Round-up of reminders!

Thought it would be a good time to collect a whole bunch of things in one place!

First, you know A PERILOUS UNDERTAKING is coming out on January 10, right? Of course you do. Remember, if you pre-order, you get presents! Just fill out this quick form and you get a digital pack of goodies: an exclusive vignette, coloring pages, and fan art.

Also, mark your calendars for book tour dates! Here is the list of the upcoming appearances, and I hope to see you there. We’ll chat about Veronica, Victorian lady travelers, natural history–whatever you like! I may even drop a few hints about Veronica #3…

Can’t make it to a signing? No problem! I’m answering questions over at Goodreads every Tuesday and Thursday from now until January 10. I’ve already answered queries about the Julia series, the inspiration for Veronica, the differences between Stoker and Brisbane, and I’m happy to field a lot more.

Did you catch yesterday’s announcement? We’ve got a FABULOUS giveaway with six prizes up for grabs! There are ARCs of A PERILOUS UNDERTAKING for all six winners; the first prize winner also gets an exclusive Veronica medal designed by Torch and Arrow, and the grand prize winner gets both of those PLUS tea, a butterfly tote, a gift card to Murder by the Book–one of the stops on my tour–and Stoker-approved honey candies. Enter and spread the word!

Finally, we have a fun trailer for A PERILOUS UNDERTAKING to whet your appetite for the release–just over a month to go!

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Bonus post and another giveaway!

We have a FABULOUS sweepstakes for readers to enter with heaps of great prizes–ARCs of A PERILOUS UNDERTAKING, tea, a gift card to Murder by the Book, Stoker-approved honey candies–you name it, it’s in there! Enter here and spread the word!

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Quick like a bunny!

Looking for a fabulous new read? The AMAZING Beatriz Williams and I are doing an ARC swap–but it’s today only so you have to hurry to win! Head over to my FB page for a chance to win an advance copy of WICKED CITY, the first book in Beatriz’s brand spanking new Prohibition-era series featuring an Appalachian bootlegging flapper and a straight-arrow Revenue agent. Then pop by Beatriz’s page for a chance to win an ARC of A PERILOUS UNDERTAKING. Entries are open until 6pm Eastern today, so time to get hopping!

Recently I had the immense pleasure of chatting with the whip-smart Sarah Wendell of the Smart Bitches podcast. We nattered on about Victorian female travelers, feminism, lavish bullshit, and all sorts of other intriguing things. You can find the link here, along with book recs of what I’m reading now. HUGE thanks to Sarah for a thoroughly enjoyable experience!

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Happy December!

Rabbit, rabbit! It’s the first of the month, and to ensure luck, the first thing out of your mouth is supposed to be, “Rabbit, rabbit!” Do you do this? I remember about one month out of four. Anyway, happy December, my dears. The newsletter is going out soon, so be sure you’ve signed up–remember, an excerpt from A PERILOUS UNDERTAKING will be included. Two new chapters!

Did you catch the fancy new Spotify button below? It links to Veronica’s playlist in case you haven’t checked that out yet. There’s a lot of great music to enjoy, all of it inspired by Veronica and her world.

Looking for a new Victorian mystery? I just finished THE SECRETS OF WISHTIDE by Kate Saunders, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s the first in a new series featuring the intrepid widow Laetitia Rodd, who functions as an operative for her solicitor-brother. If you love Dickens, you’ll definitely want to check this one out. Very much looking forward to the second installment! I also just finished an ARC of AN EXTRAORDINARY UNION by Alyssa Cole, out this spring. It’s a fabulous Civil War adventure featuring a spy with an eidetic memory and her Pinkerton partner. (Disclaimer: I really don’t love the Civil War as a time period, but Cole is a tremendous storyteller and sucked me in from page one. Pre-order now!)

Earlier this week, I made this Maple-Glazed Baked Salmon and, HEAVENS, it was good. It’s one of the easiest dinners I’ve ever made–we’ve talked about my laziness in the kitchen, right?–but it repaid the minimal effort with MAXIMUM satisfaction. The sauce is incredibly easy and would work beautifully over pork too. The ultimate short-cut? I bought the pre-prepped Brussels sprouts from Trader Joe’s. The whole meal took about two minutes to put together and thirty minutes to bake. And I’m going to out myself as being firmly Team Baked Pear. I didn’t realize they were a thing, but they are and I am staunchly in favor. When you buy pears you end up stalking them to hop on the three minutes between woolly unripeness and unholy rotten decay. With this recipe, it doesn’t really matter. Mine were slightly unripe and they worked beautifully. I also didn’t have the pomegranate arils on hand, but I will next time, and it will look like a professional was on the loose in my kitchen. Have you ever garnished with pomegranate arils? JEWELS, my dear ones. They are tiny, succulent jewels and they make everything look like you really know what you’re doing.

