Pre-Covention Update: Sci-Fi on the Rock

Alright, so this weekend, from Friday, April 20th, to Sunday, April 22nd, myself and Matthew LeDrew will be doing our usual guest bit down at the Sci-Fi on the Rock convention. Regular readers will know that Matt and I operate out of the Engen Books booth with the Black Womb series, Infinity, Compendium and Sci-Fi from the Rock anthologies and our new Engen Universe anthology light|dark (launching this weekend!) for a fraction of the price they sell online for, and without the tacked on cost of shipping. It’s a great opportunity for anyone interested in the books to stop on down and pick them up without having to wait for them to arrive before reading them, and it saves a few dollars in between! Friday we will be set up from 4pm-10pm, Saturday from 9am-6pm, and Sunday from 9am-5pm. Both myself and Matt will be signing books free of charge for those interested, and our other collaborators will be floating around the convention as well, able to sign books. Jay Paulin, who authored a short in light|dark, will be at the Ink’d Well Comics booth throughout the weekend, and Sarah Thompson, author of another short in Light|Dark, will be joining myself and Matt at the Engen table. Authors from Sci-Fi from the Rock and More Sci-Fi from the Rock should also be floating around the convention, but as many of them are involved with the intricate little details of running the con, it may be a little harder to catch up with them for their signatures or a quick chat about their writing!

Also following our usual routine, I’ll be joining Matt for a panel on writing called Writing Wreck: What to do when you’re blocked at 11:00am on Saturday in the Lucas Room. We will be discussing methods for dealing with writer’s block and other general writing topics, as well as answering questions from the audience. This is one of the highlights of conventions for me, as it gives us a great opportunity to help young authors grow, and panels with Matt were how I started working with Engen Books.

I hope I’ll see a lot of people at the convention this year. Anyone who would like to come by the table and chat about writing is more than welcome to. We love hearing from our fans!

Making faces during an old Sci-Fi on the Rock. Always a fun time 🙂

DIY Diva: Canvas Lighting

Ellen Curtis
Ellen Curtis

After seeing a few diy projects online where people used a canvas and Christmas lights to create constellation-like lights, I figured I’d give it a go on my own. I picked up a cheap canvas from XS Cargo, and used a string of white Christmas light (a 100 light set) to create the following look.

I first started by plotting out my 100 points on the back of the canvas. The sites I had read recommended to leave at least one inch of space between holes, but it would probably be even better to leave two inches, just because it was sometimes difficult to get the lights to stick in when they were so close to each other.

Most sites recommended to use an awl to punch holes through the canvas. Because I didn’t have an awl handy, I used metal knitting needles to punch my holes.

After punching all the holes into the canvas, I began pushing the lights into the holes. Mine were snug enough to stay in the holes without glue, but if you want the lights to stay in a small amount of craft glue might help hold them in. I didn’t go this route because I was using the older style mini-lights that blow frequently. I would only recommend gluing them in if you were using an LED string, because otherwise you may not be able to change the lights if they blow, leaving your light useless if just one light blew in the circuit.

To secure my lights a little, I used some small ties to hold down the ends of the light strings. I used a 12 foot extension cord to allow my light to reach a socket, but I think this would look lovely mounted on a ceiling instead of a wall, especially over a child’s bed. Ours is currently behind a globe of the moon.

I chose a random pattern for mine, but if this project was done for a space themed child’s room, getting a print out of easy to recognize constellations and using that as a template for your lights could turn this easy project into an educational tool.

Matt was a little worried about this project posing a fire hazard. Unless you’re using LED’s, I would not recommend leaving lights unattended for any length of time. This being said, after leaving mine on for extended periods, I didn’t find that the canvas heated up. If you are concerned about the heat of the lights, fire retardant sprays are available at most hardware stores and craft stores, so I would suggest spraying the canvas with one of these and allowing it to dry before beginning to plot holes.

End project!


