Rise of the Mages

IRE has a new title: Rise of the Mages.

It also has a new form:

56555169537__A0866191-0AA0-4BFF-BE6B-63741726FDD8

Ahhh! It’s real! Fifteen year old me would have been blown away to see my name (pseudonym, at least) on a Tor book, even an advance copy. Hell, 31 year old me is pretty blown away.

My editor, Jen Gunnels, will send these manuscripts out to fancy authors in hopes that we can get a blurb from them. Jen wisely won’t tell me who she is sending these to. Fancy authors get a lot of these in addition to being busy people, and reading a book isn’t a small favor. In the event that any of them can’t find the time, or doesn’t like the book enough to attach their name to it via blurb, I won’t know about it and can (maybe) still be friends with that person in the future. Regardless, I’m excited that even just a few more people get to experience my book. I can’t wait until all of you can get your beautiful hands on it.

Can it be 2020 now?

 

-Scott

Peaky Blinders

I loved Peaky Blinders. Each episode, each season, left me saying, “Holy shit, these people are good.”

I had heard faint rumblings about it for months, maybe longer, but never bothered to watch it. What kind of a name is “Peaky Blinders” anyway? I’ll tell you what kind of name it is. It’s the name of the best damn TV series I’ve ever watched. This is not to take away from many other series I love – like The Last Kingdom, which I’m currently enjoying (post coming soon about how the books are even better than the Netflix show).

But damn, it was so good, it made me search my soul and feel like I learned some things about myself and about humanity in general.

Specifically, I loved:

  • The Shelbys, a horribly dysfunctional family that stayed true until the end.
  • Tommy (Cillian Murphy): his ambition, his drive, his complex character.
  • The brothers, who fought and cursed each other, but always had each other’s backs.
  • The complex nature of every character who earned screen time. Nobody is perfect, but many are admirable, or at least understandable. This is a show that repeatedly exposes and examines the core of what it means to be human.
  • The convincing portrayal of the era, post-WWI England, and the “gritty” realism shown (often).
  • The acting and sets, which all felt very real, very well done. Such a nice contrast to the horrid acting and forgettable (or worse, laughable) sets seen in so many big budget films and other productions that should never have been, such as the plague of super-hero movies that has infected the last decade of entertainment media.
  • The plot, which is always moving in a meaningful direction, but never too fast, never so far that the story becomes uninteresting.

Bravo to Steven Knight, Caryn Mandabach, and everyone associated with the production.

Now go watch it, by order of the Peaky Blinders.

 

-SD

How to Write a Publishable Book

It has been proven to me time and again that very smart, amazing people have very different tastes than I do. And that’s okay. They might disagree with many of the things below, but this is my take on how to approach writing a book that is worth publishing.

 

Appeal/Resonance: The story needs a strong foundation of something the reader will care about. This can mean many things, but in general, this means that you need to help the reader see themselves in the story. The breadth of appeal of your story will directly correlate to the foundational elements you include. You can control this. A few examples of variables:

  • Characters for whom you give a backstory and/or page time: People want to see themselves in your characters. Diverse + deep cast of well-executed characters = broader appeal.
    • Example: I believe that we love to read about believable villains because we like to explore our ‘dark side’. We see characters as believable when we could see ourselves taking the same actions they do, given the same context. That’s why it’s just as important to show why a villain does what he/she does as it is with your hero… assuming your story has some version of a hero and villain.
  • Character motivations: this is easy. What are some common things people want in life? Power, wealth, fame, revenge, sex, drugs, freedom, safety, food, etc…
  • Setting/Worldbuilding: This is tricky, but I believe that people want to experience a setting that is familiar, but new and interesting in some way. I’ll let you decide how to interpret that, but consider that the vast majority of earth’s current population lives in a major city/suburb setting. Familiar yet interesting could be a story set in the wilderness/countryside (something that is familiar, but yearned for), or it could be a unique twist on an urban setting.
    • That this is why so many successful stories are set in some sort of school (but with some fantastic twist – be that magic, grandeur, or just a conveniently attractive and generally perfect romantic interest way out of our MC’s league that just so happens to fall for him/her). It’s a setting everyone, even adults, can identify with. We spend a good portion of our lives in a school, and then send our kids off to school just a few years after we escape.

