Happy Holidays! Uncle Ant’s Tips & Gifts Guide 2017

Uncle Ant’s Tips & Gifts Guide 2017

Bruce Lee once said, “Absorb what is useful. Reject what is useless. Add what is essentially your own.” After working in content since 2000 and being self-employed since 2011, I’ve gotten to encounter many a thing that adds value to my day, to my life, to my work, and to my family. So this year, I thought I’d share some of those things and tips with you. If they’re useful, please use them and pass them on. Happy Holidays from your Uncle Ant 🙂

Jump to what you want

Reading

Organizing

Writing & Publishing

Cooking

Craft Beer

Travel & Wonder

Reading

Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache/Three Pines series

Set not just in Quebec, but in the brilliance and darkness of the human heart. These books are technically murder mysteries, and I’m not usually a mystery fan. But the poignant beauty of these books, the vivid characters, the reminder that murder and life are both ordinary and extraordinary, these are among the many things that will have you understand why anytime I pick up a Gamache book, my wife knows that I’m pretty much gone for the weekend. Another perk: reading these books will tell you the 4 statements that put you on the path to wisdom. That alone is worthwhile.

Terry Pratchett’s Discworld

While Sir Terry left this world in 2015, the 34 books in his landmark series live on. Irreverent and hilarious yet deeply insightful and serious, Discworld is a potent reminder that fantasy is just a lens through which we understand our own world—and a touch of laughter is a good way to digest difficult truths.

The Rucksack Universe

Naturally, I’m a bit partial to my own work. Take travel, magical realism, soak ’em in beer, and you get the Rucksack Universe series. In addition to the 4 titles currently available, I’ve got 2 manuscripts soon to be published, and have a bunch of shorter pieces in the works too.

Organizing

Ultimately, there is no system, there is only your system. I know there are lots of various systems on the market, but none of them have ever interested me. My system is a mashup of tools that work well for me, my family, and my own circumstances and peccadilloes:

BulletJournal

I’ve carried a notebook and pen since I was 17, and I doubt I’ll ever stop. The biggest evolution I’ve made in my notebook habit? BulletJournaling, or bujo for short.

My notebook nowadays is for jotting down ideas, keeping track of the day’s personal and household tasks, and trying to get down various observations and recollections about my kids as I try to keep up with their growing up. While I don’t use the larger notebook they focus on, I love the BulletJournal system for organizing my pocket Moleskines and Leuchtturm1917s. BulletJournaling has made a big difference in how I use my notebooks. Here are some of the things I use daily:

  • Page numbers. Yes. The simple, humble page number. All the years of carrying a notebook, but not once did I think to number the pages. That’s why I mention it here. For Moleskines I have to write in the page numbers, but Leuchtturm1917s have them pre-printed.
  • Index. My Index organizes my bujo by headings and page numbers. When I needed to duck back into a note from my Business Master Class or my son’s ideas for a pizza party, I just need to check my index and thumb to the page.
  • 15 pages of 2-column list space. The first 15 pages of my bujo are for lists. Task comes to mind? Down it goes. I organize lists by heading (listed in the index of course).
  • Daily pages. My daily page has the date, followed by a “1 2 3 RTM” (I use this to remind me to do 3 tasks from the 15 pages at the front of the bujo, along with tasks in Remember the Milk). I list out any notable events for the day, along with bulleted things I need to do.

Remember the Milk

Do not constantly write down repeating tasks. I repeat: do not constantly write down repeating tasks. Have a tool that does that for you. If every day I had to write down “write 1,200 words a day,” I’d get annoyed—I should be working on the 1,200 words! Remember the Milk has free and paid services for you to choose from, along with a range of device apps and their web interface (which is what I use). The free level currently gives me what I need: scheduling tasks but, more importantly, setting tasks to repeat. Life is a series of many regular things with occasional surprises, and Remember the Milk helps you keep track of the regular while being ready for the new stuff.

Google Calendar

The sharing features alone make this a must-use for me. My wife, also self-employed, uses Google Calendar to manage her personal calendar along with her studio’s teaching calendar. By sharing calendars with each other, we can easily know what each other has ahead for the day and don’t cross-schedule things for when one of us is supposed to the primary parent for our two kiddos.

A 2-page document in iWork Pages (or Word, Google Docs, whatever lights your match)

Each Monday morning, I pull up a 2-page template in Pages. The first page is 2 columns, organized by client (and that includes the articles/copywriting side of my business, plus a separate heading for fiction). I list out all the week’s tasks for each client/assignment, bulleted with an empty checkbox (once a task is done, I change the bullet to a checked checkbox). The second, one-column page has space for notes and observations about the week, as well as tasks that I won’t be handling in the current week, but that need to be tended to the following week (or added to Remember the Milk for future scheduling).

Writing & Publishing

Scrivener

For years Scrivener has been my workhorse for all my projects, from freelance articles to books. With Scrivener I can organize my notes, structure my outlines, and do all my drafting. “Snapshots” make it easy to do version control as I refine drafts. And Scrivener’s compiling function helps me generate files in any format I need.

Vellum

Until 2017, I used Scrivener for my production e-book files. Scrivener remains my primary tool for planning, managing, and writing all my writing projects. Starting in 2017 though, I began switching production to Vellum for all my e-book and paperback files. Vellum has been on the scene for a while, and many small publishers have begun using it for their e-book files. In 2017 Vellum added paperback options, and that made it a no-brainer for me. Instead of a offering a big suite production and design tools, Vellum focuses on providing a few simple options that authors and publishers can choose from to produce professional e-book and paperback files that work across all major distribution channels.

