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So, I binged the My Magical Cottagecore Life podcast last week (yo, this podcast is excellent) and between the gooseberry episode and the one about jams, I couldn't stop thinking about this thing I used to make: blackberry chicken. It's something I used to throw down in the Time Before I Had Children, when I used to make foods because I liked them, but this one slipped out of my repertoire—and probably for no good reason except that I ran out of blackberry jam and I forgot to buy more.
First, a warning:
I am not a chef.
I'm a barely-passable home cook on most days, but I do (sometimes) find cooking cathartic, I'm an acts-of-service hearth woman who likes to put food into the people she loves, and I'd rather eat my own cooking (or my mom's cooking) over restaurant food just about any day. But I overcook things a lot. And I cut corners. And sometimes I don't bother measuring.
But I made a thing, and the family liked it.
And before you're like, "That's not enough food," stop judging me; I had just eaten an entire row of Girl Scout cookies already.
After that, I moved the chicken to a little lidded baking dish. I had a good amount of oil still in the pan, but if it had gotten too dry, I'd have just added more oil to loosen up the browning on the pan, because that's the good stuff.
I used the finest of store-brand-whatever blackberry preserves/jam/jelly, which this time happened to be seedless (which may be why the Finicky One approved) but doesn't have to be. I put some (oh, measurements—like a third of the jar—several scoops; y'all, it's jelly, you can't screw it up) into the pan drippings and smoosh-stirred it with my spatula until it was thin and sticky and it appeared that I'd committed a murder.
I spooned the blackberry-and-drippings deliciousness onto the chicken, and then slathered it around with a basting brush. It was thick, and I didn't want the sugary stuff to scorch, so I added water (how much? some. IDK, like a quarter inch in the bottom of the pan or something) and swished it around some more. That went, covered, into a 350 degree oven for however long I needed it to sit in there while I prepared the rest of the stuff we ate: carrots, cucumbers, mashed sweet potatoes, and buttered toast sticks (look, I only had two pieces of bread and there were three of us, so that was a way to make it equitable). It wound up being about 20 minutes. The chicken was already cooked, so I just wanted it to suck up some juice in its lidded dish and the blackberry glaze reduces better that way—it burns in a pan on the stove.
And then we ate it. Because that was the point. We were hungry, and that was dinner. We ate outside because Colorado was pretending it was summertime, and we wanted to pretend along before snow hit again. I look like I'd done yard work all day because, in addition to making dinner, I'd done yard work all day.
The kids asked for it again the next day. #success
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I have great affection for the spirea bush in my front yard. When I bought Greta (that's my house's name) there was nary a sprout of vegetation on the property, aside from this unruly shrubbery. I mean, I thought there was another grassy thing that I dutifully watered for months until I realized it was a plastic Ikea plant, but the spirea...the spirea has been REAL all along.
And anyway, it's springtime, and Spirea the OG (that's what I call it, because that's its name) was looking kinda scraggly, so I fired up the hedge trimmer, laid down a tarp so I wouldn't have to pick clippings out of the rocks, and I gave it a haircut. It's looking much tidier over there in its spot, supervising traffic along the side yard; but it had already started to bud out so I gathered some of the clippings, dropped them into bottles, and brought some springtime inside.
In a few weeks it'll be covered in little white flowers. I can't wait to bring those inside too.
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It was about a week ago that a mommy friend of mine posted this:
And I was like, "Yo...this search makes pretty fairyland stuff show up." Yep. And then I fell down a rabbithole of various types of -cores. Cabincore. Witchcore. Naturecore. RAVENCORE. Y'all, there's a ravencore.
"Has anyone seen Effie?"
"Nope. We've lost her forever to the internet."
Since I'm a busy mom/teacher/writer, I did the thing I do and tried to learn more by way of my ears. I popped my AirPods in and went podcast hunting. This is how I came across "My Magical Cottagecore Life." And that's what I did this week. I listened to EVERY episode—and some of them twice.
In her podcast, Kenya Coviak talks about useful plants, oft-underrated-or-forgotten foods, working creativity and beauty into her day, and making the most of what you have. I found myself leaning in and nodding with her gentle reminders to be considerate of our environment, be sensitive to cultural appropriation, and be good to yourself and your family; and she does this from her Detroit lens, acknowledging the realities of city life and the diversity and scarcity and loyalties inherent in it. She has depths of wisdom, and she quietly imparts it like a friend chatting with you over tea or while assembling a craft at the backyard picnic table. Like a real life friend, she throws the sorry-not-sorry kinds of apologies for cheesy puns and "mom jokes," which listeners can treat like a drinking game if they have no respect for their livers. She talks about her listeners like she knows us personally, loveably adding, "We're friends, right?" to each episode, which is why I think she's my best friend or sister-from-another-mister despite the fact that she's never met me.