Structure/Purpose:

I’ve run into a few writers that are really good at writing, but they write really stupid stories that nobody will connect with in a meaningful way. Here are a few things (not meant to be an exhaustive list) that I think people want to see from a story, in loose but meaningful order:

  • Character Internal Progress: Characters changing, progressing in some fashion – achieving an internal goal or milestone, usually becoming more (or less) capable at a thing and demonstrating it
  • Relationships: Romance, friendships, alliances, rivals, enemies… humans are social animals, and we want to experience various relationships in our stories
  • Character External Goal: also known as “protagging”. Usually includes a main character achieving an objective after struggling to do so at least a few times so it feels “authentic” and difficult (try/fail cycles).
  • Conflict: between characters, leading to conflict resolution in some form
  • Exploration: of setting, other unique aspects of the story (especially in SFF)
  • Problem Solving: solving a mystery or puzzle, letting the reader solve it with the MC as it unfolds
  • The Final Countdown: Achieving a final victory, usually after a seemingly insurmountable setback or hurdle

Execution: 

This could all be boiled down to “write good”, but I’ll try to lay down some sub-categories that I pay attention to:

  • Voice/Style: This may be the one element in this entire article that is difficult – though not impossible – to control completely, as it is a subjective measure. I find that my written voice is primarily affected by:
    • The characters I’m writing, and how well I “know” them
    • My emotion associated with the characters and the plot of the story
    • The stories I’m consuming at the time, both written and visual media
    • My ability to make time not just to write, but to sink deep into my story as I write
  • Clarity: grammar, sentence construction, paragraph spacing, word choice, and description are all critically important
  • Pace: be efficient with your words. Hit multiple story objectives with every scene.
  • Flow: portray a constant, consistent narrative, as close to the subject as possible
  • Repetition: repetition of “tags”, or common descriptions, can aid in recall and familiarity with important aspects of your story
  • Consistency + Limitations: character actions should be consistent, settings/magic systems should be consistent, and all should be limited so as to force your characters to work for anything they achieve
  • Write the damn book: this one cannot go unmentioned. Incredible writing talent is squandered constantly by those who just never sit down and write until a thing is done.

Write What You Love: 

My final bit of advice: write the stories you want to read. You can easily do research on and arrive at logical conclusions about what kinds of characters and stories are likely to appeal to large groups of readers, but unless you are also writing what you love, it will likely fall flat. I’ve seen many a respected author claim that there’s no difference between works written with passion vs. those written through sheer force of will. I’m here to tell you that this is not true for my work, and I can absolutely tell the difference between someone who is writing for money or appeal instead of out of genuine interest in their work .

Patrick Rothfuss is one who (I like to believe) writes from a place of passion for his work. He’s obviously a talented writer and has many widely appealing elements in his story, but the level of depth and authenticity present in the Kingkiller Chronicles would be very difficult to replicate without caring about your work on a personal level.

It’s important to note that often, mass appeal and personal appeal are a spectrum (or perhaps a 3D space with many axes), and the way to win this game is to find a point on the spectrum where your genuine interests align with those of a sizable target audience.

 

Good luck.

 

-Scott

The Write Life

I’m not entirely comfortable writing about my own life, my own family, but I write this for a few reasons:

  1. The life of an author is often romanticized, and I think people should understand what it’s really like (at least for me). I’m in a pretty awesome situation in life, and still the creative struggle is real and has a real effect.
  2. I think people should understand how much work and sacrifice goes into producing a solid work of art. Many, many artists out there sacrifice way more than I do.
  3. I want to see, I want to feel other people’s stories, what drives them, what their challenges are – writers, especially. It’s only fair that I start by sharing a bit of my own story.