Apple 10.5” iPad Pro with Logitech Keyboard Case and Apple Pencil

2017 was a year of tech upgrades for me. The 10.5” iPad Pro with the Logitech Keyboard Case has become one of my most important tools. The iPad itself is my second screen, and I use it regularly for research and social media. The Logitech keyboard has good size and spacing, and feels like using a regular laptop keyboard. As a fast typist, I also find it quieter than most computer keyboards, making it much nicer to use when, say, transcribing notes during a phone interview. I also use my iPad Pro as my main travel system, for daily writing production, taking notes, checking in with my wife and kids, etc.

The Logitech keyboard uses the iPad’s smart connectors for power and data, so there’s no battery to charge. A simple tug separates the case-protected iPad from the keyboard, for when you just need the screen. I also like the convenient sleeve for the Apple Pencil.

I also recommend completing the package with the Apple Pencil. From marking up scanned documents to drawing in the Linea app, I’ve found the Pencil to be a useful tool that brings the iPad’s functionality full circle.

Some have said that the iPad Pro now is a laptop replacement. Personally, I still use a laptop as my workhorse, but the 2017 iPad Pros are a big step forward for tablets.

How to put your own e-books out into the world

The nuts and bolts of generating e-book files and all that are beyond the scope of what I can talk about here. My rule of thumb is that wherever you can directly load e-books to a channel, do it. Here’s where and how I recommend you sell your e-books:

  • Amazon KDP. This puts your titles for sale on Amazon and gives you access to its global sites as well. I do not recommend making your work available exclusively on Amazon though, via their KDP Select program, but that’s a choice you’ll have to make yourself based on your own goals and circumstances.
  • Kobo Writing Life. This Canada-based company is the major e-book player in Canada, but they also give you access to markets in over 180 countries. The team there is top-notch, full of experts who know their stuff and want to help authors and publishers get their titles to the right readers.
  • Apple iBooks. Every Apple mobile device includes their free iBooks app. The iBooks store has solid merchandising and a global team.
  • Draft2Digital. They came on the scene a couple of years ago and have been really impressive with their intuitive interface, focus on services that work well for authors, and their growing network of e-book channels. You can load your e-book to D2D, and choose from dozens of retailers to distribute too (including Kobo and iBooks, but again, I believe in going direct wherever you can. Wherever I can’t load directly, I use D2D.

Cooking

Cooking is my hobby and avocation. I’m not a man of many hobbies—I don’t woodwork, I’m not into cars, and knitting is my wife’s domain. But I cook. Boy howdy, do I cook. In the kitchen, I believe in quality tools, and often follow the recommendations from trusted sources such as America’s Test Kitchen. I’m not particularly interested in the latest and greatest cookbook, and I’m not interested in meal prep services such as Blue Apron. I also don’t believe that cooking has to be some poncy, all-consuming task—I’ve got a business to run, a wife to be with, and 2 kids to steer to adulthood, after all. Cooking is essential to who I am though, so here are things I use to make my kitchen time both more fun and more productive:

Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street Kitchen Magazine and Milk Street Radio Podcast

A fan of Cooks Illustrated and America’s Test Kitchen for some years, I wondered what founder Christopher Kimball would do when he left the company in 2015. After taking a chance on his endeavor, Milk Street, I wish he’d left even earlier.

As much as I love CI and ATK, I consider them more informational and educational. There are many recipes that I simply do not imagine myself ever making, though it’s fun to read about them—they simply aren’t reflective of how my family and I typically eat or how I cook. With Milk Street, though, it is totally different. Milk Street draws on cooking traditions and ideas from the entire world—just like I do. The magazine is built from an understanding that anyone, anywhere needs to get dinner on the table. They don’t necessarily want to faff about with it all evening on a weeknight… but they still want to deliver an excellent homemade meal. When I receive a new issue of the every-other month magazine, I can prepare anything in it. I’ve half-joked with my wife that receiving Milk Street means we’ve pretty much gotten our meal list for the next two months.

I’ve been thrilled with the recipes and the new insights on how to approach new foods, familiar foods, and fresh ideas. Milk Street helps me make my cooking craft better than ever. In addition to the subscription magazine (and I recommend springing for the print and tablet combo), I also listen to their free, weekly hour-long podcast. The interviews are fascinating, and there is some familiar content from the now-defunct ATK podcast.

The Splendid Table Podcast

For over 20 years, The Splendid Table has informed and inspired cooks and those who love to eat. As much as I respect departing host Lynne Rosetto Casper, who is retiring at the end of 2017, I am excited about the new host, Francis Lam. He brings a multicultural aspect to TST that fits well with today’s listener. I also like the new themes the show has been doing, tying together the stories in an episode in a way that brings greater depth to a topic or aspect of food and cooking.

The only kitchen knives you need

When I was in Thailand in 2003 and 2004, I went to street stalls/food carts all the time. The folks preparing food there often used just one knife, usually an 8” or 10” chef’s knife. They did everything with it, from big chopping to fine detail work. They don’t have time or inclination to futz about with lots and lots of knives. So pick a good knife, learn to use it well, and rock it hard.

