Monday, April 29, 2013

At Long Last

Big things are in store for me over the next month. Not necessarily the achievements of my ultimate goals, but tiny accomplishments that have helped me to grow over the last few months.

To begin with, I will finish this draft of my current book project. It'll go out to the beta readers, and I'll revise from their notes and continue to move forward with overall polish. I'm excited for how this book has turned out. It's something I love to work on, and I'm looking forward to the day I get to pitch it to agent, and then to editors.

And with that goal in mind, I've had to take a step back to remind myself that I still have work to do on this book. Just because I've finished a few drafts and made massive improvements, it doesn't mean this book is "ready." I'm not saying that's a distant goal, but too many authors (myself included) have rushed through projects that still need work. They've sent them out to people who might have accepted them if a little more effort had been put into editing.

I don't want to fall into that trap. It's why I'm so careful about listening to my critique group, picking beta readers who will give me insight into how my intended audience will perceive the novel. As an unpublished author, I know that I still have a lot to learn. And I'm open to learning those lessons.

But, at long last, I can look forward to the submission process. I'm not sure how soon that will be, but I'm hoping it comes in the next two or three months.

And then, while this book is flying out into the world, it will be time to begin the next project, using the lessons I learned this time around to improve my overall skill.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Whoops...

I meant to write three blog posts this week. Then the day job got really busy, and my free time got dedicated to writing.

See you Monday!

Friday, April 19, 2013

My Brew Day

As I mentioned on Wednesday, I'm going to walk all of you through my first all-grain brew day. I started out by cleaning and sanitizing everything. This is key! If you plan on making a traditional beer, you MUST sanitize your equipment or you'll get an infected beer. Infected beers have many bad flavors, and they're generally disgusting.

Some of the small stuff sanitizing in the sink.

The next step was to heat up water in which to steep the grains (this is called mashing). There's a complex formula to figure out what temperature the water needs to be heated to based on the temperature of the grains and the mash tun (where I mash the grain). In this case, I missed my target temperature by 2 degrees, which is actually very impressive considering I've NEVER brewed with this method before, and I knew almost NOTHING about my system. The remedy: add boiling water and stir.

Inside my mash tun. Lots of grain!
After the mash, it's time to sparge. That's where you drain the water out through the bottom of the mash/lauter tun, rinse, repeat. Literally. I did a batch sparge which meant I drained all of the water from my tun, filled up with a second batch of water, let it steep for fifteen minutes to extract more sugars, and then drained it again.

Wort draining into my kettle.
Followed by the boil! At my altitude, boiling temperature is 203 degrees F. That lower temperature will affect the flavor of the beer, but probably not enough for me to notice. One of the important pieces of information I needed to figure out in advance was how much liquid I boiled off every hour. This determined how much grain I needed, how much water, and what my pre-boil gravity (the saturation of sugars present in the liquid) would be in order to hit my Original Gravity at the end of my one hour boil. I boil off approximately 4/5 of a gallon per hour, and since I wanted 3 gallons to go into my fermentor, I needed just over 4 (to make up for loss in volume when the liquid cools and various materials that need to be strained out of the wort...more on that later).

My brew pot, on the stove as it warms up towards a boil. Minutes before the power died :P

So, once my power died and I cleaned out my mash tun (in the dark), I figured I should do some chores. But then the power came back on. To avoid long-term stability to the end-product and funky off-flavors, I started the boil. I let it boil for 50 minutes, and then, on the advice of a HIGHLY successful brewer in California, I waited until the last ten minutes to add my hops and Irish moss (used to clarify the wort).

I have .75oz of Fuggles, .75oz of East Kent Goldings, and beneath that, .75tsp. of Irish Moss

The hops went into the boil, along with the moss, and I let them run for ten more minutes.


I had such a strong boil that this happened to the INSIDE of my condo.

Then it was time to cool everything down. At the beginning of the boil, something called the Hot Break occurs, during which various proteins broken down in the mash all coagulate together. I scooped some of that stuff off when it showed up. Then at the end, I needed to cool everything down very quickly for the Cold Break where all of those proteins join together and fall to the bottom of the kettle. The Irish Moss helps with that, making sure that the wort is clearer, preventing protein haze in the finished beer. Those hop pellets also left a lot of matter behind in the wort, so while I cooled the wort, I also stirred it to create a whirlpool that gathered all of the matter in the center of my kettle. I then syphoned the chilled wort (cooled to 72 degrees F) into my 5 gallon glass carboy, making sure the syphon remained at the outer edge of the kettle to avoid all of the trub (all of the hot break, cold break, and hop matter).