 

This, my friends, is what my life looks like as a soon-to-be published (coming in 2020) author.


I park my car in the garage after a day at the office – a day of being the boss, the grunt, the leader, the follower, sometimes the village idiot. My eyes, my head, my ass, my back hurt from sitting in a chair and staring at a screen all day. I feel brief satisfaction for what I’ve accomplished today, but something is missing. The work was mine, but the result will not be, not entirely. I feel frustration, helplessness, impatience, inadequacy. I know I’m lucky to have what I have, be what I am, do what I do, but I need more. I need to be more.

I turn off the car, close my eyes, and lean my head back against the headrest as I finish listening to the last of the song that had been playing. The evening heat begins to creep into the car now that the A/C is off, but it feels right to let the song finish. I breathe deep, knowing that my incredible wife, my beautiful little girl, and my faithful dogs are waiting for me. Still, I take these few brief moments for myself. Nobody expects anything of me for these few moments. Better, I don’t expect anything of myself – for a sweet minute or two.

The song ends, I walk inside. A rush of cold air, two wet noses, and a cry of, “Daddy!” greet me. My daughter’s radiant gray-blue eyes, her wide, toddler-toothed smile warm me. My wife’s simple words, “Hi Babe,” are music to my ears.

For a time, I forget everything that isn’t my little family. My wife playing with my daughter at the table – letters, or painting, or play-doh. The dogs wiggling and groaning for attention.

Soon, the daily question: “What are we doing for dinner?”

As we cook dinner and eat, the outside world returns. The article or tweet I saw earlier that promises to make me a better writer, a more successful businessperson, a better father or husband. The text from a friend, the email from work. I am distracted by my phone often.

Dinner is done, dishes are cleared. We have time for a game or two, perhaps half an hour to sit on our deck, check the garden, play outside in the dwindling summer sun. Maybe I sneak in a moment of reading a book just for fun, or chase my daughter, or play catch with her and the dogs.

“Okay little kid, bed time!”

The next hour is filled with tickles, screams, wrestling clothes off of and ‘jammies’ back onto the toddler. We read a story (or two or three), we turn the lights off and snuggle (a nightly requirement).

Doubt wars with joy in my heart, my mind. Am I doing enough for this tiny human next to me? Have I been, can I be the dad she deserves? Are the short hours after work I spend with her – usually mentally exhausted (or lazy) after work – enough? Do I make enough money to provide her the right experiences, opportunities? Will I ever make enough to be able to spend more time with her?

I hear her breathing change to a deep, regular rhythm. I kiss her forehead, roll out of bed, walk downstairs and into the bedroom. It’s a writing (or other work) night, so the air is humid and smells of lavender. My wife has drawn a bath for herself and has a book ready, knowing that I am not hers tonight. She has worked a full day as well, and takes care of most of the parenting and household duties besides. She deserves to wind down with a good book, or the latest episode of The Bachelor.

“Hi honey, how were snuggles?”

“Good. We have the cutest kid ever.”

“Yep. Are you writing tonight?”

“Yeah, still working through edits. Like always.”

“Okay, love you.”

I set my laptop at the desk we have in our room, plug everything in, get spotify running, my appropriate windows up. I buy the thing on amazon I’ve been needing for a few days (or more likely, yet another book to sit in my tbr pile for months), then close my browser and dig in. But for the first ten or fifteen minutes, I stare at the page without really seeing the words. I wish I were relaxing with my wife. I remember a thing I wanted to talk to her about. I worry about all of the undone to-do items from my day, what meetings I have the next day that I need to prepare for. I worry about the other things I am trying to do to improve my family’s life on other nights: prep applications for business school, the lunch/dinner date I haven’t scheduled yet, the startups I’d like to build. I check the baby monitor. I check twitter. I chat with my friends on slack.