  • 8” chef knife or 7” santoku
  • 8” serrated bread knife
  • 3.5” paring knife

For your primary kitchen workhorse, choose your own adventure: either an 8” chef’s knife with a Japanese-style edge, or a 7” santoku. Get both if you really want (or need 2 workhorse knives for you plus someone else in the house), but really, one is all you need. The 8” chef is the traditional European-style knife, and the santoku is the overall wider knife that is lovely for chopping and scooping work. Some find a santoku too small, and some find a chef’s knife too big and overbearing. I feel at home with either, but I would suggest you pick the one that feels best in your hand.

I know some people obsess about carbon steel versus stainless steel, and I don’t give two cabbages. I only care about modern steels that combine the best of both. While my own knives are a German brand (called Solingen, the house brand at a knife shop I worked at some years ago) with a thicker European-style edge, if I were buying new knives today I would go for the thinner Japanese-style edges.

Find a knife that feels good in your hand and that is high quality. If its edge in any way resembles the micro-teethed crap that you see for cheap in most stores, it’s not for you. I haven’t confirmed but am pretty sure those are made from the serrated metal strips from aluminum foil boxes.

A good set of kitchen knives will last all your days. Unless you have specialty cooking needs that require speciality knives, don’t worry about anything else. From these basics, expand out only into what you need for your kitchen style (if you carve a lot of meat, sure, get a carving set; if you fillet a lot of fish, yes, get a fillet knife), but otherwise, these are all you need.

Cast iron

Lodge 12” Cast Iron Skillet

I don’t know why I was so resistant to cast iron. Wait, yes I do. I thought it would be expensive to get and a time-consuming PITA to maintain. With my Lodge 12” Cast Iron Skillet though, neither has been true. Some years back, my in-laws gifted me a double-burner cast iron griddle, and that has been a most useful addition to my kitchen. Back in 2016 my wife and I finally got a skillet. I bake in it, sauté in it, you name it. It’s been a welcome addition to our kitchen, and gets busted out throughout the week.

Do you bake? If I were to get another cast iron skillet, I’d get the 10.25” Lodge cast iron skillet. Most cast iron baking recipes call for a 10”, so if you bake, I’d recommend snagging that too. Amazon also has a 3-piece set that gets you the 8”, 10.25”, and 12” Lodge cast iron skillets.

Cooking acidic things in cast iron

I don’t worry about cooking acidic things such as tomatoes. Based off Milk Street and ATK’s recommendations, I keep acidic ingredient cooking to under half an hour.

The best way to clean & season cast iron

I know there are some folks who think of cleaning cast iron in a manner reserved for extreme religious views. If you’re one of those people, you may want to consider skipping ahead. If not, well, I warned you. Contrary to common belief, cast iron is easy to take care of—but no, you don’t do that useless oven nonsense you saw on YouTube. Don’t sweat soap and water either. If you need to use soap and water to get rid of a difficult, stubborn bit of food, don’t worry about it. I generally use a nylon scrubbing brush and some hot water. Usually that’s enough. Sometimes I use a paper towel and kosher salt. For really stubborn stuck-on food, I have indeed used a green coarse scrubbie pad and soapy water.

Once I’ve cleaned my cast iron, here’s what I do to maintain or restore the seasoning:

  • Place the wet cast iron cookware on the stove and turn the heat to medium-high.
  • Once the water has evaporated and the pan is visibly dry, pour a teaspoon of oil into the pan.
  • Use a paper towel to rub the oil all over the cookware. (For sided pieces such as a skillet, some oil may come back down the sides and pool in the corner. Wipe out the excess with a paper towel.)
  • Turn on your range fan, set a timer for five minutes, and leave the cast iron alone. The oil will smoke—and it should, because that means it’s chemical structure is changing to the polymer it needs to become. That practically non-stick surface that good seasoned cast iron is known for? That’s the oil breaking down and changing chemically to bond with the metal.
  • When the five minutes are done, turn off the heat and let the piece cool.

Milk Street has some tips here and here on how to clean and season cast iron (and to restore it after heavy-duty cleaning too)

Craft Beer

The best craft beer

Yes, there is one. And yes, I believe that my choice is absolutely right and correct. And it is this:

The best craft beer is the one you have in your hand right now.

There you go. Drink and be merry.

How to get amazing craft beers

I don’t know where you live. As you likely know about me, I live in Eugene, Oregon, one of the best beer cities in the US. We’re home to over a dozen breweries and cideries, and from grocery stores to specialty bottle shops such as The Bier Stein and 16 Tons, we have access to amazing curated craft beers from all over the world.

If you have places like this where you are, then make sure you are giving them your business. If there is a beer you want that they don’t have, odds are the beer buyer will be happy to take your suggestion and do what they can to get it in. The folks in these places are experts and professionals, and they love craft beer as much as they love making sure their customers can get the best stuff available.

But craft beers might be harder to come by for you. If so, then here’s what I recommend:

The beer clubs at Monthly Clubs.