Finally, looking for a good cause to fling some money at? Please consider Days for Girls International. In many developing countries, girls do not have access to proper hygiene products and have to stay home from school, missing out on valuable opportunities. Days for Girls provides sustainable menstrual management kits so these girls can get the education they need. This is one of those things we often take for granted, but there are too many places where this terribly basic need is overlooked.

 

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Let’s talk turkey

Okay, I know Thanksgiving has past, but there’s no law that says we can’t eat turkey on other days, right? And I cooked such a stupendously good bird this year, there’s no way I can keep it to myself.

For the last several years, I’ve brined my turkeys in a variation of the usual salt/sugar/water/spices bath. And they’ve been great. You can buy the cheapest, nastiest turkey imaginable–you might forget to shop earlier and then remember at the last minute that you forgot the bird and only the gross ones are left, NOT THAT THIS HAS HAPPENED TO ME–and if you brine it, you still get something delicious.

But brining is messy. It’s heavy; it requires pre-planning and effort, and we all know I am stratospherically lazy in the kitchen. While I was pondering the necessity of mixing up several quarts of what eventually becomes salmonella-water, I started thinking about the very best chicken I make–Thomas Keller’s version. It is salty, easy, succulent, and shockingly juicy. As I thought about that delectable chicken, I was struck by the thought that turkeys are just big chickens. (Okay, they’re NOT, but work with me.) And what’s good for the chicken must be good for the gobbler…

So, on Thanksgiving Day, I proceeded to make my turkey according to the following method, and it was the most delicious turkey I have EVER made.

First, take the turkey out of the fridge two hours before you want to start roasting. I’m not kidding. TWO HOURS. When you’re almost ready to start, preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Remove the turkey from the wrapping and dry it with paper towels, inside and out after you remove the giblet pack and neck. (Do whatever you like with those. We toss them, but your family might play games with them like the girls do with the pig bladder in LITTLE HOUSE IN THE BIG WOODS. I don’t judge.)

Once the turkey is dry, salt the inside lavishly, and truss that bad boy up. Place it in the roasting pan–and here’s the kicker: you MUST have a rack. If you don’t, just ball up enough aluminum foil to lift it off the bottom of the pan. The turkey needs elevation. When the turkey is resting comfortably in the pan, salt the bejeesus out of it. I’m not kidding. PACK the outside with kosher salt. Do not butter it; do not smear it with a mixture of oil and herbs. Just salt it. Then bung it into the oven, and here’s the best part–DO NOT GO NEAR IT UNTIL IT IS DONE. No basting. No peeking. It will go VERY brown and crispy and it will look sandy and dry like the Sahara. If you want a golden, glistening bird, this is not your recipe. Use Nigella’s chart of roasting times based on the weight of your turkey. The time will seem short, but for a room-temp turkey without stuffing, it will be correct.

Take the turkey out, tent with foil, and leave it alone for half an hour before you carve. It’s not the most beautiful of beasts, but it IS delicious–salty, succulent, with very crisp skin and very juicy flesh. You wouldn’t think so, and I don’t understand the alchemy behind it, but it will taste like wizards made it. It’s a Hogwarts turkey. It’s MAGIC.

Note: you cannot make gravy from the drippings, but you can’t do that with brined turkeys anyway, so no harm, no foul. Or fowl.

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Back to blogging!

So today we’re resuming regular Tuesday/Thursday blogging until January 10–release day for A PERILOUS UNDERTAKING!

First up, have you subscribed to the newsletter? There are exclusive goodies each month–all you have to do is sign up on the handy widget on the right-hand sidebar of the blog. Then, on the fifth of each month, my newsletter will pop into your inbox with book recommendations, music picks, information on appearances and releases, and perks for subscribers only. (And we never share your information, so no worries on that score.)

Second, also on Tuesdays and Thursdays until release day, I’ll be answering questions on Goodreads. Just pop on over whenever you like and post a question; I’ll check in twice a week to fill you in!

