Tag Archives: Cat and Mouse

Messing Up

I just got a review of Cat and Mouse on Smashwords. So exciting, right? Wrong. What it said was, “It’s supposed to be Cat & Mouse, but it’s just another copy of Seventh Son.” Aaaaaargh!!!

So what happened was that back in July, I uploaded a “new file” to Smashwords (which sends the files to Kobo, Nook, iBooks, etc etc), which had a teaser for Checkmate in the back. But obviously, I grabbed the wrong file. So very embarrassing…

Needless to say, it’s fixed now, and I put a post on Twitter to that effect, to let people know. I guess there’s some advantage to the fact that I’ve not been getting much sales; there won’t be a lot of readers (other than the one who kindly pointed out the mistake) with the wrong file on their e-readers. But still, I feel terrible. I screwed up. I made a big, public mistake. I’m awful, I’m a failure…

I was just going to post another tweet to that effect, how bad I feel about having messed up. And then this popped up in my feed:

I mean – wow. Yes, yes, I get the message. Thank you, Jeff Goins.

Life, the Universe, and Messing Up. Looks like I am doing my work, indeed.

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Indie Book Review: Cat and Mouse by A.M. Offenwanger

An awesome review of CAT AND MOUSE by Kate M. Colby! Thank you so much, Kate!

Kate M. Colby

cat and mouseCat and Mouse by A.M. Offenwanger
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Disclaimer: I received a free electronic copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

Cat and Mouse is the second book in A.M. Offenwanger’s Septimus series and the sequel to Seventh Son. (Click here to read my review of Seventh Son.) Please note that this review does contain spoilers for Seventh Son, so if you haven’t read it yet, go download your FREE copy today. Seriously, do it now. It’s only free for a limited time. (Sorry future readers!)

The plot of Cat and Mouse picks up after Catriona (Cat) and Guy’s wedding. At first, all seems to be well for the newlyweds and the land of Ruph. Cat and Guy learn how they operate as a married couple, Bibby is her regular adorable self, and Guy even takes on an apprentice…

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Sourdough Bread

In Chapter 5 of Cat and Mouse, Catriona learns how to bake sourdough bread. It’s been a while since I’d done it myself, but I recently got some sourdough starter from a friend, so I had to give it a try. It turned out great. Here’s what it looked like in my kitchen, with relevant passages from Cat’s process by way of explanation. Of course, my dishes are ordinary boring plastics, not lovely stoneware crockery like Cat’s, and I have to admit to using electric appliances for both the kneading and the baking, but following Cat’s method you should come out with about the same results. (Oh, and don’t worry, there aren’t any spoilers for the book in this passage. Other than that Cat learns to bake, but I’ve already told you that.) So here we go:

CAT MAKES SOURDOUGH BREAD

from Cat and Mouse, p. 39-45

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Sourdough in the jar

“Very well. Sourdough first.”
Ouska picked up a stoneware crock from the shelf above the fireplace, brought it over to the heavy deal table in the middle of the kitchen, and took a large brown mixing bowl from the top of the Welsh dresser. The dish, about twenty inches in diameter at the top and eight or ten inches high, was a heavy pottery piece; Cat smiled as she recognised her husband’s handiwork.
She took a look into the sourdough crock. It contained a slightly bubbly-looking slop that looked not unlike the porridge that she had made too runny that morning. “This smells a bit like beer,” she said.

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The sponge after rising overnight

“That’s the sourdough working,” said Ouska. “Sometimes I’ve used some of Uncle’s beer leaven if he had any extra; it’s much quicker to make bread with that, it rises faster. But this works, and it’s simple. Usually he needs the leaven for his beer.”
“Leaven? Oh, I think we call it yeast where I’m from. So you don’t use that then? I thought you had to have it for making bread.”
“No, there’s enough leaven in the air. But you have to catch it and feed it before you can use it; I’ll show you later.” Ouska poured some of the sourdough into the bowl, then took the salt cellar from the cupboard and sprinkled a few spoonfuls into the bowl. She pointed Cat to the flour bin that stood in the corner. “We need about two scoops of flour,” she said. Cat opened the bin and saw a large wooden scoop stuck in the top of the wholemeal flour that filled the bin halfway.
“That’s a nice bin,” she said, “is it new?”
“Yes, we just had it built. …” Ouska said as she brought the big mixing bowl over to the bin. Cat dumped a couple of measures of flour in.
[…]
[Ouska] put the mixing bowl back on the table and rolled up the sleeves of her blouse. “Now. This is where the real work begins,” she said as she plunged her hands into the flour in the bowl and began to stir the mess with both hands. “Here, give it a try,” she said, rubbing the sticky dough off her fingers.
Cat stuck her hands in the sticky batter. “Ooh, gooey!” she said, and squished the dough through her fingers. “This is a good workout for the hands!” She mixed and stirred until none of the dry flour was left. Ouska sprinkled in additional flour until the dough was no longer sticky.
“Now, move the bowl over a bit,” said Ouska. She scooped a handful of flour from the bin and sprinkled it on the surface of the table, then took the lump of dough from the bowl and smacked it on the table. “Ever done any kneading before?”

