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The key to Wander

Wander book cover - two black trees on a white backgroundYou would not believe some of the conversations that happen between editors and authors.

For a 264-page book, during the copy editing and proofing of Wander my editor and I went back and forth multiple times on about 250 words.

At question? The first couple of pages of the very first scene. I had edited it a fair bit, and he had also been working his editorial magic.

Now, though, we had realized something else. The text in question wasn’t just how the title character of Wander was being introduced. The text, said my editor, had to be just right—because it was the key to the entire book.

So we went back and forth. After, I believe, at least six iterations, we arrived at what we both considered just right. That passage is below.

Enjoy 🙂

Wander sat at the hostel’s computer. In the monitor’s reflection, dim and faint, as if staring out from another world, was a face that could be any face—male or female, young or old—with any shape, any skin shade, any hairstyle, anything whatsoever. The face of any traveler who has ever hit the road from any place that marked their first step. Wander had an anyoneness, an anywhereness that made Wander everyone in particular. An identity of all possibilities, as if the universe had split into infinite multiverses and anyone could set off on Wander’s journey.

Logging on, Wander wondered how many other people in the world had access to the internet but didn’t have a Facespace account. Or a Twitlinkpinstatoob+. Opening the daypack, Wander took out a small flip phone. A traveler on a nearby couch looked up from her bright-screened, too-big-for-the-hand Apsamgoo iGalixel and smirked.
“Trust me.” Wander’s not-too-high, not-too-low voice competed with the beeps and boops coming from the traveler’s phone. “Last thing I need is a data plan or unlimited messaging.”
The traveler shrugged. Instead of looking back at her phone, she stared at Wander. A wavy, wobbly silence passed between the two travelers. Wander could see the question forming in the traveler’s eyes. Are you a girl or a guy? A man or a woman?
Wander grinned and leaned forward, smoldering eyes narrow. “You’ll never know.”
The traveler’s gaze darted back down to her phone. Wander chuckled and returned to the computer.

Available worldwide Oct. 19, 2018

Patrons can get Wander Oct. 5

Become a Patron

Pre-order today

Signed & numbered paperbacks

E-book

Buy now from the Amazon Kindle Store

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Get it on Apple Books

Wander on Books2Read

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The time and place of Wander

Wander book cover - two black trees on a white background

“Do you have a phone on you that I can use?” asked Wander. “Or maybe wifi?”

“Phones have cords and wires and are in buildings,” said Awen, “and I’m nobody’s wife.”

“Not wife. Wifi. Wireless. It’s for the internet.”

“Enter what net? Are you supposed to be fishing?”

“No… look, it’s 2018,” said Wander. “How could you not have seen a phone? I mean, yeah, mine is pretty antiquated, but it’s still a cell phone.”

“Two thousand eighteen?” said Awen. “That’s not the year. It’s AB 100.”

“One hundred? What the hell is A-B?”

– An excerpt from Wander

Part of the evolution of a story world is that you figure out a few things in advance, but mostly you learn as you go. Over the years as the world of the Rucksack Universe has expanded in my mind, I’ve figured out more of the past and the world’s status as we see it in the stories and off-screen.

A lot of the stories happen in what we would consider the past… but much of it isn’t our past. Wander is set in Ireland, but it’s not the Ireland we know. The Blast changed the course of the world. The Blast also happened in 1834. The other books you may have encountered so far take place in what for us would be the 1900s.

But here’s the thing. I knew that if I kept to the years we use, that would also bring in the history we know. If I set a book in, say, the 1930s, readers would likely automatically expect something about the Great Depression or World War II. The 1950s or 60s? Mad Men.

Meh.

Different world. Different history. Different stories.

So different years.

Just as we have different year counts for different eras (such as BC’s “Before Christ” or CE’s “Christian Era”), the world of the Rucksack Universe has AB—“After Blast.” 1835 in our world is year 0 AB in the world of my stories.

My hope in my stories is that we find new ways to look at the world and at each other. Tweaking time and place can help us get a new perspective. And in Wander, I’m doing that in ways beyond what I’ve done in any other Rucksack Universe story so far.

Wander comes out Oct. 19. You can become a patron and get it Oct. 5, reserve your signed and numbered paperback, or pre-order your e-book today.

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It’s here! The cover of Wander + pre-orders now available +

Wander book cover - two black trees on a white background

Yall’ve been so patient with me. It’s been two years since The Lotus and the Barley came out—the last book, it turns out, that I would write with a small child in a carrier on my back.