So, as promised ages back, today’s post is about my duck collection. I like to think of it as the one admittedly insane thing Matt lets me keep in the apartment. Everything else is pretty nice looking, pretty done up. When I moved in, he bemoaned the fact that we had rubber ducks in the living room, especially since they were one of the things accompanying Esabiel’s massive terrarium. Like Esa, the ducks have luckily grown on Matt, something which I’m sure their move to our window ledges tucked safely behind the curtains for when guests come over had something to do with it.

Either way, my duck collection has grown over the years from some pretty humble beginnings. I’m pretty sure I can blame Sesame Street for my first duck, because really, as a toddler, who doesn’t love the rubber ducky song?

Left, Anna. Right, Ellen. Centre at back of blanket, first ducky. A random white duck makes an appearance.

It would be a while before my duck collection really took off though with the closing of a local dollar store.

Going to the dollar store unaccompanied was one of the few things my sister and I would do together with our friends when we were still pretty young. It just so happened that a closing sale of gummy donuts at $0.25 wasn’t as appealing to me as it was to my sister, and as I spent the time perusing the store for something ‘cooler’ to spend my money on. Evil Ducky answered the call.

Let me just say, Evil Ducky was part of a series of rubber ducks with car friendly bases that I fully intended to purchase more of, but given the fact that as a youngster I had neither a car for more ducks nor a paying job with which to purchase said ducks before the dollar store closed, I sadly lost out. Looking back, the fact that I chose just about the nastiest looking duck out of the set might not have endeared mother into buying more for me either.

Anywho, moving along.

Two ducks wasn’t much of a collection, but then about 6 years ago, a classmate went to Germany and brought back mini-glow-in-the-dark rubber ducks and I began to think of my three little amigos as a collection. And that is probably when I decided, ok, that cool. Some people collect stamps, I could justify ducks…

From there, Mum decided to get a little bit indulgent, partially I think due to the nostalgia trend that’s been on the go. Quickly, flashing ducky keychains, rubber duck head-phones and two flashing rubber ducks joined the ranks of the rubber duckies in my room, and then I went to Italy.

Italy was possibly the best ten days of my life, so after scrimping and saving so I could go with school, I wasn’t eager to blow all my spending money on shoes like some of the other girls. I had priorities. I wanted a Venetian mask, I wanted a parasol made out of Venetian lace, I wanted maybe one new dress, and near the end of the trip when we were on the Island of Capri, I REALLY wanted to spend some more money because it was burning a bloody hole in my pocket. And then I walked into a little beach shop with some friends who were looking for bathing suits and discovered my little keepsake from Capri, my pretty pink duck which I promptly purchased for 4 euros and emblazoned with all the events of the day.

This started my “let’s buy ducks wherever I go” thing, which I’ll get to later.

Anyway, ever since Capri I’ve been on a duck hunt. At some point in between, I decided it would be a good idea to buy up whole collections, like my hippy ducks and Mum thought it would be fun too (most recent being six Halloween ducks, not to mention the punk rock band of ducks she has stashed away that she thinks I’ve forgotten about). Somewhere along the way I also found a flashing duck, a quacking and flashing duck, as well as a pair of normal bath duckies to join the group. When my sister followed my footsteps and made the trans-atlantic flight to Italy, she picked up a second Italian duck for me, one that colour changes between pink and white depending on the temperature water it is in. Eventually, my duck collection outgrew my keepsake shelf where it had been growing and I got the idea that flashing ducks would keep Esa happy. Because every snake needs some ducks.

Matt, as I mentioned, has grown used to the ducks. He went so far as to purchase a glorious “odd duck” to add to the collection. Apparently, his name is Bob.

I imagine that instead of “quack, quack” Bob goes “wack, wack”

As Hal-Con wound down, my collection reached new heights. I had bought a birthday present for my mother but nothing for myself, so armed with a little cash I took a quick jaunt away from my table, fully intending to see if someone was selling corsets or jewellery or hats or something half sensible that was still girlish and a little bit freaky. That’s just how I roll.