Finally, are you ready for A PERILOUS UNDERTAKING? I can’t wait to share Veronica’s third adventure with you! For a sneak peek, check out this excerpt–and if you enjoy it, DO sign up for the newsletter, because an even longer excerpt is coming to subscribers in December.

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Catching up

Bonus post. Regular posting will resume Tuesday, November 22.

Alright, y’all–sorry for the radio silence the past few weeks. I was simply feeling too overwhelmed to post. Too much sadness, too much fear. I went to the polls two weeks ago expecting a very different outcome, and it’s been a challenging course-correction. Ordinarily I leave politics off the blog and only discuss such things on Twitter or FB, but I want there to be no mistake whatsoever that I stand with the people most at risk from this incoming administration–POC, the LGBTQ community, immigrants, people with disabilities, and any other group that will be targeted.

I’ve spent the last two weeks donating to appropriate causes, contacting my legislators, subscribing to print media, and checking in with friends who are now far more vulnerable than they ever thought they could be in 21st-century America. For suggestions as to how you can contribute, please check out the hashtag #smallacts on Twitter. In a nutshell, contact your legislators and the Department of Justice about election irregularities, take Paul Ryan’s one-question survey on the Affordable Care Act, subscribe to print media, contact the House Oversight Committee about conflicts of interest on the part of the President-elect.

 

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Fee, fie, fo, fum, I smell something delicious…

Alright, my dears, I am in the VERY LAST STAGES of revising Veronica’s third adventure which I am turning in MONDAY. (I am beyond excited!) I still have work to do–mostly smoothing out the places where I’ve torn things apart and stitched them back together–so I’m reposting this piece, a favorite from the archives. See you next week with fresh bloggery!

This is one of my very favorite interviews EVER. It is long and detailed, and it tells you a LOT about me through one of my favorite media–fragrance. Since this interview, I have acquired a new signature fragrance, Lubin’s Black Jade. But the interview is still quite revealing…

This week the ever-eloquent Suzy Nightingale asked me for an interview for Fragrantica, and I was thrilled to comply. If you’ve spent any time hanging out here, you know how much I love perfume, and this was the perfect excuse to geek out on one of my favorite subjects. Suzy asked great questions, and she pulled some lovely tidbits from the blog you might have missed. You can read the entire interview here, and huge bouquets of thanks to Suzy and Fragrantica for the invitation!

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It’s Dia de los Muertos, y’all

Reposting a piece on this special day.

Have we talked about Dia de los Muertos? I keep thinking we have, but I can’t find anything in the archives and that seems QUITE short-sighted of me. If you’re not familiar, Dia de los Muertos is the Day of the Dead, a traditional holiday in Latin America. In many places it predates the Spanish colonization of the Americas and was adapted to the days after Halloween to coincide with a Christian calendar that already tipped a hat to the dead on those days. And a caveat: what I’m writing today is a vast oversimplification of an observance that is complex and varies a LOT depending upon where the celebrations are occurring. (The history of the holiday in northern Mexico is particularly involved.) Also, I am referring to it as a single day, but it’s traditionally marked as two days–Nov. 1 & 2 with the first day being set aside to honor children as well as the saints as dictated by the Catholic calendar and the second for honoring the rest of the dead.

I grew up in South Texas where Dia de los Muertos is a BIG deal. Preparations go on for weeks ahead of time, and the mood is oddly festive. You’d think a holiday designed to remember the dead would be somber, but nothing could be further from the truth. Families clean the headstones of their loved ones, tidying up the graves and laying them with flowers. They pack picnic lunches and spend time eating and drinking at the resting places of their ancestors. They hang papel picado–garlands of colorful paper cut into intricate shapes–and they bake special breads and candies.

One of the centerpieces of the celebrations is the constructing of ofrendas or altars to commemorate those who have passed on. Pictures of the loved ones will be positioned with their favorite foods and drinks; mementos of their habits such as a pack of cigarettes or a beloved cooking utensil might be included. There will be tall candles with images of saints and HEAPS of marigolds, the traditional flower to guide the spirits to their ofrendas. This, after all, is the point of Dia de los Muertos–to invite the dead back to visit for a short while. Many cultures believe the veil between worlds is thinnest at this time, and while others might welcome their dead with somber observances, Dia de los Muertos invites them back for a party. The ofrendas and festive gravesites send the clear message: you are not forgotten.