And… I’m tearing up. Ahem.

I now have a first-grader boy and a self-described “fixer girl.” But here we are… with, at long last, the cover for the next Rucksack Universe book, Wander.

I’m fortunate to work with a wonderful cover designer. She always does stellar work… but this one… wow, this really got me right in the soul, the heart, the feels.

There’s some story behind this cover, of course. I’ll be going into more of that behind-the-scenes dish over at my Patreon.

In the meantime…

Get Wander before the rest of the world

Wander comes out Oct. 19… but patrons can get e-books and signed, numbered copies of Wander on Oct. 5.

Become a patron today

Pre-order Wander today, get it Oct. 19

E-book pre-orders

The e-book edition of Wander is available for pre-order now, US$4.99. You won’t be charged until release day. On Oct. 19, the e-book will instantly download to your app or device so you can start reading right away! Pre-order at…

Amazon

Kobo

Apple Books

Smashwords

Paperback pre-orders

Reserve your limited edition signed and numbered trade paperback!

The first 100 copies of the trade paperback edition of Wander will be available signed and numbered, for $20 (includes the book and US shipping).

Closer to the release, I’ll confirm your reservation and we’ll make arrangements for payment and shipment. And remember, a signed and numbered edition of Wander is perfect for the holidays!

Reserve your copy now

(no upfront cost)

Need to catch up on the Rucksack Universe?

Don’t worry, Wander won’t spoiler any of the other four books, and none of them will spoiler Wander!

All titles available worldwide in e-book and trade paperback. Get caught up on the series now before Wander comes out Oct. 19:

The Martini of Destiny

Home Sweet Road

Forever the Road

The Lotus and the Barley

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Get behind the scenes of my writing life

Anthony St. Clair is creating fiction and non-fiction. Back his work on Patreon today

 

Since 2013, Patreon has helped fans all over the world financially back content creators, from visual artists to video makers, podcasters to writers. A couple of years ago, I first learned about Patreon, and today I back creators on there.

Patreon is similar to Kickstarter or IndieGoGo, except that instead of pledging one time, you support a creator on an ongoing basis. Creators worldwide are making a living, or at least getting extra income, thanks to people who support them on Patreon for as low as $1 per month.

Now, folks can support me too.

Why am I on Patreon? I want to push my creative self. I want to write and release more fiction and non-fiction that entertains and helps more people. And I want to engage more people creatively, and let them see into my creative world.

After months of research, prep, drafting, revision, feedback, tweaking, more feedback, and more tweaking, on Friday, Aug. 3, 2018, I released my own page on Patreon.

The same day, I got my first patron. Shout-out to Sallie D. of San Jose, CA, USA, for being the first to back my work!

Here’s the link to my Patreon page. I hope you’ll consider backing my work. In return, you’ll get some pretty sweet rewards—and you’ll get to see behind the scenes of my writing life.

Honestly, at the very least, check out my Patreon page so you can watch the amazing intro video that Jodie made me. I still tear up when I watch it. It is so, so cool.

Back Anthony’s work

P.S.: Please also share my Patreon page with people you think would be interested in my work.

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Rucksack Universe update: Novel leads to short story

When your main character is ten thousand years old, sometimes one story can point you to another that you have to do up too.

While underway on drafting Wet, the seventh Rucksack Universe book, I had to veer onto a wee tangent for a bit. Wet deals with something from Rucksack’s past that comes to be a threat again, hundreds of years later. I loved thinking through the back story for all this, and as I was drafting the actual scenes, I kept thinking that the back story itself would make an interesting story.

So I decided to take some time to work up this story. It’s going to be called “The Forgotten City.” The draft is just about done, and soon I’ll be submitting it to short story markets. It’ll be a companion story for Wet as well.

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Rucksack Universe update: Wander nearly ready, new manuscript underway

Last week I did something I’m so excited to tell you about.

I signed off on the copy-edited manuscript of Wander.

Yup. That’s right. My copy editor and I had some final discussion about a few points, I made some last tweaks and polishes, then told him we were good to go.

What’s next? I’m giving the manuscript one final pass, then I’ll send Wander back to my editor for proofreading. He’ll make sure everything is spelled right/consistently, things are dotted and crossed the way they should be, line breaks and chapter breaks are good, all that sort of technical stuff.