IMG_20160615_081416

The kneaded dough

“A bit,” said Cat. She grasped the dough and started rolling it towards her.
Ouska chuckled. “You’re kneading like a potter’s wife,” she said. “You don’t need to make a nice little roll of it like your man does with his clay; with bread, it doesn’t matter how you handle it, so long as you do it hard.” She tore the lump of dough in half and showed Cat what she meant.
“Oh, I get it!” said Cat, and fell to it with vigour. “Phew, this is hard work,” she said, “but satisfying!” She lifted the dough lump and smacked it on the table so hard the crockery on the dresser rattled.
“Hah, well done,” said Ouska. “It will rise nicely if you keep that up.”
“So the harder you whack it, the better it gets?”
“That’s about the size of it,” replied the older woman.
“So, Aunt,” said Cat, pummeling, squishing, and pounding the dough, “there was something I’ve been meaning to ask you.”
“Yes?” said Ouska, looking up from her kneading.
“You know, being an Unissima—do you sometimes have special dreams?”
“Dreams?” The older woman took Cat’s piece of dough, smacked the two lumps back together, kneaded them into a ball, and put it in a bowl on the warming shelf by the stove. “That’ll need to rise for a few hours now,” she said. “What kind of dreams do you mean?”

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The dough after rising for about three hours

[…]
“There,” she said, handing Cat a jug, “we need to feed the sourdough. Get it about half full of warm water, would you?”
Cat collected the water from the tap in the bathroom behind the kitchen. […]
Ouska mixed the water with some more flour into the remaining sourdough in the crock … [and] put the sourdough crock on the warming shelf beside the mixing bowl. “Now,” she said, “by tomorrow it will have worked through nicely, and we can make another batch of bread if we need to. So that’s all there is to bread making, other than rising and baking it.

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The shaped bread ready to rise for the second time

[…]
“Okay,” said Cat, “so let me write down the bread recipe. […] About three or four cups of sourdough?”
“Yes, about that. And as much flour to start with, and then however much it takes to make a firm dough. Don’t forget to write down the salt; it’s a mite bland without it.”
Cat copied it out.
“How long does it need to rise?” she asked.
“Oh, a few hours. Until it’s about twice as big as it was.”
Let rise until doubled in bulk, Cat wrote.
“Then what?”
“Then punch it down, shape it, rise it again, and bake it.”

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Fresh out of the oven

“For how long, and how hot?”
“Well, at middling heat, until it’s ready—”
Cat snorted. “Yeah, right. You sound like my grandmother. I’d ask her how to do something, and she would say ‘Oh, it’s easy, you just do it!’”
Ouska smiled. “Well, then, perhaps half an hour or so. You have to keep turning it in the oven; I’ll show you.”
Cat finished her recipe sheet:
Bake for half an hour at moderate h-
“Drat!” she said, “ink blot! And I was doing so well, too!”

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Yes, it tastes as good as it looks.

Now, if you want to know what the deal is with those dreams Cat is talking about, you’ll just have to read the book, won’t you?

Life, the Universe, and Sourdough Bread. We had it with French Onion Soup – maybe Cat’s family did too?

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Changing the Label

Covers1-4CompositeI’ve been re-reading Seventh Son and Cat and Mouse, the print copies, no less. It’s been long enough that I can look at them with fresh eyes and a little bit of distance. (In the case of Checkmate, I’ve gone over it so many times in the last months that I have it practically memorised, and you know what they say about familiarity and contempt. I still find it hard to wrap my head around the fact that these characters, whom I’ve lived with for more than a year now, are still total strangers to you – you haven’t even met Rhitha yet, when she’s been a reality to me for so long… Well, just another four days, and you’ll get to know her!)