Finally, I settle in and drop into my story. Wonder of wonders, it’s actually pretty damn cool. I edit dialogue, tweak descriptions, change details. It’s as if I’m really living this story that I have completely fabricated. Most days, I love it.

Other days, I sit and stare longer. The words don’t come, my brain is broken. I change a scene, then change it back when I realize I just ruined several other scenes.

I get an hour of writing in – maybe two if I’m lucky – before my gaze strays to the clock. It’s 11 PM or later, my wife wants to go to sleep. I need to as well, for tomorrow it starts all over again. Oh, wouldn’t it be nice to pursue my passions full-time? I could write several books per year. I could build other products/companies I dream about. I could home school my child, or at least be more involved in her daily life.

But that’s not real life. Most other writers – even some successful, well-known ones – fight the same battle I do. Their battle may be even harder, as I realize that I’ve been very fortunate with my “day job” career, and many don’t have an incredible life partner who shares the burden of supporting the family financially. Or worse (in my opinion), many writers who have gone full-time constantly stress about whether they will be able to make ends meet, and suddenly their passion has become their prison.

Writing just doesn’t pay well enough to be a full-time occupation for most of us. ‘Why’ is a question for another ramble.

Even knowing this, I can’t stop, because progress is the only thing that makes me feel like myself. I am a creator, so I create; a dreamer, so I dream.

My wife turns off her bedside lamp. I save my word doc, close my computer, and pad into the bathroom by the light of my phone to brush my teeth before bed. I feel the familiar stab of disappointment for everything I didn’t get done today, satisfaction for what I did accomplish. Still, something is missing. I know I’m lucky to have what I have, be what I am, do what I do. I was just writing on a MacBook, for hell’s sake. My wife and I don’t worry about finances like we did eight, even five years ago.

Still, I need more. I need to be more.

I turn off my light, close my eyes. The dog beside my bed farts, I can’t breathe.

Finally, I sleep.

 

Tomorrow: my beautiful struggle repeats.

Kings of the Wyld

Verdict: 5/5 stars. Nicholas Eames delivers a fun, fast-paced story with a “voice” the rest of us can only dream of. 

What I loved:

Voice/Style: Kings of the Wyld draws you in almost immediately with prose that is not only clear, effortless, and crisp, but personal. He’s able to deliver on a lot more humor than most books (especially “second world” fantasy) are able to, and I’m one jealous writer. Seriously, this book would be worth reading for nothing more than Moog the gay wizard and his hilarity.

Setting: Kings of the Wyld is unapologetically fantasy, and I love it. I don’t think the almost ridiculous slew of monsters and tropes work without Nicholas embracing them (and the genre) 110%, which he does. As a result, the world feels rich, full, perfect.

Characters: This is where Nicholas really nails it. Each of his characters is introduced well, and each has a consistent, unique personality. He tells a compelling story within a semi-ridiculous world, and it works, really well.

Pace: Eames knew what kind of book he was writing, and stuck to it. Thank god, we finally got a fantasy book that doesn’t bog down to tell us all about the world, or meaningless politics, or the author’s views on life or humanity. The action is constant, with beautiful world-building woven in skillfully.

Plot: Many books take on the “feel” of a movie, especially modern fantasy. Everyone wants Netflix or Starz or HBO to buy the rights to their book and make them rich (can’t blame them). While Kings would do very well as a movie/TV show, I’m fairly certain that Eames wrote this book to be the genesis for a video game, which is fairly unique. But this book really felt like a well-written fantasy adventure game… one I’d really like to play.

 

Go read this book.

Future Projects

I was going to log this somewhere just for myself but decided to make a blog post out of it. I’m a terrible blogger and have no idea where I should draw the line between personal and public when it comes to stuff I really care about. But you know what? We only live one life and I figure I might as well just let myself live and talk about whatever the hell I want. Can’t really hurt my reach at this point, right? (Please don’t leave me.)