Also traditional for this day are the baking of pan de muerto (dead bread, as we called it), and the crafting of sugar skulls. The bread is dense and sweet, flavored with anise and baked in the shape of the departed, personalized with characteristics of those who have died or decorated with skulls and bones fashioned of dough and glazed with egg wash. If you’ve noticed the abundance of friendly-looking skulls in the Halloween aisles in the last few years, they are calaveras borrowed from the celebrations of Dia de los Muertos. (There is controversy about the appropriation of the calavera by people who don’t know its origins or respect its tradition.) The markets are crowded with tiny crunchy skulls festooned with lacy icing–for eating–as well as life-sized papier-mache versions painted brightly and meant for display. There are miniature skeletons dressed up in all the occupations, reminders that death comes for everyone in the end.

You would think that with all the emphasis on death it would be a grim time, but the truth is, some of my happiest memories from South Texas are tied to these celebrations. The sharp scent of the marigolds mingling with the wax from the bodega candles, the vivid colors, the sweet crumb of the dead bread–and with it all the reassurance that those you love haven’t gone so very far after all. After my maternal grandmother’s death, it was those traditions that gave me a place for my grief. It took a few years of floundering at her death date of November 5, but one year it finally clicked with me that I needed to make an ofrenda for her. I included my paternal grandfather, tucking pictures of them in between little bouquets of marigolds and an assortment of candles. It was a tiny thing, my ofrenda. Mine covered a tea tray while the ones at El Mercado in downtown San Antonio are seven feet high and twice as wide. But it was enough. I lit the candles and baked dead bread with a wash of green for the dress and brown curls, and when the day was done, I realized I had processed my grief in a way I had never done before.

I’ve struggled with the idea of appropriating a culture that isn’t mine. After all, I’m not Hispanic. My family didn’t do these things–but the culture in which I was raised did. (San Antonio is more than 50% Hispanic.) Recently I was discussing this with a Latina friend of mine, wondering aloud if I had any claim on these traditions. Her response was that they were actually more mine than hers. Growing up in LA, she hadn’t observed Dia de los Muertos, and the fact that I had taken comfort from the traditions and observed them with respect made them mine. I hope that’s true. Because now when I make an ofrenda and hang my calaveras, I feel connected to my loved ones and am glad to welcome them back–just for the day.

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Time for my favorite Halloween post!

This one is from a few years ago, but it is my favorite post on my most-loved occasion.

This is my favorite holiday–not entirely surprising for a girl who kills pretend people for a living, no? But I’ve always loved ghost stories and the fall, full moons and things that go bump in the night…

Halloween used to be a sacred holiday for many folks. The last of the three harvest holidays, it was the time for bringing in the remnants of the crops, storing them up against the winter–a time for celebrating the harvest and fattening oneself up. “Winter is coming” wasn’t just a saying in Winterfell, my darlings, and one wasn’t truly prepared for the coming hardships unless there were apples drying on the hearth, the hay baled, and the corn reaped. It was a time for dancing and divination, when one’s true love might be revealed in a bowl of dark water or the curl of an apple peel thrown over one’s shoulder. It was a time when people gathered at bonfires and crackling hearths, warming themselves and telling stories.

It was also a time for honoring the dead. The Celts believed that on this night, the veil between worlds was the thinnest, and those we love can come back to visit for just a little while. Want to show a Samhain welcome to those you have loved and lost? Light a candle next to their picture and leave an offering of something sweet. But scatter salt across your threshold to keep others away! Light a jack-o-lantern to illuminate the way for those who wander, and when you gaze up at the harvest moon–two days full and ripe as an ear of corn–wish them peacefully on their way.

On a more prosaic note–in our house, Halloween means chili, queso, and chocolate cake with classic horror movies. But we always spare a thought for those we have loved and honor their memory. It is also a perfect night to banish old habits and resentments. We usually observe the burning bowl on New Year’s Eve, but it is an old Samhain tradition as this night used to mark the turning from the old year to the new. Get a fireproof bowl or use a firepit. Write secretly whatever you wish to banish from your life. Hold the paper close to your heart and breathe out your resentments, your anger, your pain. Then drop the paper into the bowl and set it alight. When it has burned and dropped to cold ash, scatter the ashes on the wind. Time to make a fresh start–time for the Danse Macabre to call all ghosts home.

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