’m tired

I am speaking from a place of immense privilege right now, and I’m well aware of it. Both of us are still working, we have money, we have food, we both still feel okay, and the relative who was ill with COVID-19 is now home and recovering. So lots of blessings there, and I’m grateful for each and every one of them.

Thing is, since I know how privileged I am, I’ve been pushing myself maybe a wee bit more than I should as a thank-you to Fate. For the last two weeks my average weekday has followed this pattern: wake up, feed the cats, do the WFH gig, do housework, make masks, make dinner, make more masks, fall into bed. My weekends have been: wake up, feed the cats, do a bunch more housework, make a bunch more masks, make dinner, maybe watch a couple of episodes of whatever on TV, fall into bed. Lots of masks made and sent off to people, lots of things cleaned around here, lots of work done for the day job … not a lot of down time for Nicola.

Today was similar — got up, fed the cats, attended the weekly company meeting then got to work, spent my lunch break making two more masks, worked through the afternoon, got the print proof of Breaker Zone and realized I needed to change something on the back cover for that and Storm Season, made the changes and uploaded them to Amazon, made an update to a client’s website, started a load of laundry, critted a friend’s poem, ate dinner that Ramón blessedly brought home, then suited up and went out to mail masks and do the weekly food stock-up (store was almost empty, got pretty much everything I needed apart from TP, nobody came within six feet of me, it was all good).

Part of my brain is saying, “Well, hey, don’t be a slacker. You still have over an hour before you need to go to bed — you can work on Shadow.” The other part of my brain is saying, “If you do anything other than make yourself a rum and coke and watch something soothing on Netflix, I swear to God I will blow an artery.” I want to write, I honestly do. But I’m so freaking exhausted that the idea of doing one more iota of work today is … no. Just no. Maybe I’ll have time tomorrow, and more energy.

Gratitude in the time of Coronavirus

For one thing, I’m grateful that I’m not using that as the title of a book. I have nothing but compassion for the agents and publishers out there who are going to be inundated with quarantine memoirs in a year or so.

I was going to write a post about be grateful for the things we have right now, but to be honest I wouldn’t be surprised if folks’ response was, “So what? I got laid off and I don’t know how I’m gonna feed my family. Fuck you.” We’re damn lucky at the moment (well, not at this precise moment as JJ has decided to drop a truly foul deuce in the litter box closest to me. Jesus, that cat’s shit is foul), and I also know that things could start heading south tomorrow. I have no idea what’s going to happen, and, yeah, that’s more than a little anxiety inducing.

I mean, they’re closing all casinos in Vegas and shutting down all gambling machines at midnight tonight. Has that ever happened in the history of Vegas? Disneyworld and Disneyland are closed, movie and live theaters are closed,  a bunch of malls in my area are closing, Starbucks is strictly drive-thru, most restaurants are now pick-up or delivery only, and pretty much any gathering of size has been called off. The floor around the Kaaba in Mecca is empty — as @tha_rami said on Twitter, “I honestly didn’t think I’d ever see a photo that looks like this in my life.” It’s weird, and kind of scary, and it doesn’t help to see idiots on the beaches in Florida yammering that “It’s spring break, man, and I’m gonna party, I don’t care.”

But there are pluses as well. The lack of boats and other traffic on the Venetian canals has allowed the silt to settle to the point where you can see the fish again. People are walking in the park a lot more, being careful to maintain a six foot distance from everyone. The air pollution in China is settling dramatically. There are some freaking amazing classes available online now, and highways that are usually jammed with cars are pretty much empty. People are stepping up to help those who are stuck inside or can’t go out to the stores, and while there’s still idiocy and assholery in profusion, there also seems to be a slowly growing sense of compassion and willingness to at least hear one another out.

Maybe human beings don’t suck quite as much as I thought. Wouldn’t that be a lovely thing?

So I’m writing…

Happy holidays, and enjoy this unedited snippet from my current WIP, Victorian paranormal romance Shadow of the Swan. Yeah, yeah, I know, but at least I’m writing something.