Kris Kalef has put together teams of knowledgeable people who can source the best of anything, from chocolate and cheese to wine and beer. He’s given me behind-the-scenes peeks, and I like what he and his team do. Their curated monthly subscription clubs give you access to things you might not be able to easily access. They also do special exclusive offers you can’t get elsewhere (such as one they did with Eugene’s Alesong—incredible beers that are not always easy to come by). Check out their clubs and get great craft beer to your door:

That said, though, I can’t possibly leave you hanging. I do have a few beers to suggest you get your hands on. Naturally, availability varies, and it’s not also to source a specific beer. But if you can, here are some of my personal faves:

Ninkasi Helles Belles

When Ninkasi ramped up their lager production a few years back, I wondered how it would be. I love Ninkasi’s brand, I love their company, and they have wonderful people working there. But I’m not a hophead. Yet from the moment I started drinking Ninkasi’s lagers—from their Pravda and Lux to their now-flagship Helles Belles, I was hooked. Lager’s give you nowhere to hide—either you bring your A game to every batch, or you’re just wasting water. Helles Belles is clean-flavored, both light on the palate yet packing great flavor from its balance of malt and hops. A regular everyday beer for me.

Anything from Alesong Brewing

Founded by Doug Coombs, Brian Coombs, and Matt Van Wyk (former brewmaster at renown Oakshire Brewing), Eugene-based Alesong Brewing busted onto the scene in 2016 and took home a gold from the Great American Beer Festival their first year. From their Strawberry Symphony to their Shake Your Tree Wild Ale with Peaches, they approach beer the way the world’s great winemakers approach wine. They also may actually be wizards and alchemists, but I have yet to confirm that on the record. Anything you can find from them, snag a bottle.

Yachats Brewing

In a similar vein, I’ve been really impressed by this recent brewery, headquartered on the Oregon Coast in the wee town of Yachats (pronounced yah-hots). Their boysenberry ale was my personal highlight of the 2016 KLCC Microbrew Fest, and everything I’ve had from them I’ve really enjoyed.

If you only need/want/can afford one type of beer glass for those beers when a pint glass won’t do…

The variety of beer glasses available is absolutely staggering. Those glasses exist for good reason, as they do accentuate characteristics of the beers they are designed for. That’s all well and fine, but not everyone wants or needs their kitchen to have more glassware than a typical bar. Not every beer is best served in a pint glass though, so here’s my suggestion…

Get a really nice wine glass.

That’s right. Hold your nose if you must, but just as wine glasses are designed to bring out the best in wine, they often work really well for beer. Personally, I’m a fan of the Riedel New World Pinot stemmed glasses (and got a set for me and my wife for Christmas 2016). Focus on any glass with that tulipy design: bulbous bottom, narrowing at the top: you’ll get the full color of the beer, and the narrowed top will concentrate aroma and effervescence.

Travel & Wonder

To inspire you and get you off the couch: Atlas Obscura.

Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been fascinated by the curious places of the world. As much as I love fiction, I’ve always enjoyed that there is far more oddity in our own real world as you might find in any story world. There aren’t many things that I read every single day, but Atlas Obscura is one of them. Its stories of fascinating places and curious bits of history are a reminder that this world is as varied as it is interesting, and will never stop surprising you.

Travel Rick Steves Radio & Podcast

Back around 2001 or so, Rick Steves gave a talk in Eugene. He had a friendly wonder to him, a kindness and curiosity. He had a way of both setting people completely at ease, while also inspiring them to want to jet off around the world. (I also bought a money belt from him, which to this day I still use on my international trips.)

I’ve also seen Rick referred to as “the Mister Rogers of travel,” and that is a fairly apt description. Nowadays, in addition to Rick’s guidebooks (including his classic, Europe Through the Back Door), Rick offers trips, his free PBS show, and a wonderful weekly podcast. While Rick’s guidebooks and tours focus on Europe, the podcast is global in scope. I’ve learned about places I want to go—such as markets in Provence, France—and I’ve been inspired to learn about parts of the world and its history that I did not know about (such as Graham Robb’s The Discovery of Middle Earth: Mapping the Lost World of the Celts). The free podcast is about 50 minutes, and I highly recommend you add it to your must-listen.

A money belt

I’ve been to a few places on this wee world of ours, and I’ve always been glad that I have my money belt strapped to my belly. It holds my passport, spare cash, and any tickets or other important documents. It’s given me peace of mind knowing that I had those essentials with me, instead of leaving them with my backpack or in a supposedly safe hotel safe.

Tip: on days you know you need something from your money belt, such as flying from the airport, when you get where you’re going, head to the restroom and get out what you need from the privacy of a stall.

A lightweight rain jacket and a good hat

Living in western Oregon since 2000, I consider an umbrella something that’s really cute for my kids to use. You’ll find this sentiment common with Northwesterners, and we know about living with rain and doing lots of stuff outside, often, yes, while it is raining. A lightweight rain shell is often all you need (with appropriate warm and base layers underneath, of course).

However, I cannot abide hoods. They compromise my peripheral vision, and that just drives me mad. So I instead have a narrow-brimmed fedora. It looks snazzy, keeps my head dry, and I can maintain good visuals on wherever I’m wandering for the day.

Happy Holidays!

Wherever you are and however you celebrate, I wish you and yours all the best. May next year be better than this year, and may you know peace, striving, fulfillment, and perspective.

P.S.: Some links are affiliate links, which earns me an affiliate commission for any purchases you make.




What I’m doing now: Where I was last week + photos

Writer, wonderer, wanderer: Me in a nutshell

I create compelling fiction and non-fiction for a curious world.

If you’re new here: A writer and online editor since 2000, I’ve been a full-time self-employed writer and author since 2011. In addition to managing online content and marketing for various organizations, I write articles about food, craft beverages, business, and more for a range of print and online publications. I’m also the author of 4 travel fantasy books in my ongoing Rucksack Universe series. Outside of my home office, I live with my wife, son, daughter, and kitchen in Eugene, Oregon.