After that, I shook up the wort to get oxygen into solution (not the most effective method, but the only one I can afford at the moment) and tossed in a vial of liquid beer yeast. It now sits in the bathtub in our guest bathroom with a stopper in the mouth and an airlock in the stopper to prevent airborne contaminates from getting in and spoiling it.

Almost 3 gallons of wort fermenting away. The bubbles on top contain yeast, CO2, and various other byproducts of the fermentation process.
After two weeks, when it's reached Terminal Gravity (the lowest amount of sugar left in solution that the yeast will convert), I'll syphon out of the carboy into a bucket with a spigot, add some sugar, and then toss it into bottles to condition/carbonate for two or more weeks.

And that's it. My brew day. Any questions?

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Craziness of Life

The days between my last post and this have all been very long, and mostly exciting. Friday, I had several things going on that, for the sake of protecting several peoples' privacy, I won't mention. But it required a lot of research during my free time, taking away from my blogging.

Saturday was a ton of fun since The Wifey and I went out to lunch with a couple of friends. We enjoyed the great food and beer at one of the Oskar Blues pubs up in Longmont, CO. If you're ever in the area, check them out!

Now for the fun stuff! I brewed my first batch of all-grain beer on Sunday. It was a LOT of fun, and so much more satisfying than dumping sugar-syrup into a pot to boil it for an hour. I got to design my own recipe, mash the grains in my own pre-heated water, extract the sugars from said grains, and then boil them on a schedule I set! On Friday, I'll put together a blog post on my brew day. For those of you who are interested.

Monday, I planned on writing a blog post. But then I checked the news on my lunch break. For those of you who know what happened in Boston, you can understand my distraction. I didn't want to waste anyone's time with my ramblings on such a tragic day, so I kept quiet.

Overall, my life is moving forward. Bills are getting paid, critique group pages are getting read, and revisions are transforming my WiP at a slow but steady pace. Other than that, not much to report.

So, as I said, check back Friday for a Brew Day walkthrough!

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Don't Rush It

There are many things that artists say that could be absolutely absurd are equally true depending on the context. I've met people who believe that "art" must be organic. It should flow like a living organism through time and space, growing when it will, revealing itself to the world in a manner natural to its own existence. I could go off on a long tangent about that, but this post is about something different.

Deadlines aside, when it comes time to make revisions, deep edits, and final polish, rushing the job could be one of the most disastrous decisions a writer can make. As I mentioned last week, I'm in the middle of writing a character out of my book. He's more entrenched than I originally thought, and this is taking more time that I'd planned. And aside from the "life" stuff that's kept me from making progress, I'm doing what I can to slow down and make sure I make these changes correctly, smoothly, and with as much delicacy as possible to keep the rest of the story intact.

You see, if I were to search-and-delete every instance of this character's name and then just replace it with a character that will remain, the rewrite would take minutes. But think about how clunky that would feel. Just imagine a simple dialogue scene where four characters WERE standing around talking, and suddenly there's only three. And one character is replying to something he just said, but in the "voice" of a character who no longer exists.

Now imagine an action scene where one character saves the day and the replaced character might've gotten hit in the head, leading the first character TO save the day. The first character won't save the day because he's suddenly unconscious.

So when you sit down to work on your rewrites, always make sure you're purposeful. Take your time (but don't procrastinate or waste time!). Rushing is for the first draft. That is the race to the end. But the slow, clean polish the second and third time around is where you turn that rough draft into a masterpiece. It's not guiding a bonsai tree to perfection, but it is developing a story that agents, editors, and–ultimately–readers want to spend their time on.

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Strange Choices

As some of you may know, I'm nearing the end of this current WiP. At least, I hope I'm nearing the end. I'm going to put as much work into it as necessary, but the overall plot, the stuff that needs to be revised, is pretty much hammered out. I just need to do a few minor tweaks and then go in for deep edits that make the writing worth reading.