So, in re-reading the books, I’m seeing them a little bit differently. I’m spotting the odd tiny inconsistencies here and there that had escaped me before (and I’m not telling you what they are; you’ll have to find them for yourself. If you don’t, so much the better). And one of the things I’m rethinking about this series is its designation.

I’ve previously loudly protested that Seventh Son is not a YA novel. Cat (the main character) is 28 years old; she’s an adult, not a “young adult” (aka “teenager”, which is what YA translates to in book business parlance). However, when I first published the book, readers kept thinking it was a YA. One friend said it sounded like the books his daughters brought home from the high school library; several real-life teens read it and said they liked it; and I repeatedly got the label “sweet” for it. I was starting to react a bit (okay, a lot) to that epithet – “sweet” can have an undertone of “nauseating” (although, to be fair, none of the people who used that label for my books meant it in that way at all – that’s purely my own reaction to it). But I’m starting to come around to accepting that word, and, furthermore, changing my mind about the label that would fit the Septimus Series best.

It’s not only that Seventh Son is a “sweet romance” without “adult content”. The further along I get in the series, the more young characters keep popping up. Seventh Son is about adults in their late 20’s (and a small child). But Cat and Mouse prominently features a couple of young teen boys. Checkmate‘s main protagonist is an 11-year-old girl. And Star Bright, which is in the works, is centred around an 18-year-old guy fresh out of high school. Kids proliferate, and the more the series grows, the more we get inside their heads. Cat is still always one of the point-of-view characters, but we get to hear more and more from young people. I can’t help it, they’re asking to be written!

I figure I might as well admit to it: the Septimus Series is a YA series. I wrote (am writing) these books to suit myself – they’re books I would enjoy reading (actually, at the risk of sounding conceited, I am enjoying reading them. It’s a very satisfying thing when you like your own work. Much as I like my own cooking, which my waistline can attest to). I’m not a “young adult” by any stretch of the imagination; all the grey on my head would prove the contrary, were I inclined to argue the point. But I love books about kids (small or big), or traditionally classified as being for kids – many of my favourites come from the YA and JF (Junior Fiction) shelves of the library. In fact, I practically never browse the “General Fiction” shelves; it’s either YA, JF, MYS (Mystery) or SF&F (Science Fiction & Fantasy). So I suppose it’s no accident my own writing falls into these categories.

So, I’m changing the label. If you’re going to suggest the Septimus Series for purchase at your local library (please do!), mark it as a YA, so it comes to the attention of the right librarian and lands on the right shelf. And then forget about the sticker on it, and just read the books for enjoyment. What’s in a name? A series, by any other name, reads just as well…

Life, the Universe, and a new label. Just four more days to Checkmate!

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Happy Christmas, and CAT AND MOUSE

IMG_20151225_163835Christmas Greetings from my house to yours!

If you’d like a bit of a different seasonal read, give Cat and Mouse a try. A fair chunk of it takes place in winter – there`s lots of snow to be had, and even [teeny tiny spoiler] a Winter Solstice Feast!

Here`s an excerpt from the scene when it first starts snowing:

By the time they were finished supper, the snow was already three inches deep, and the wind was picking up. Cat could hear the snowflakes hissing as they hit the inside of the chimney pipe.

“Ooh, cosy,” she said with a comfortable little shiver. “Nothing like a good warm fire on a cold evening! Is there going to be lots of snow, do you think?”

“Probably,” Guy said, “it’s usual this time of year. Only four more weeks to Solstice. There’s been years where I barely made it through the snow to get to the Solstice Feast.”

“Oh, yeah, the Feast! Is that like the Equinox Feast that we had in town in September?”

Guy laughed. “No, not quite–it’s about ten times as big. The hall is usually filled to overflowing. The Solstice Feasts are the biggest ones of the year; all of Ruph and the surrounding areas comes decked out in finery. Which reminds me, I need to look out my feast clothing; the mice had better not have got into it.”

“Feast clothing? You mean everyone dresses up? But,” Cat’s eyes were wide, “I don’t have anything to wear!” Then she laughed. “Listen to me! I don’t have anything to wear,” she repeated in a high-pitched, affected voice, wringing her hands theatrically and fluttering her eyelashes. “Oh deary me, whatever shall I do?

Guy grinned. “I’m sure we can find something,” he said.