40 writers.

1 week on the Oregon Coast.

5 years worth of business planning.

That's where I was last week. As you can guess, it was quite a time.

I spent the end of October in Lincoln City, Oregon, at a writing and publishing Business Masterclass hosted by Dean Wesley Smith and his wife Kristine Kathryn Rusch. Between them they've written hundreds of books across scores of genres (and you may recognize their names from books in Star Trek, Star Wars, and other franchises). Along with Mark Leslie LeFebvre of Kobo Writing Life, CEO Allyson Longuira of Dean and Kris' publishing house WMG Publishing, author Matt Buchman, and author and indie publishing expert Joanna Penn, they guided us through everything from how to negotiate foreign rights to how to handle estate planning.

It was an intense week of pure business (but I also managed to stay on top of my daily writing, over 1,000 words a day on a new Rucksack Universe novel called Cloud Fortress). Coming home, I haven't even started processing my notes yet. That's deliberate: their advice to the 40+ of us was to wait a couple of weeks, let everything sift and filter in the back of the mind, before making full-on business decisions.

If you want to see some photos from the week, you can find them on my Facebook Page:

facebook.com/anthony.stclair.author

and Instagram @rucksackpress:

instagram.com/rucksackpress

Have a great weekend. I'll be back soon with some links on some recent articles on business, beer, and meat. As you do.

What is happening with you right now?

Always intrigued by other people’s stories, so feel free to email me: writer@anthonystclair.com

I typically update what I’m doing NOW about once a month, more if merited. Most recent update: November 3, 2017.




2 new author events

Join Anthony St. Clair 2 events in Oregon

Heya fans and readers, I’ve got 2 new events on the calendar. Please check them out, spread the word, and I hope to see you there!

You know how sometimes things come together in the most unexpected ways?

Earlier this year I made arrangements to attend a writer business workshop in late October in Lincoln City, Oregon. A few weeks ago, Lincoln City’s Driftwood Public Library emailed me. They saw my interview in Library Journal and invited me to give a talk as part of their Dark & Stormy Nights Author Program. And the date? Right when I’m already in town. Funny ole world.

Thurs., Oct. 26, 2017: Dark & Stormy Nights at Driftwood Public Library

On the stormy Oregon coast, join author and freelance writer Anthony St. Clair for insights on how travel, beer, and an outlook for the world have come together in his ongoing Rucksack Universe series. Anthony discusses his craft, how he writes while raising 2 children, and his ongoing journey as an author-publisher. Sponsored by the Driftwood Library Foundation, this is the 14th year Lincoln City’s Driftwood Public Library has presented their Dark and Stormy Night author program.

Dark & Stormy Nights – Facebook Event

Driftwood Public Library, Lincoln City, OR

Thurs., Jan. 4, 2018: Mid-Valley Willamette Writers Author Talk, Tsunami Books, Eugene, Oregon

6:30-7:00 p.m. Social Time and Refreshments
7:00-7:15 p.m. News, Upcoming Events, and Member Announcements
7:15-8:30 p.m. Author Talk by Anthony St. Clair
8:30 p.m. Drawing for Free Gift
8:30-9:00 p.m. Questions and Book Signing

Free to Willamette Writers members or $10 general public. You can also join Willamette Writers at the door.

Mid-Valley Willamette Writers Author Talk – Facebook Event




Eclipse Sale & Getting ready for the eclipse

Eclipse Sale on Forever the Road Anthony St. Clair

What are you doing for the eclipse?

In case you’ve missed it before, I’m a bit of a nerd. So after a summer of traveling, watching Once Upon a Time, doing Roadsong notes with Chief Reader and outlining another Rucksack Universe book, camping near Crater Lake with my cocktail group, and taking my kids to a gamelan performance and an art museum, it’s time to get ready for the total eclipse on Aug. 21.

As an Oregonian, I’m taking no small amount of pride in the fact that Oregon is the place for prime eclipse viewing. The Oregon coast is where the total eclipse first hits North America. Local authorities statewide are expecting a million visitors. Eclipse events have sold out. Despite wildfires and our notoriously cloudy weather, the forecast is clear skies. Eclipse glasses at the ready, my family and I are camping with friends up in the Coast Range.

I’ve also been geeking out on Atlas Obscura, one of my fave resources for Rucksack Universe story research. If you’re looking for some eclipse history, ideas, or inspiration, here are a few pieces you might want to check out from Atlas Obscura and onwards:

Wherever you’re going, whatever your plans are, and however much totality you get to witness, I hope you have a great—and safe—time watching the eclipse.

Eclipse Sale

An eclipse is also a key part of Forever the Road. So with the eclipse coming up, in addition to my own eclipse viewing prep, it just made sense to have an Eclipse Sale on Forever the Road. This is a great time to get some eclipse-themed viewing for yourself or someone you know:

Paperback

The regular price for paperbacks is $15.99. But… during the Eclipse Sale signed paperbacks are $11.99 when you order from my author store.

Forever the Road Signed Paperbacks

Want the entire series? The Rucksack Universe Signed Paperback Bundle gives you all 4 books currently in the series, but for only $39.99 instead of the usual $49.99:

Rucksack Universe Signed Paperback Bundle

E-books

Forever the Road e-book editions are $0.99 at all retailers, including:

Direct from my author store

Amazon

Apple iBooks

Kobo

Smashwords

Barnes and Noble




What I’m doing now, August 2017

Writer, wonderer, wanderer: Me in a nutshell

I inspire curiosity and action by sharing stories about fascinating people, businesses, and circumstances.