Anyway. As I get closer and closer to being published and (hopefully) closer to being able to dedicate much more time to writing, ideas for books swirl in my brain constantly. I don’t actually consider myself an “idea” guy. I don’t just come up with crazy shit out of nowhere. I’m not a Sanderson type, pulling magic systems out of my ass every Tuesday. But I do have ideas and future projects that I’m going to write because I feel that I have a story to tell that will help me explore or express part of myself, or will help me understand humanity, reality, etc.

So here they are, the things I’d like to write over the next decade or so. I’m sure there will be more as well, but these are the ones that have stuck with me for a long while. If I’ve published a blog post similar to this in the past but have since forgotten, deal with it. I have to put up with my awful memory, and now you do too.

  1. Ire Trilogy – This one’s pretty obvious, as I’ve already signed a contract with Tor (yay!). It’s well underway: book 1 is almost to final revision (ish), and book 2 is underway (7,000 or so words in). Tor will be releasing it (tentative schedule) beginning in 2020, and I’m pumped. Ire is many things, but above all, it’s the classic fantasy story I’ve always wanted to read, but never quite got from existing works, no matter how wonderful.
    A morally agnostic guy is trying to figure out his place in the world, fighting for his brother and the people he cares about. Inspection of religions and differences stemming from a complex reality/history is also a major theme, as it has been a major theme in my life for the past decade and longer.
    The best part of this series is that if you all like it as much as I do, the world is big enough (yes, my “fictitious” world) and history rich enough for many, many more stories here.
  2. WWII Historical Fiction/Fantasy – This is something near and dear to me. My maternal grandfather, David Elder Lofgren, was/is a very important part of my life, and was a large part of my childhood. I grew up incessantly asking him for stories from his experience in WW2, and he frequently obliged, though looking back now it’s obvious to me that he was not altogether comfortable doing so. Some of his life experiences have been captured, but I have dozens of stories engraved in my memory that may die with me (and various relatives) if not recorded. He did and saw many remarkable things, as did many brave service members, and I can’t wait to capture a somewhat fictionalized version of them.
  3. Near-Future American Apocalyptic – There are strong feelings and opinions on both sides of the Second Amendment/gun control issue, but I wonder how many on either side realize how strong the feelings are on the opposing side- and how far people will go to protect what they believe in. This is a classic case of needing to employ win-win negotiation to achieve what everyone in the debate probably wants (though there are stark differences in motivation in some cases), which is safety, peace, and prosperity. I have something pretty damn cool planned to hopefully give both sides of this potential conflict (it’s boiling pretty hot right now) perspective of common goals.
  4. Contemporary/Urban Fantasy – This will very likely be a Norse Mythology themed militaristic thriller series. I’ve actually already outlined and started the first book. I liked where it was headed (was derailed by signing a contract for IRE), and though I already think some of my outline needs to change, I think I can write this pretty quickly, and I think it will turn out really well. For as much epic fantasy as I’ve read (and written), contemporary just flows so much faster. Nuance, character details, settings are easier to nail.
  5. Thrillers – I’m not sure where this will lead me, but it’s very likely going to center around my strong belief that modern wars (and probably most/all wars) are immoral and unnecessary. Specifically, I think America’s foreign policy is criminal. And what are stories for if not to show the human truth of a distant evil?
  6. Historical Fiction – I have to believe that I’m not the only person who loves to learn about history but struggle to enjoy most “history” books, even modern popular ones written by fantastic historians. Call me whatever names you like, but there’s a reason that TV shows like Vikings and books like Gabaldon’s Outlander perform so well (besides the fact that they are very well crafted). There must be many more out there that, like me, enjoy history in the form of a compelling, emotional story, even if many parts are fictional or embellished. I know they’ve been done, but I’d love to see – and write – more quality fiction set in Revolutionary War America, America during the Civil War, Frontier/Gold Rush times, Ancient America (Mayan, Aztec, etc), and several other eras of interest.
  7. Science Fiction – I really have no concrete plans here, but I’ve accepted that my love of new worlds, exploration, and “real” technology will lead me to write (or otherwise participate in the creation of) stories in the vein of the Stargate Atlantis series, Pierce Brown, etc.