As usual, I met my doom walking through the downstairs. Sadly, I did not see any corsets, the jewellery had been picked over so the nicest pieces were already sold and the hats were just too similar to ones I already have, or didn’t match the outfit I was looking to pair them with. Either way, I was getting a little sad when I realized there wasn’t much left. Then I turned a corner.

Right on the end, a nice big booth was set up, covered in  a half gazillion happy little ducks. I might as well have opened my purse up and flung money at the sweet woman there.

As if it wasn’t enough for me to look through the table, she revealed a huge bag of ducks hidden below the table cloth and let me have at them.

I came away with two keychain super hero ducks, a Magneto Duck, Super Girl Duck, mini glowing cat duck, mini glowing mummy duck, Werewolf duck and Mardi Gras/ Venetian mask duck.

Anyway, after I had dropped $20 on ducks (I maintain that, for all those ducks, that’s a damn good price), I trotted back upstairs to share my spoils with Matthew. I imagine what I brought back must have tested his patience for my collection, partly due to the fact that upon lining them up on the table his eyes grew a titch wide and he seemed a bit lost for words. Perhaps the glory overwhelmed him. Something tells me otherwise, but let’s just ignore that.

Christmas brought even more ducks. An entire collection of Christmas themed ducks is now also sitting on the window ledge. Then, for my birthday, Mum and Sis decided it would be wonderful to fill a large bag with rubber ducks. All of them, save for one, were wonderful. A large bath duck with three mini-ducks, a certified bath duck, and a new light-up quaking keychain, as well as a stress squeeze duck all found their place in my ducky collection. The horrendously frightening Saint Patrick’s Day duck however… well, as hell sent as he looked he’s also now on the shelf. They also managed to find me matching duck earrings and a necklace.

Below are some pictures of how these duckies all sit on the window ledge. As you can probably see, I’m running out of room!

Recent Foodie Diary!

Hey gang! Today I’ve got a pretty intense food post for everyone. I’m going to include a few things I’ve made the past week or two and a really great meal I had at local wonder India Gate.

First off, I finally made an omelette again when I visited Mum and Dad last weekend. The stove Matt and I have is a little finicky, so it’s tricky to not ruin anything on the stove. Even on the lowest setting, butter burns in seconds. It’s one of the reasons I started making pancakes in muffin pans. My oh-so-good combo was simple, fresh Newfoundland eggs, small breakfast sausages leftover from a barbecue the night before, cut up and paired with melted cheese and onions. Getting breakfast on the go can get boring, so this was a treat!

Yesterday night, after a day of studying and watching Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares for hours on Netflix, I had the urge to treat myself to some home cooking. Broccoli and beef stew was simple to make. As per Mr. Ramsay’s instructions, I boiled broccoli in water, keeping the water aside while I blended the broccoli. Then I went a little aside from Ramsay’s simple recipe, adding the broccoli mash to the water, adding in some thyme, salt, ground pepper as well as some beef cubes I had been grilling up. I panfried them with blended Zuma tomatoes and finely chopped onion so they added a bit more flavour to the broccoli soup. I also added a splash of milk to thicken up the mixture. It turned out fabulously.

As you can see, the beef made the soup less green and more broth-y. It was lovely. It also cost less than $10 to make a massive amount. Would have been good for a few days if Matt hadn’t gobbled up so much.

I also made some chicken korma after an amazing dinner at India Gate, which I’ll get to at the end of this post. Of course, it wasn’t anything near as good as it was authentically made, but it was still so, so good.