“Tell me that I’m imagining things. Tell me that there’s nothing between us, that everything I feel is some sort of foolish dream kindled by my own imagination.”

He opened his mouth, intending to assure her that what she felt was one-sided and fleeting. What came out was, “No, you’re not imagining things.”

She nodded. “Good. I’d hate to think that I was that self-deluded.”

If you are, my treasure, then I’m equally deluded. “But we can’t act on it,” he added heavily.

“I know. The queen has decreed that I marry Richard Bolton, and you—” She gave him a sidelong glance. “Can you marry? Legally, I mean?”

“You mean, will I burst into flame if I set foot inside a church?” He squinted up at the weak December sunlight. “Another myth. I can go into a church, hold a crucifix, be splashed by holy water without harm.”

“You’re not answering my question.”

Damn her perspicacity. “I can marry, yes. Many vampires wed, for various reasons. But it carries certain complications when we marry a human.”

“An immortal being marrying a mortal one. It must seem like a human marrying a butterfly.”

“Not quite that unequal, I assure you. But it’s painful to know that you’re guaranteed to outlive the one you love.” Memories of Anne crept forward, sweetly harrowing. “At least humans know that they will both age and die at some point, ideally to be reunited in the afterlife. Vampires cannot indulge in that comfort.”

“Do vampires usually marry each other, then?”

He wondered if she truly wanted to know, or whether it was a ploy to delay their return. “Sometimes, or other creatures with extended lifelines. But those unions can also be problematic. The married couples I know often spend large periods of time apart.”

Louisa was silent for a moment. Then, to his surprise she said, “Yes, I can see how an eternity together might begin to pall after some time. Still, they do reunite eventually, don’t they?”

“The ones I know do, yes.”

“Well, then.” They continued around the curve of the pond, the December breeze chilly as it riffled the water’s surface. “Perhaps absence makes the heart grow fonder.” Another of her solemn glances. “Although that doesn’t bode well for us, does it?”

Once again, she cut to the heart of the matter. “I’m afraid not.”

She let out a soft sigh. “At least we’ve had these few days together. That’s something.”

Relief that she hadn’t asked to be turned warred with an urge to snarl. Moments walking side by side or talking weren’t nearly enough; all they did was whet his appetite for her. “It is nothing,” he ground out. “I have spent nearly five hundred years working to protect the monarchy. I have witnessed momentous events, seen fools and wise men ascend the throne, and have done whatever was required of me to make sure that this green land and its people remained safe. And in all that time I have never been tempted to shirk my duties, until now.”

She stopped and stared at him, eyes huge with wonderment. “I don’t know what to say to that,” she whispered.

“You needn’t say anything. You shall marry and, with Bolton’s help, produce the next generation of Britain’s leaders. Meanwhile, I shall continue in my position at the Ministry. My consolation is that my duties will now include protecting you and your children.”

One hand rose, fluttering to a rest at the base of her throat. “I—I wish—”

He stepped closer, acutely aware of her scent on the crisp air, the warmth that emanated from her body. “As do I. But it’s not to be, my lady.”

He would never forget how she looked in the swiftly fading daylight, how he would have given up his immortality without a second thought, if he could only take her in his arms and kiss her. Finally, she nodded in resignation. “We’d best get back. Pandora will be wondering where we are.”

So I’m making honey and rosemary ice cream

I know this doesn’t look like much to you because we don’t have Tastagram yet (Chrissy Teigen, could you get started on that, please?) but this is rosemary and honey ice cream. It is the bomb. I would send a container to you all if I could, because it’s guaranteed to clear up your blemishes, teach your kids math, and make your sex life great.