 

* About the image tied to the post: the older I get, the more I think good old Nick Miller might be wiser than people give him credit for. Consider this your PSA to watch New Girl if you haven’t already. And shame on you if you don’t share my tastes and absolutely love it.

**I realized the pic didn’t show well in the header so here it is in all it’s glory:

Nick Stories Gif

 

 

 

 

Ire Has a Home

I finally signed a contract. Ire will be the first book of a trilogy written for Tor. The first book is tentatively scheduled to be published in late 2020, and the other two books will follow shortly thereafter.

Working with Tor is something of a dream come true for me. I grew up reading a lot of fantasy novels, and the Tor name has always been synonymous with the kind of book that’s not just enjoyable, but that can transport you to another reality. The Wheel of Time is a series that influenced me profoundly as a young man, and continues to be almost canon to me. The Recluce series provided example after example of realistic people living realistic, (mostly) honorable lives. More recently, Tor authors like Brandon Sanderson, Brian Staveley, and many others have continued that legacy in their own ways, and now I get to add my name to that list. I’m ecstatic to have my work published, but being a Tor author means a great deal to me even beyond that.

I’ve got a lot of writing to do, and a good while until my work sees the light, but I’m stoked about the path I’m on and the people I have on my side. Huge shout out to Matt Bialer for guiding me through the process and putting in years of work with me to get this deal.

Ire is going to be awesome.

 

-Scott

Sins of Empire – A Five Star Review

Verdict: 5/5 Stars. Go read it, it’s awesome.

What I loved:

  • Characters –  The book starts out introducing each primary character in turn, and McClellan does a very good job of establishing each character outside of and while setting up the impending conflict. I thought each character had unique and interesting flaws, believable motivations, and little details brought them to life. I liked the diverse cast of characters as well – the POV characters weren’t your typical fantasy heroes.
  • Plot – McClellan intertwines his character arcs in such a way that they not only come together gradually, but so that the character growth moments also comprise the main plot. I can’t recall another book or author who has done this so well. I would really like to talk to Brian about how he plotted this book.
    • I also appreciated that Brian was able to continually raise the stakes without resorting to a world-ending threat in the first book. He went from personal stakes and interesting side-quests for the primary characters to those side-quests turning into a large scale conflict. Even better, the personal stakes and side-quests stayed away from typical fantasy tropes, for the most part.
  • Pacing – I think Brian encountered an issue in the first 10% of the book that almost all speculative fiction authors have to deal with: hooking your readers while also setting up the world and characters. To me, the pacing for the first 10% was above average, but the remaining 90% was superb. Not only did the plot move forward extremely well, but switching through 3 primary POV characters was handled expertly.

What I liked:

  • Style: the writing is clear and engaging. There were very few passages that I either glossed over because the words were unnecessary, or that I had to read twice because it wasn’t as clear as I’d like it to be, and the few I encountered could easily have been due to my own user error.
  • Worldbuilding: SoE builds off of the world created in the first Powder Mage trilogy, which I really like. I’ve seen a few complaints about the interwebs regarding logical inconsistencies in how the magic system(s) work. Really, people? You have no problems with alternate universes where unexplained magic can be used indiscriminately, but the fact that gunpowder has magical properties is a problem for you? C’mon man. I like it. It’s fun and makes for a great story.

My takeaways as a writer:

  • I loved seeing someone execute a near-perfect blend of plot and character in an interesting world. I’ll be tweaking my plotting process as a result of reading SoE.
  • The treatment of POV characters was awesome, and convinced me that a measured approach to switching between a small number of POVs can work very well.