Now, what my family had at India Gate was far more exciting than some korma on a bed of rice. The setting itself is romantic, beautiful Indian wood carvings, paintings of Indian women playing instruments, all of it authentic and beautiful. Below is a little sample of what we ordered. There were quite a few of us, so we ordered starters and several mains to share. A similar meal could be had at their wonderful lunch buffet. Best of all? The majority of their food, except for bread, is gluten free. From left to right, as best as I can remember what we had: Rice Pillaw, Lamb Vindaloo, Tandoori Chicken, Baigan Masala, and lastly Chicken Madras. Our starters had consisted of papadums with a sweet mango chutney and a spicy carrot pickle, and a platter they call Gate Special Snacks, consisting of samosas (my first time having some of these babies, only place they’ve been gluten free!), veg pakora, onions bhajia (my sister’s favourite thing on the planet) and chicken pakors, all of which came out with some raita (a light yogurt dip to cool down the spicy stuff) . All of it was amazing, even the lamb, which I’m not generally a fan of.

The Tandoori chicken was possibly my favourite, closely followed up by the chicken korma. This coming from someone who loves her red meat nonetheless!

I had some lovely fresh mango drink with my dinner. It was absolutely fragrant and delicious, and to end the night, while the rest of the gang had a rice pudding called kheer, I had some mango kulfi, an amazing mango ice cream they make in house. It couldn’t have been tastier.

This stuff is to die for. Absolutely amazing!

Overall, India Gate was a ten out of ten. After our dinner, the owner even came out to talk to our table and thank us for coming by. It was recently updated, so even the decor in the bathrooms was posh and sleek. It’s been years since I’ve been down, primarily because the dinner service is a little bit pricey (but worth it 100%). For eight of us, we ended up with a bill just under $400. Not exactly bad for dessert, starters and mains as well as drinks, but a bit too much for my student budget. Luckily their lunchtime buffet is cheaper  (under $20 for all you can eat). The buffet runs from 11:30am- 2pm Monday through Friday, and as most of what they cook is gluten free, the danger of buffets for celiac and gluten intolerant individuals is almost completely non-existent. They also offer fine dining Monday through Sunday from 5pm-10:30pm. If you plan to go, book in advance for either service, because they are a bustling little spot! I honestly can’t wait to go back.

Disclaimer: I receive absolutely no compensation for reviews of any restaurant. All reviews are my honest opinions.

Quitting Coffee : Tetley Tea

20120211-085343.jpg So quitting coffee has been going fairly well this time. I’ve managed to switch over fairly seamlessly to tea. I know that’s kind of like switching from Export As to menthols and thinking you’re making a big change, but it’s the best I could do. Caffeine is everywhere. It seems that the most I could hope to do was control how much of it I got.

That said, when did they switch to these round tea bags? I can’t say I’m a fan. I mean, the shape doesn’t make a difference taste-wise, but I feel like it should have been reflected in the title. I know they weren’t called square-bags before, but if I woke up tomorrow with a square head, people at would be like: “Hey you! Square-Head! Pass the ketchup!” Right?

Round tea bags.

Never Look Back
Matthew LeDrew

My Writing Process: Editing Aloud

Of all the writing tips and tricks I’ve gone on with, the easiest to write about have been the editing.

See, for most of the writing tricks I’ve been doing them so long that they aren’t “tricks” anymore. They’re second nature. Just a happy part of the act of writing. For instance: I would find it very hard to talk about foreshadowing as a trick. It’s just a part of storytelling for me now.

But the one part of the process I can speak of a lot is editing. I don’t think it will ever become “second nature”. I think it’s always going to be a bit of a task, partly because it simply doesn’t come naturally to me.

My Editing process goes through many turns. I read the story over and over, focussing on different aspects every time. One of the key and most time consuming is to read it aloud (yet alone). I really feel this helps to identify problems in pacing and narrative.

(It’s also great practice for readings at conventions, but that’s another story altogether).

Not much to say. It does work, on multiple levels. I also find it helps relieve writers block for whatever I’m currently writing.

Not sure what else to say. Perhaps I should have thought this out more.

This might be a good time to remind everyone that if you have questions, ask. It’ll help me write these! 🙂

Never Look Back
Matthew LeDrew