Anyway...I loved it. Ten out of ten, would recommend.
Oh, and in case you were wondering, this is the Effie Cottagecore Cottage:
Damn right it is.
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Kaz is that fix-it chick from To Fix a Curse. If she lived in my house, she’d clean up that situation I had going on with the basement stairs so I wouldn’t be so terrified to go downstairs to my office.
I mean, those are some creepy and crazy unsafe stairs. Mini-me-the-elder here helped me pull the rusty nails and old carpet bits from the treads.
We primed and painted all the bits, then stuck down (and reinforced with staple gun) carpet treads to make it safer. I still need to replace the trim strips above the stringers, but that can wait.
Oh, and Miguel (Kaz’s boyfriend) was here too. He says my office is haunted. I know that, Miguel.
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Well, yeah, I have changed religions, but that’s a different post. I meant metaphorically changing my religion.
Those who have been following my writerly dreams know that for the last four years I’ve been on a traditional publishing trajectory. I wanted that seal of approval from someone important (a Big 5 editor?); I wanted that production team to tell me what to do; I wanted a pro-quality product. Furthermore, people academia told me I had to get that pub credit or it wouldn’t count. (I teach seventh grade, people. Calm down.) People in the book world told me indie publishing wouldn’t work for my genre—young adults don’t buy books off the internet. (Um, yes, they do. Also, you can get your books into bookstores and libraries now—the indie pub world has come a long way, baby.) But also there was that voice in my head (no, not the murderous one; this is the self-loathing one) that said, “You don’t have the business acumen. You’re not math-y smart like Shelley Adina and the other authors who are making it work for them.”
Enter the aforementioned Shelley Adina, who wrote the Magnificent Devices series—a YA steampunk set of ten she self-published. It’s doing quite well, as a matter of fact. I consider myself a superfan. Evidently she knows where to put her books so people will buy them, whether they’re young adults or not.
Enter Erica Millard, who wrote this AMAZING young adult fantasy series currently in production (don’t even get me going about her concept—I love these books) and she was just like, “I’m going to publish this myself. I want to be in charge,” and she nodded politely when I tried to say how that just wasn’t wasn’t for me. And then I was super envious of her cover art. And she’s doing it with YA.
Enter RWA 2018—that’s Romance Writers of America, for those of you normal people who don’t communicate in publishing acronyms. Okay so, lots of people are trad published and very happy with it. Want to hear a publishing horror story though? Just go anywhere authors are gathered and booze is flowing. By the end of the conference I was certain I needed a contract attorney more than I needed an agent. I also need a trip to my therapist, but that’s another post.
While at RWA 2018 I went to the Going Indie with Young Adult session, during which Sarra Cannon, Amalie Howard, and Amy Patrick were like, “What do you mean you can’t be successful indie pubbing YA? THIS INCOME isn’t enough for you?” They were beating my annual income. Not that that’s my goal. I’m not trying to change careers—I like teaching. (I’m allowed to say that—it’s July; ask me again in February.) I’d like a lucrative side-gig though. Every teacher has a side-gig.
And there it is. A side gig that’s as lucrative as I’m willing to make it. I set my deadlines; I hire the production team (Labor trade, anyone? Will copyedit for cover art); I manage the marketing and make sure it gets done. And my covers won’t suck because if they do I’ll get to say, “Nuh uh.” And of course they’ll be in print, because print-on-demand is a thing, so have whatever format you want—I’ll just run it through Vellum and kabam. And whatever else is involved. Which I’ll be learning in the next calendar year.
My six-month objective: learn to self-publish.
My twelve-month objective: learn to market a self-published book.
Now I don’t have to do the-thing-of-misery anymore: querying agents. I know my query number is woefully inadequate (yeah, it’s eighteen) and some of you will opine that I didn’t even give it the old college try. (I don’t care.) I don’t even think trad publishing results are even what I’m looking for: I don’t want to be important; I just want my book in my hand. A few extra sales wouldn’t make me sad either.
I’m going to do what my main character, Kaz, would do—I’m going to DIY it.
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And I swear I'm going to. I have a list in my phone of things I could write about, none of which am I actually working on in this particular post. Before this week is over (holy cow, that's a tight deadline--it's Friday!) I'll tell you what made me change my mind about self-publishing. Stay tuned.