-Scott

Food Hour: Hickory Planked Salmon

I’ve recently decided to start writing blog entries about a bunch of things I enjoy besides writing. I think this will be good for all of us – you aren’t bombarded with post after post about writing techniques that are probably only situationally interesting to most, and I get to share more of my interests.

I’m starting with a post about Hickory Planked Salmon for a few reasons:

1) I made it for dinner last night, so I have pictures available.

2) I’ve talked to a few people lately about cooking and recipes I like to make, and this is a great place to start.

3) From what I’ve seen, most people eat nasty food and it’s not necessary.

4) It’s likely going to be more useful than me telling you about how much I love Ron Paul.

Okay then, let’s get to it.

Hickory Planked Salmon

The first step will involve the hickory plank. Cedar planking food has become popular lately, but I think cedar is too harsh of a taste, and reminds me of the smell of the wood I have used to build fences. I strongly prefer hickory, which gives a nice sweet smoke that will remind you of bacon. You are supposed to soak the board in water for 2 hours to prevent it catching on fire, but I usually only think to do it 30-60 minutes ahead of cooking, and it always turns out great. I buy these things in boxes of 30 rejects (they are slightly misshapen or have the whole foods brand screwed up on them or something usually) for $40 or so from Amazon.

IMG_2390

I start with New Zealand King Salmon, if I can. We get it from Aquarius Fish Market in Downtown Salt Lake City. We like it because it has a very high fat content, it tastes very clean, and it’s raised the right way. Trust me, this fish is worth the $15 or $16 per pound. One pound is likely to feed around 3 adults, so it’s not like you are selling the farm to buy this awesome fish. Aquarius does a nice job keeping their fish fresh, if you are local to SLC. I’m sure coastal towns in particular will have even better options.

They also remove the pin bones – shoulder bones in a salmon… run your finger along the center line of the thick portion of the filet, and you will feel large bones that can be pried loose if your fish people haven’t already. You can see in the pictures of the planked salmon that there’s a rough patch of meat just above the centerline of the filet where Aquarius removed the pin bones for us. Mmmmm, just look at that beautiful fish. Notice the striations of fat between the layers of flesh. This is the equivalent of a Prime marbled ribeye.

IMG_2394

Next, I’ll rinse the salmon gently in cold water to remove scales and any fish nasties, blot dry with a paper towel, and brush on as much olive oil as I can make stick to every surface of the fish.

IMG_2396

Then, apply salt (I use a combo of table salt and coarse sea salt), pepper, and dill. I also like to add lemon zest from an actual lemon, but didn’t have a lemon last night so I used a store bought lemon-pepper instead. Not ideal because it has a few spices in it I wasn’t looking for, but it turned out great. Dill is really the primary spice here though: I really layer it on.

IMG_2398

Crying child is optional

I use a charcoal grill, because I get to light things on fire, and I think the taste is a little better. I also like being able to adjust heat sources at will. This should work just fine with a gas grill, but I’ll assume from here on out that we are using charcoal. I strongly suggest using a charcoal chimney to light your charcoal, and wait until the charcoal at the top of the chimney is lit (glowing red and/or spewing flames) for best results. Sorry the picture below sucks, it was cold outside and I didn’t have a shirt on. Don’t judge me.

Place the hickory board with the thickest portion of the salmon over the hottest coals (but not too near, don’t let your charcoal pile up right under the board), and shut the grill. Leave it on: if you lookin’, you ain’t cookin’. It’ll smoke for quite a while. I find that I have to leave the salmon on the grill for at least 10 minutes, if not 15. Caveat: if it starts billowing smoke like crazy, or if there are excessive heat waves and no smoke, you probably just lit your dinner on fire. Don’t do that. Your board should smoke, smolder, and darken, but not actually light on fire. Try not to have any open flames from your heat source touch your board. With a charcoal grill (this one is a Weber kettle grill that costs $99), you can regulate the air flow to the grill, so it’s really easy to keep it from actually lighting on fire.