And in response to people who wanted the recipe, here you go (it’s modified from this amazing thyme and honey ice cream recipe):

Ingredients

  • the peel of one lemon (yellow part only)
  • 2 cups heavy whipping cream
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 10-12 inches of fresh rosemary (this can be in parts)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preparation

  1. Cut off ends of lemon, use spoon to scoop out pulp down to inside of peel. Cut into eight slices.
  2. Add lemon, heavy whipping cream, milk, and rosemary pieces to medium saucepan, bring to boil. Remove from heat. Cover and let steep 2 hours.
  3. Once the cream mixture has finished steeping, add honey to cream mixture. Simmer over medium heat until honey dissolves.
  4. Whisk eggs and sugar in medium bowl. Gradually whisk cream mixture into egg mixture (DO THIS SLOWLY, otherwise the hot cream mixture will cook the eggs and turn them into scrambled egg. This is called “curdling” if you’ve watched GBBO and wondered what that was).
  5. Return cream and egg mixture (aka the custard) to original pan. Stir over medium heat until custard thickens enough to coat spoon. If you’re using a candy thermometer, it should read 170°F to 175°F, about 4 minutes (do not boil).
  6. Strain custard into clean bowl and whisk in vanilla.
  7. Cover and chill until cold, at least 3 hours and up to 1 day.
  8. Process custard in ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions. Transfer to freezer-safe container, cover, and freeze until firm. Optional: add sprig of rosemary to top of ice cream for added scent/flavor.

Hello 4:33 AM, my old friend

Seriously, being a writer is the best job. You get to work in sweats and a t-shirt while you tell stories for a living, and with any luck people like them and buy them for enough money to pay your bills.

The flipside, however, is insomnia. Pretty much every writer I know has it because we have problems shutting off our brains at night. True story — I was once given Vicodin when my back went out. It didn’t do anything for pain because hello weird metabolism, but I enjoyed it anyway because it shut my brain down. I literally heard a descending note fifteen minutes after I took a tablet and all the noise that is constantly going through my mind died away and let me drift off to sleep. Interestingly enough, it also gave me razor-sharp concentration if I decided to stay up and think — I plotted out all of Deep Water one night after taking a Vicodin.

Of course, it also gave me hellacious constipation so I never tried it again, but I did like the ability to just go to sleep without my brain yammering at me. So anyway, hello and happy Sunday, and here’s my Day 5 post for Romance Writer August.

I’m Still Here (oh, and please buy my books — I have an A/C repair to pay off)

Sorry about the radio silence — between trying to get various books formatted and out (my very first romance novel Storm Season has been re-released with a new cover and re-edited content, AND it’s on sale for 99¢ — go take a look!), the increasingly scary situation going on with our current administration, the #GetLoud crusade against bookstuffers and assorted scammers, me taking a jewelry fabrication course, and assorted other things I’ve been a little busy.

The latest event was our downstairs A/C unit going out over the weekend — as it’s been flirting with triple digits here in the clavicle of Texas, this was not a laughing matter. The repairman came today and we now have cool air again for just a shade under a grand. *sigh* So if you need something entertaining to take your mind off things, I currently have five titles on sale for 99¢:

To My Muse will be coming off sale on 7/1 and Degree of Resistance will be taking its place, so if you haven’t read my hilarious romcom yet go get a copy while it’s still ridiculously cheap.

But not all is doom and gloom around the Cameron manse. The #GetLoud campaign, spearheaded by the brilliant Suzan Tisdale, Heather C. Leigh, Bianca Sommerfield, and David Gaughran, has finally generated enough complaints and bad press that the Big River are now taking down bookstuffers. Not all of them are gone, mind you — I still counted at least three in the top 20 of Romantic Comedy a few minutes ago — but the ranks are definitely looking different now. And if Amazon sticks to their guns and doesn’t let these people create new accounts (which according to their TOS is what’s supposed to happen), we may actually have a respite where KU has real, legitimate novels in it again.

At least, until the stuffers figure out a new scam. Which they will, because they’re unethical hacks who simply want to make money. In the meantime, however, I’m going to experiment and put Red Robin and the Huntsman back into KU for three months because it’s not really selling wide, and if it attracts readers in KU that might persuade them to check out the rest of the Two Thrones series (the next book, King of Blades, should be out in November, BTW).