[…]

A sudden wind blast rattled the outside of the cottage, and howled around the corners.

“Whoa!” said Cat, “that was a big one! I’ve never actually heard wind whistling around a house before, I only read about it, but this one sure does whistle. What’s it looking like out there?” She went to peer out through the window. “I can’t even see anything out there, it’s blowing so much!” She stepped over to the cottage door, unlatched the hook, and pulled open the door a few inches. “Oy!” she called out, having to suddenly lean hard against the door as snow blew in through the crack. “That’s a humdinger of a storm, and it wants to come in!” The snow was whirling hard past the door, Cat could barely make out the trees on the other side of the clearing. Then Guy was behind her, helping her push the door shut, and latched it again. Cat brushed at the snow on the floor with her foot. “Is that an extra-bad storm, or is this normal?”

Not to give anything away, but aside from getting their fair share of snow, they sure know how to party in Ruph. Next to having a celebration myself, I love nothing so much as writing one for my characters. So if you haven’t read Cat and Mouse yet, go check it out!

And now I’m going back to munching goodies and drinking Glühwein (mulled wine), and I might just watch one of the movies I got for presents (Cinderella and Inside Out. Yup, kids’ movies. Your point is … ?).

Hope you have or had a lovely holiday season yourself, whatever festivity you celebrate! And if you don’t celebrate, poor you – I mean, umm, hope you had a great Bah Humbug Day, just the way you like it.

Life, the Universe, Christmas and Cat and Mouse. See you in the New Year!

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Cat Makes Ink

IMG_201510304_0221I picked black walnuts the other day, and decided to make ink. Just like Catriona does in Chapter 11 of Cat and Mouse. You haven’t read it? Here, that’s how it goes:

[Cat and Nikor, the little old town librarian, are collecting black walnuts husks in the garden behind the library.]
“You don’t mind my taking the nuts, do you?” she asked Nikor, who was busy gathering the husks into a large cast iron pot.
“Nuts? Nuts. Oh no, no no. Take the nuts, make the husks easier to find.”
Cat dropped a handful of the black husks into his pot.
“Too bad the pot is so rusty,” she said. “Won’t that harm the ink?”
“No, no no. Rust is good, makes blacker ink. New pots are no good for ink. Besides, ink spoils the pots, makes stains.”
“Well, yes, I suppose it would—it’s ink, after all, it’s supposed to stain. So how do we do this?”
They carried the pot, now half filled with the black walnut husks, into Nikor’s living space in the back room of the library.IMG_20151031_150145“Stinks, does ink,” said Nikor, “but don’t want to make a fire outside now. Prefer my stove.” He filled the pot with enough water to cover the husks and put it on top of the little potbellied stove in the corner of his room, which already had a nice little fire crackling in it. “Spoon, spoon—where’s the spoon?” he muttered, digging around in a box of cooking implements that stood on a shelf above the wood box.
“You mean this one?” said Cat, extracting a wooden spoon from between several stacks of books on the floor beside a worn leather-covered armchair. The spoon’s bowl was stained a deep mahogany colour, in contrast to the blonde wood of its handle. “What’s it doing between the books?”
“Books? Oh, yes. Mouse, hit at the mouse with it when I was reading. See, ink stains,” he explained, pointing to the discolouration of the spoon.
“Oh, that’s from ink?” Cat said distractedly, not listening to his answer. The top book of one of the stacks had caught her attention. […]
[Cat gets lost in reading the book, which is called The Rats of Chaelia.]
“Where is Chaelia?” she asked Nikor, raising her head to find that the room was much darker than it had been when they brought in the nuts. Nikor was nowhere in sight, and a frightful stink rose from the steaming pot on the stove. Cat felt disoriented. Hadn’t she only just sat down? It could hardly have been more than a few minutes ago, could it? She stood and took a look at the stinking pot. In the bottom of the container, a dark sludge was bubbling away. The walnut husks had mostly disintegrated into smaller pieces now, making the whole mess a deep, brownish black. Cat wrinkled her nose—the stench was quite pronounced, metallic and rotten at the same time.IMG_20151031_141935The door from to the main library room creaked open, and Nikor shuffled back into the room, carrying two more books.
“Found it, found it,” he said, dumping the books into Cat’s arms and picking up the wooden spoon to poke at the black sludge in the pot. “Ah yes, coming along nicely.”
“Found what?” Cat asked.
“Looking for the books of Chaelia, wasn’t I,” he said. He waved a finger at the book Cat had been reading. “The Rats is just one; there are others.”
“Just where is Chaelia? Is it one of the places in Isachang?” Cat asked.
“No, no no. Chaelia is Outland, don’t you know?”
“Outland? My Outland, where I’m from? You mean Earth, or America, or whatever?”
“Yes. No. No no. Not Arthur Pendragon. Other land, other Outland. There are many. Haven’t seen anyone from Outlands here in generations, many many generations, not since Septimissimus last.”
“There are other Outlands? Really? And—what did you just say, about the Septimissimus?”
“Septimissimus?” he repeated, stirring the ink sludge in the bottom of the pot, pulling out a spoonful and dribbling a bit on a piece of paper to test its tinting strength. “A few more hours,” he muttered.IMG_20151103_094006