Take the salmon off when the internal temperature is approximately 120-125. Yes, this is rarer than the “safe” temperature, but is the chef-recommended “medium”, and my preferred temp to eat salmon at as well. It’s nice and tender, moist, but not rare. If you want to eat “safe” food, cook it to 145. 145 will work with New Zealand King, but will probably suck with leaner fish, particularly salmons such as sockeye, coho, or even leaner king (chinook) salmon. I use a thermoworks MK4, and it’s awesome for on grill work because of its fast 2-3 second reading speed.

Notice that the thicker side (last pic) of the salmon is slightly pinker than the other, thinner side. The thin side got well past 145. The other end near the darker side of the plank reached 140-145 as well, but the thick portion in the center was around 125 finish temp. This was perfect, as I could give the “safer” salmon to my wife and child, while I ate the nicely medium cooked fish. Again, New Zealand King is the way to go, as it’s delicious even when well-done.

And that’s how it’s done. For a fast, easy side dish, we like to chop various vegetables and oven roast them (tossed in olive oil, salt, and pepper, of course) at 400 degrees. I shouldn’t have to tell you this, but line the cooking sheet in heavy duty aluminum foil for easy cleanup. I don’t know how long to cook the veggies for, but with most of them I look for the edges to start getting brown. I like my sweet potatoes in particular to end up nice and caramelized. For this meal, it was (pre-chopped, so much easier) butternut squash. And we threw some spinach in a bowl and called it a salad.

I estimate that the full cost of everything used, including portion costs of charcoal, olive oil, spinach, and spices, was probably around $25-$30. We fed 2 adults, a child, and had leftovers, so you likely come in around $9-$10 per serving with this entire meal. You can go cheaper, but for value (quality/cost), this meal is probably #1 on my list.

Items needed:

  • Salmon
  • Hickory plank (I’d also recommend alder or pecan if you can find them)
  • Olive oil
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Dill (may be called Dill Weed)
  • Lemon zest or lemon pepper, if desired
  • Veggies/side dishes, if desired

Enjoy.

-Scott

Elements of a Query Letter

Hey people – I’m part of a query workshop at LTUE on Friday at 10 AM. I’m putting this post together primarily as reference material for that event, but it should be useful for anyone writing a query letter.

General Advice:

  • Try to keep it as close to 250-300 words as possible. Shorter = Better.
  • I like to use a lot of spacing. Short sentences. Short paragraphs.
  • Have a complete work to pitch if you are a debut author
  • Follow the damn submission guidelines
  • Prepare your favorite anxiety remedy. I like chocolate.
  • Check out:
  • See my query that worked HERE 

 

Here’s the basic structure I used for my query:

1st Paragraph: Intro, or the Personal Hook

  1. Personalize the Letter:
    1. Address it to the agent
    2. Have and mention the specific reason you are querying them
      1. Also, have a specific reason to query them
  2. Intro your work:
    1. Genre
    2. Title
    3. Status (Complete?)
    4. Length in word count

2nd/3rd Paragraphs: The Story Hook

  1. Intro your primary character(s)
    1. Use the same tone/style as your manuscript
  2. Intro the scene/setting
  3. Present the conflict/inciting incident
  4. Dramatic statement

4th Paragraph: Summarize the theme

5th Paragraph: Info about you/your work

  1. Compare your work to similar works, if you wish
  2. Is this your first work, or do you have other published works of note?
  3. Do you have some relevant qualification to be writing what you are? Mention it.
  4. I chose to also mention that I’m working on the next book in the series to signal that it is not a standalone novel

6th Paragraph: If attachments or inclusions are asked for in the agent’s/publisher’s guidelines, mention them here and ask to send a full MS.

Sign off w/ your personal info

 

Good luck! Go query, my friends.

 

-Scott