But recently, I had to make a difficult choice. A strange one that I blame, in part, on my critique group. you see, when I plotted out this story, I had four characters total. Two protagonists and two supporting cast members. I figured that would flesh out the character cast in a way that made each person real and entertaining, giving them different ways to interact that would show the various sides of their personalities.

But one character would NOT jump off of the page. No matter how many times I tried to change him. He kept disappearing. Ducking into the background and hiding from the story. To the point where he didn't really matter. Even when I killed him in an epic battle scene.

At first, I tried to rewrite him. Flesh out his personality a bit, make him a stronger character and give him a bit of a backbone. But instead of making it better, it just kinda turned him into this guy who hung around for several scenes, trying to get involved before he dies. And even though I almost cried when I wrote his death scene, the second time I got to it, I thought, "Finally! He's gone and I can focus on the other characters some more."

So guess what I'm doing right now! That's right, I'm writing the character OUT of the book. He still shows up for a few chapters, but his purpose is served in those chapters. Beyond those few pages, he's a nuisance.

So why didn't I work harder to make him a bigger part of the story? Mostly because he's not needed. This story has a lot in it already, at least as a "debut" novel (which is how I'll have to pitch it) for YA readers. I don't want it bogged down with a bunch of character development that will do NOTHING to advance the plot. And the other character that I bring into the story to work with the protagonists needs to have her own character advancement. The erased character helps with her development a bit, but not in any way that can't be rewritten with other characters who show up along the way.

Some people call this "killing your darlings." An idea that I'm embracing. I heard someone say once that first ideas are great, but they're almost always wrong. Or at least not as great as the ideas that come after. So take those first ideas, embrace them, and then be prepared to THROW THEM AWAY to bring in new, better ideas that wouldn't have come to mind without those first ideas.

That's a great deal of this book. My first line even got rewritten several times because the first attempt didn't work for me. It inspired an entire novel, but when it came time to revise, the entire idea behind the story had changed, evolved, and transcended that first line.

Be prepared to throw out ideas, just make sure the baby doesn't go with the bathwater.

Monday, April 01, 2013

Charity of the Month: St. Jude's

I know it's late in the day, but I did say I would get the charity up today! I'm happy to announce that St. Jude is the April charity this month. The link is in the sidebar to the right, please consider donating and helping to save a life.

A quick note: some of you may notice the list of previous charities is no longer on the page. That is because Google decided to break the link-list tool to make sure that there are "errors" when more than one link is visible on the "list." So if you're interested, feel free to click through the archives (it's usually the first post of each month), or click on the Charity of the Month label at the bottom of the post.

Eventually, I may create a charity page, like the short story above. Perhaps it'll even be complete with banners!  We shall see.

An Announcement

The Charity of the Month post WILL be up later today, so check back soon.

Today, I want to make a big announcement about a decision that's been a long time in the works. Believe me, I did not come to this conclusion lightly. I've spent many months considering my options, looking for answers, and consulting my loving, patient wife who has vowed to support me, whatever I do.

As a kid, I picked up two hobbies at once: writing and music. Both of them were a passion for me, and I genuinely wanted to spend my life working to become a rockstar, and then writing books on the tour bus after a show. Many years ago, I gave up the guitar because I realized that only one passion could drive my career if I ever wanted to make something of myself. I still love music, and sometimes I wish I could pick up a guitar and pluck out a few songs. But I digress.

As many of you know, I started homebrewing last year. I've come to enjoy the process so much that I want to pursue a full time career as a brewmaster at a local brewery and pub. Like I said earlier, I didn't come to this decision lightly. What about my book? What about my day job? And what about education?

All of those are simple. The book will rest on my computer until I have some free time again. My day job will remain my focus while I learn the ins and outs of professional brewing, and when I've developed contacts in the brewing industry, I'll volunteer my time cleaning out equipment, learning the brewing processes, and eventually working my way up to a master brewer.

I'm going to miss the time I spend creating worlds and writing down all of the fun things my imaginary friends say and do. But one can't resist the urge to move into a new passion. I do hope to stay in touch with all of my creative friends, and I'm even available to help critique now and then. But my new life will revolve around water, hops, malt, and yeast.

And I figured the best time to tell all of you would be on this beautiful morning of April 1.