A writer and online editor since 2000, I’ve been a full-time self-employed writer and author since 2011. In addition to managing online content and marketing for various organizations, I write articles about food, craft beverages, business, and more for a range of print and online publications. I’m also the author of 4 travel fantasy books in my ongoing Rucksack Universe series. Outside of my home office, I live with my wife, son, daughter, and kitchen in Eugene, Oregon.

This month I’m…

Adding 2 events to the calendar

You know how sometimes things come together in the most unexpected ways?

Earlier this year I made arrangements to attend a writer business workshop in late October in Lincoln City, Oregon. A few weeks ago, Lincoln City’s Driftwood Public Library emailed me. They saw my interview in Library Journal and invited me to give a talk as part of their Dark & Stormy Nights Author Program. And the date? Oct. 26. Right when I’m already in town. Funny ole world.

Anyway, if you’re in/around Lincoln City or know someone who is, check it out and I hope to see you there. I’ll be talking about writing, publishing, travel, my books, and how I get things done, and books will be available for sale and signing.

Also, in January I’ll be giving an author talk at the Mid-Valley Willamette Writers chapter here in Eugene. It’s always a good evening, with interesting discussion (and I’ll be giving away a book).

Here are both events on Facebook, please share and I hope to see you at one!

Oct. 26, 2017, Dark & Stormy Nights, Driftwood Public Library, Lincoln City, OR

Jan. 4, 2018, Mid-Valley Willamette Writers Author Talk, Tsunami Books, Eugene, OR

Reviewing Chief Reader feedback on Roadsong

Roadsong lunch

Chief Reader lunch at The Bier Stein, Eugene

My Chief Reader has been reading the working draft of Roadsong, the next book in my Rucksack Universe series. As Chief Reader and I go through notes, there of course have been changes, but on the whole she’s been enthralled.

It’s a book I’ve had a lot of fun with too. One of the nice things about having a series where you don’t have to write books in any particular order, is that it’s easy to explore other aspects of the story and characters. With Roadsong, I really wanted to give readers more of a sense of what was happening in the story world after The Blast. And I wanted to show them a different side of Faddah Rucksack—right down to little things, like why does he only wear one glove anyway?

Roadsong takes us back in time before the events of the 4 books currently available in the series. As you may know, the story world is defined by a calamity called The Blast, which took place in 1834. Roadsong will take place 100 years and 3 days after The Blast, or, as it’s called in the story world, the year A.B. 100.

Pondering the title of said next book

As I said, the working title of the book is Roadsong, but I’m not married to that title. I just need something to call it while I work on it. My wife and I did similar with our 2 kids. During the first pregnancy we referred to the baby as “Awesome,” and the second was “Marvelous” (words I still use to describe them).

The main character of the book isn’t Rucksack. It isn’t Aisling’s grandmother either. It’s a person named Wander. Everything is told from Wander’s perspective, which I why I’m deliberating between two titles:

Roadsong, or Wander?

What do you think?

Hitting deadlines: articles on beverages, food & business

After some fun adventures with my family in Virginia and at Myrtle Beach, SC, July was a big month of catch-up. And a new project, which I’ll get to in a bit. By the end of August I’ll have filed 46 articles for the year, with 8 filed between July and the end of August.

Talking with the coolest people

I wake up every day feeling fortunate to do what I do, and this is why. There are so, so many times where I finish an interview and say to my wife, “I get to talk with the coolest people in the world.”

So, so true. Every time I’m amazed not only by their drive, but by their kindness and their sense of community. They work hard, and they have endeavored, but they also know they didn’t get anywhere on their own. The people I speak with are humble and appreciative, and they strive for excellence in what they do so as to both make good money in their businesses, but also to make the best product or service for their customers.

Sometimes I chuckle about my work. I’m pretty sure a lot of people think I just hang out with my kids and bake all the time. (And sure, there’s plenty of that, because, well, kids and baking are wonderful.) But I was telling someone recently that if you then looked at my contacts, you might be surprised.

Savoring recent adventures and planning future adventures

As I mentioned earlier and back in the June update, my family and I recently did some traveling to Virginia. We visited my family in Roanoke, then went down to the Myrtle Beach with my dad, grandma, and aunt. Both my son and my daughter spent every day of the trip in either a pool or the Atlantic, and the additional skill and confidence they gained in the water has been a joy to see and share with them.

Oh, and on the way back, my wife and I decided that sometime during the next decade, we are taking the kids on a round-the-world that will be at least a year long.

New project

I mentioned a new project. When my son and I were flying to Virginia (we were meeting Jodie and Aster there, after Jodie finished some training in Ontario), he and I looked out the window a lot and talked about the clouds. It got me thinking… and thinking… and thinking…

And then I had an idea.

During our trip, I turned that idea into a story, and the story would be a book.

I’m writing this on Aug. 15, 2017, and yesterday I finished outlining and planning that book.

The working title is Cloud Fortress. It’ll take place in the Himalayas, there will be a rookie Jade Bluegold, and a Faddah Rucksack who is trying to figure out how to do something he used to be able to do, but lost the ability after The Blast. The world will wind up in peril, there will be a pub in the sky, and something from a past book is going to come back to haunt Jade and Rucksack with a vengeance.