Also, I’m finishing up Shifter Woods: Snarl (see cover at left) and that will be out on 7/10, so mark your calendars! The final novella in the current series, Shifter Woods: Scream (which is Deputy Jane’s story — the eagle shifter finds herself mated to a hot tiger shifter AND a half-elf zoologist in a crossover with Siobhan Muir’s Cloudburst, Colorado series), will be out sometime in September, and then I have to think about a plot for a full-length Esposito County Shifters novel. One possibility is Caleb and Laurie finally getting married — that is, if she can take time out from her new big story and he can deal with a group of religious preppers who are trying to set up a compound in the county. All of the characters from the novellas will be in that one, and I can build from there.

Want to watch Nicola lose it? Give her cable problems during Westworld.

*sucks in long, controlled breath through nose* There may have been some screaming in Casa Cameron this evening when we had problems getting the premiere of Westworld Season Two to play on the TV. I was able to watch the final 45 minutes by going upstairs and watching it on my iPad via the Spectrum app, but I’m going to have to wait for On Demand to catch the first fifteen minutes. And I will be calling Spectrum tomorrow and getting them to send a tech out because I am tired of not being able to watch HBO, BBC America, and other channels on the big screen because there’s something wonky about our splitter box/cable card.

In re: WW–no spoilers, but they’re clearly going to be playing with location as well as time this season, which will be hugely entertaining. One of the things I treasure about this show is that they always manage to surprise me, and as a veteran writer that takes some doing. And I may have squealed when they revealed yet another unexpected host. Looking forward to a functioning cable box and next Sunday!

Some thoughts on Season 8 of Game of Thrones

I’m not going to talk about Jon and Dany (although if she winds up getting pregnant and dies in childbirth so that he can temper his sword in her heart, I am going to be SO pissed), or how Jaime is almost definitely going to kill Cersei, or any of that.

No, I’m going to talk about Sansa and something that’s been niggling at me for the last few weeks. Now that she’s Lady of the North and armed with Brienne of Tarth and her own personal assassin/sister Arya, Sansa is going to get serious about ruling once everything shakes out and Jon assumes the throne (oh, of COURSE he’s going to get it. Don’t be silly). And one of the first things she’s going to have to do as Lady of the North is arrange a strategic marriage for herself.

Yes, I know, technically she’s still married to Tyrion. But seeing everything that he’s gone through in the last seven seasons, plus the fact that he’ll probably wind up as Hand of the King to Jon, I highly doubt he’ll push to resume their marriage. And Sansa will need to produce an heir (or heiress) for the Stark clan to take over the North after she’s gone.

So logically, what does Sansa need? Well, she needs to marry a nobleman, obviously. He also needs to be able to defer to her as Lady of the North (another reason why it would never work with Tyrion), and it would help if he could back her up by putting the fear of the old gods and the new into the other nobles and Sansa’s enemies. She also needs someone who will be kind to her in the bedroom, especially after everything that Ramsay Bolton put her through.

I’m not putting this out as a prediction, but it is my sincerest hope that the writers do the smart thing and have her propose to the Hound. Hear me out — he’s got an amazing redemption arc going on, and this would be a terrific ending for it. And for all his rough behaviour Sandor is still a nobleman, and quite possibly Lord Clegane once he kills the Mountain. That being said, he has no personal interest in ruling and is happy to leave that to other people. His bloodthirsty reputation will scare the crap out of everyone and would serve as a fearsome boost to Sansa’s power base. And, probably most important of all, he actually cares about her in his own weird way. Remember how he told her he’d be the only thing between her and Joffrey after their marriage, fought his way through a rabid crowd and killed three would-be rapists to rescue her, and tried to get her out of King’s Landing after the Battle of the Blackwater? She’s going to remember that.

He’s badly scarred? So what? Her luck with pretty boys (including Littlefinger) hasn’t been what you would call stellar. And once she explained what happened with Bolton, I think he’d bend over backwards to treat her gently. He already told he he would never hurt her, and he’d make good on that promise. And considering his antipathy towards his own family, I wouldn’t be surprised if he agreed to her proposal on one condition — that he be allowed to take the Stark name. After all, the children of the Lady of the North should be Starks.

Besides, can you imagine Arya’s reaction when she finds out he’s going to be her brother-in-law? If I didn’t already have it I’d get HBO just for that one episode.