My ink turned out a bit pale this time – but it works well enough. If you want (slightly) more precise instructions on making walnut ink, check out my blog post on the topic from three years ago.

Oh, you’re wondering what’s with this Septimissimus thing? You’ll have to read Cat and Mouse to find out, won’t you. You can get it here.

Life, the Universe, and Walnut Ink. Lorem ipsum dolor…IMG_20151105_104508

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Reckless Rabbit-Trailing

One of the pleasures of writing fantasy fiction is world building. In fantasy, anything goes. You want your characters to have interesting-coloured eyes? Make ’em purple. Or better yet, turquoise. (Just as an aside, the turquoise-coloured eyes of some of the main characters in Seventh Son simply appeared in the course of writing the story. I sat down and started to write,  and when it came to finding a simile for the colour of the pottery bowl – you know, the one that sucks Cat off to Ruph – I wrote “It was a turquoise blue, very much like the eyes of the weird guy that had stared at Cat so disturbingly…” Completely unplanned, but there they were – turquoise eyes. When I wrote that, I had no idea who this person was, or that he was important in any way. Turns out he was; very much so. Good thing he strolled into the pages of the story with his turquoise eyes just when I needed something to compare the glaze colour to.)

Anyway, point being that in fantasy fiction, you can just make things up. But still, they have to be coherent. In the Septimus world, for example, it turns out that turquoise eyes are unusual. Most people have ordinary-coloured eyes – blue or brown or grey; and their skin tones are just normal people-colours, too. In other words, that whole world is pretty much like ours here, with a bit of magic (and turquoise eyes) tossed into the mix. Well, it’s like ours was a long time ago. Being an inveterate history nerd, I made the setting something akin to the European Middle Ages. And within that setting, things have to work together. I’m not dealing with actual history, so I can get away with giving my quasi-medieval characters a closed cook stove with an integrated water heater – something that wasn’t invented in Europe until almost Victorian times. They also have a town clock. But no electricity or steam power, and no magical equivalent thereof, either (at least not yet. I think. Maybe. Who knows, something might stroll into the pages again…).

And so, taking together the requirement for coherence with the freedom to make things up, I have to do research. Yup. Must. It’s one of the hardships of writing fiction that is set anywhere other than the here-and-now. I’m forced to google things, and it is my writerly duty to keep running after the rabbit trails that appears in the process.

So, today’s starting question was: if Ilim is two days’ travel from Ruph (which is a fact that strolled into the pages of Cat and Mouse), and Rhanathon five days (which is something you’ll find out in Checkmate), just exactly how far is that in physical distance? Given that Ruph is in the mountains with a fair amount of forest around it, and that they travel by horse carriage or on foot, well…?

StagecoachSome two-and-a-half hours later, I had more than a dozen windows open in my browser, and had arrived at reading about the average income of a Regency labourer and the cost of taking the stage coach from London to Bath in the time of Jane Austen. (In case you’re wondering, according to this page it was approx. £2. Given that a worker earned no more than £25/year, that’s pretty much the equivalent of the cost of an airplane ticket from Canada to Europe today. Hiring a post-chaise, as the likes of Mr Darcy would have done, meant renting a private jet – it was about £100 for the trip.)

Anyways, see how that happens? You start out researching how long it takes for a horse carriage to travel from one point to another, and end up with Jane Austen. And you find out all kinds of interesting things about the Pony Express on the way – those guys were fast! And really young – just kids, most of them. Oh, sorry, where were we? Travel distances, right.

Life, the Universe, and Writer’s Research Rabbit Trailing. Those are the pleasures of creating.

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