And oh my oh my, this is going to be a fun one.

I can’t wait to get started and to share more with you as we go.

Cherries, blueberries & peaches, oh my

In addition to travel adventures, these past weeks have been full of canning adventures too. My wife and I are avid food preservers, and when you live in Oregon, amazing summer produce is everywhere. It’s been the summer of cherries, blueberries, and peaches (oh my!). Fruit butters, jams, chutneys, you name it—our preserves cabinet is already looking nice and full.

Gonna need more pint jars…

Yoga and steps

One downside of our summer adventures has been my middle isn’t what I want it to be. While I’m still getting 10,000–12,000 steps 5–7 nights of the week, I’m also working on some diet and activity tweaks to help me get my weight more toward where I want it to be.

Darn, guess, I’ll have to do more Yoga with Adriene videos…

What is happening with you right now?

Always intrigued by other people’s stories, so feel free to email me: writer@anthonystclair.com

I typically update what I’m doing NOW about once a month, more if merited. Most recent update: August 15, 2017.




What I’m doing now, June 2017

Writer, wonderer, wanderer: Me in a nutshell

I fire up people’s curiosity about our world.

A writer and online editor since 2000, I’ve been a full-time self-employed writer and author since 2011. In addition to managing online content and marketing for various organizations, I write articles about food, craft beverages, business, and more for a range of print and online publications. I’m also the author of 4 travel fantasy books in my ongoing Rucksack Universe series. Outside of my home office, I live with my wife, son, daughter, and kitchen in Eugene, Oregon.

This month I’m…

Sending Roadsong to my Chief Reader

Person standing on a rocky promontory, high above the sea, facing the sun

This is one of the images I’ve had in mind for an important scene in the book.

Yesterday I finished reviewing the current draft of Roadsong, the latest book in my Rucksack Universe series, and I sent the manuscript to my Chief Reader. The revisions went well, and I’m pretty happy with the story.

The idea with Roadsong has been taking readers back in time before the events of the 4 books currently available in the series. As you may know, the story world is defined by a calamity called The Blast, which took place in 1834. Roadsong will take place 100 years and 3 days after The Blast, or, as it’s called in the story world, the year A.B. 100. And yes, the 3 days is incredibly significant.

In Roadsong, we’re going to see a very different Faddah Rucksack, someone who is struggling to figure out his place in the world and what he can do to make up for, ahem, some rather bad mistakes. Fans have also asked for more from Aisling’s grandmother, who we hear about in Home Sweet Road. The most powerful Awen of Ireland is no longer on the scene, so Roadsong gave me a chance to duck back in time and bring you adventures with this fascinating character. I may or may not have based her in part on one of my grandmothers, and added a nod to Gandalf and Granny Weatherwax. Maybe.

I’ll be sharing more about Roadsong in the months ahead. Later this summer, the manuscript will go to my copy editor and I’ll figure out when the book will be released, what the final title will be (since, you know me, I always start with a working title/codename to give me something to call the story). In the meantime, here’s a working draft of the book description that I’ve been working on:

Follow the black road. From the west coast of Ireland to England’s Black Cliffs of Dover, the mile-wide line of ash is known as the Black Road. In the hundred years since The Blast scarred the world, none have traveled this road… until now. A wounded hero, a wanderer who fell between worlds, and a mysterious sage undertake a quest: for home, for purpose, for a light to stop the shadow covering the world. Pursued by a hunter of strange souls, the trio must overcome many trials—and their own mistakes—if they are to find answers to their questions… and if they are to survive the unwelcome surprise that also awaits at the end of the road.

Hitting deadlines: articles on beverages, food & business

Glass of Hellshire beer - As always, I am willing to undergo whatever grueling field research an assignment requires.

As always, I am willing to undergo whatever grueling field research an assignment requires.

I’m coming up on some well-earned time out of the office, so the past couple of months have been pretty busy with freelance assignments too. I’m just about up to 40 articles for the year—not too shabby. Here are links to some recently published pieces:

Some pieces have been submitted but not published yet, and others are print only, such as in Eugene Magazine and the Oregon Beer Growler.

It’s been a fun year of writing so far. Part of what I love about writing articles is being able to talk with people and learn about their world, their mission, and what they do on a day-to-day. I hope I keep bringing that joy and curiosity to my work every day.

Working on different client projects

In addition to the Rucksack Universe and my freelance articles, I’ve also been busy with projects for various clients. It’s a mix of online content management and marketing, depending on the client and project. One of the most gratifying things about what I do is getting to help so many people and organizations get their message across to the right people. Here are some of the folks I’m working with right now:

Doing more yoga

In addition to doing about 11,111 steps most days of the week, I’ve also been upping my yoga. In particular, I’ve really been digging the routines—and irreverent banter—of the awesome Austin-based Yoga with Adriene. Here’s her YouTube Channel, and a wee video to give you a taste:

She also has a great Revolution: 31 Days of Yoga, that’s 31 days of routines. Great stuff, lots of variety and different levels of challenging. If you’ve been wanting to do more yoga but don’t want all the sanctimony that sometimes comes with the practice, check it out.

What is happening with you right now?

Always intrigued by other people’s stories, so feel free to email me: writer@anthonystclair.com

I typically update what I’m doing NOW about once a month, more if merited. Most recent update: June 17, 2017.




Revisions finished on next Rucksack Universe book

First bit of Roadsong, the next Rucksack Universe adventure by Anthony St. Clair

So this morning I finished revising ROADSONG, the next Rucksack Universe adventure. How’s your day going?

“You found me because you needed to pass on the best of yourself, and what you passed on was light, guidance, and inspiration. Now I’m passing it back to you. You must inspire others. Help them find the hero in themselves. That is the person the world needs.”

I’m pretty excited about this book. Set before the other 4 books currently available—100 years and 3 days after The Blast, to be precise—we are going to see a very different Faddah Rucksack. Someone shaken and guilt-ridden, who isn’t sure about his path and place in the world. (He also wears two gloves instead of only one. We’ll find out why that changes—and why it’s more important than you might think.)

ROADSONG will be a sort of prequel for the series. But it’s also a tale of what it feels like to be a stranger in a strange land, what it feels like to drop from the world you know into a place that is different. (Or, to put it another way, how I’ve felt my whole life.)

I don’t have a release date yet. Now the book goes to my Chief Reader and then my copy editor. I’ll let you know, probably later this summer, when ROADSONG will be coming out. In the meantime, catch up on the series here (and remember, you can read them in any order), or join my mailing list for other news and updates and some freebie stories I’m finishing up too.




Reading June 1 at Willamette Writers Authors Gala

"I love these. I like looking at the pages. I can read the letters. They are a puzzle." High praise from a certain junior assistant.

“I love these. I like looking at the pages. I can read the letters. They are a puzzle.” High praise from a certain junior assistant.

The Eugene Mid-Valley Chapter of Willamette Writers hosts their annual Author’s Gala. Anthony St. Clair and other area authors read from current and upcoming works, and books are available for sale and autographs. The Author’s Gala is a celebration of Willamette Writers, members, and the art they’ve put out into the world.

  • Tsunami Books, Eugene, Oregon
  • 6:30–9 p.m., June 1, 2017
  • Free to members, $10 general public



Free Rucksack Universe Fiction: Stars in your beer

Stars in your beer - B.S. Trotter - Rucksack Universe Anthony St. Clair

From The Lost & Found Travels of BS Trotter

Originally published in London Rising

Okay, we all know that after a couple of pints you can, well, see things. But for Londoners they were not expecting to see strange things in their beer.

I want to make a distinction here: they are seeing strange things in their beer, not because of their beer. We all sometimes see strange things because of beer, typically because we should have stopped about five pints back.

Street lights turn weird for me. After I’ve had a few too many I always find that the street lights, instead of just shining and being bright, in fact have a sort of halo. The light hangs in cloudy rings around the light bulb, as if the lampposts were strangely camouflaged angels. Sometimes I think I’m seeing the world how painter Vincent Van Gogh saw things when he painted his famed Starry Night.

Then I realize I probably just need a kabob and my bed.

However, Londoners are seeing the strangest thing in their pints. Reports and calls and letters have been flooding in to London Rising that all over the city, when someone first picks up a brimming-full pint of their favorite blackest stout, they see a star inside.

Folks, that’s not fancy talk from a humble itinerant reporter suddenly aspiring to be a poet. That’s what people have said, over and over and over. The same thing.

A star.

They look at their pint, which is dark as night sky, and in the middle of the beer, it’s as if they see a small spark. It’s there just a moment, then it either fades or simply can’t be seen anymore or wasn’t there to begin with.

First Call Brewing declined a request to be interviewed for this story. However, the cheeky buggers did point out that no stars are used to brew Galway Pradesh Stout.

Keep those reports coming in, though. I’ve heard it said that after a good pint you can understand the universe. Like you I didn’t expect to see the universe in my beer, but I’ve a feeling the universe is a better place for it.

The Rucksack Universe is Anthony St. Clair’s ongoing beery travel fantasy series of myth, intrigue, and adventure.




What books are on your summer reading list this year?

Here are a few of the books on my summer reading list…

Pirate Women: The Princesses, Prostitutes, and Privateers Who Ruled the Seven Seas, by Laura Sook Duncombe

Glass Houses (Three Pines/Inspector Gamache), by Louise Penny

Everyday Lakota: An English-Sioux Dictionary for Beginners

Kiwis Might Fly: A New Zealand Adventure, by Polly Evans

Honeymoon with My Brother, by Franz Wisner




Hi.

Anthony St. Clair - Travel Fantasy Author / Craft Beer Writer / Business Copywriter

Author and copywriter Anthony St. Clair has specialized in online content since 2000, blogged since 2004 and is the author of the Rucksack Universe travel fantasy series.

FREE Sample

Check out this free sample of FOREVER THE ROAD

Anthony's third book, FOREVER THE ROAD, is a Best Books 2015 Fantasy pick from Library Journal's SELF-e, and a 2015 Oregon Book Award nominee.

Download your free sample to find out why Nth Degree's reviewer said this "high-stakes story, told with wit and compassion," left him "completely gobsmacked."

Rucksack Universe

Travel fantasy tales
of wit, adventure & beer

Forever the Road by Anthony St. Clair, a Rucksack Universe Fantasy Novel - learn more and buy now

Home Sweet Road by Anthony St. Clair, a Rucksack Universe Fantasy Novella - learn more and buy now

The Martini of Destiny by Anthony St. Clair, a Rucksack Universe Fantasy Novella - learn more and buy now

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