Once I’ve processed his proofing, the manuscript will be locked. That means no changes (unless I find some wayward typo). No rewriting. No second-guessing.

No touch booky.

From there, Wander will go into publication mode, being prepped for e-book formats and paperback.

What does all this behind-the-scenes author/publisher geek-out stuff mean for you?

It means that I’ll shortly be telling you the release date for Wander.

Get ready!

P.S.: Over the weekend I also started drafting the next Rucksack Universe book, codenamed Wet. I’m a couple of scenes in so far. I’ll keep you posted.

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Sneak peek of Wander, the next Rucksack Universe book

Sneak peek of Wander, the next Rucksack Universe book


“How did you know it was my birthday?” asked Wander.

Sitting behind his desk at the front of the hostel, the elderly proprietor looked up from his computer and smiled. “Your passport,” he replied. “Twenty. A wonderful year. A time when many things may change.”

Wander smiled back. The past five years had been nothing but a time of change. Six months wandering South America, and another two years wandering Africa. Seven months in Ireland, a year in Russia. Indonesia in the morning, Australia at night. With no family or friends, birthdays had been just another day to check off the calendar. Now, at the southwestern coast of Morocco, the warm waters of the eastern Atlantic sent salt on the breeze, maybe a birthday could be something to look forward to after all.

Wander leaned forward. “So, what should I do on my birthday?”

“Ahh, now that is a good question.” The proprietor sat back in his chair. “Check your email and all those social thingies, then come back. I will tell you then.”

Logging on to the hostel’s computer, Wander wondered how many other people in the world had access to the internet but didn’t have a Facespace account. Or a Twitlinkpinstagramr+. Opening the daypack, Wander took out a small flip phone. A traveler on a couch looked up from their bright-screened, too-big-for-the-hand Apsamgoo iGalixel and smirked.

“Trust me,” said Wander over the beeps and boops coming from the traveler’s phone. “Last thing I need is a data plan or unlimited messaging.”

It had been a while since Wander had checked email—somewhere between Thailand and Morocco, but that time had been such a whirlwind Wander could hardly remember. Not that it mattered.

Zero messages.

Not that there was anyone who would be emailing. Or showing up for a surprise party. Or sending a card.

When your only friends were your backpack and the stretch of road currently under your feet, you learned not to make birthdays a big deal.

Still, that hadn’t been the only people. And for twenty, well, Wander couldn’t help but hope. There were people Wander had connected with over the years. Random wanderings together in a new city. Dormmates in a hostel room. The traveler in Galway, Ireland. When they met, Wander wondered what else could have happened between them. They’d exchanged info… that last touch of hand on hand had been so hard to let go… but now, on Wander’s birthday… nothing. Wander looked away. The screen must have been too bright. Of course that’s why Wander’s eyes eyes hurt all of a sudden.

There was always Paithoon in Chiang Mai too. Then again, thought Wander, maybe not hearing from Paithoon was a good thing.

With a sigh and a shrug, Wander logged off email, then the computer. Moving to the little table at the window of the hostel’s common room, Wander stared at the ocean. Blue rising. Whitecaps cresting, then falling. The dry air mingled with the sea spray, suffusing everything with the taste and scent of salt. The few days Wander had been here had been calm, refreshing—badly needed, especially after all that had happened in Thailand.

The memories stirred, the remembered dreams, the remembered past, hard won from five years of traveling and weeks of frustration and sleeplessness, trying to uncover Wander’s own forgotten history. Wander had been more than ready to move on. The southwestern coast of Morocco, staring out over the Atlantic, was as good as anywhere else, but those final moments in Chiang Mai still clung to Wander’s mind. A storm had come, a storm had passed, and now Wander was enjoying the calm. At least, it felt like the calm. But Wander knew a question cast a shadow even over the bright Moroccan morning: was the storm truly over, or was this the quiet eye—to be followed by more storm?

A tap on the shoulder made Wander turn.

The hostel proprietor smiled and held out a large envelope, bigger than a regular sheet of paper.

“What’s this?” asked Wander.

He shrugged and set it down. “Today’s mail,” he said as he went to answer the phone.

The side Wander saw was blank. Turning it over, there was no return address—not even a mailing address. Just “Wander,” written in a fine script with immaculate—and familiar—handwriting.

Wander opened the envelope and gasped.

The stiff, thick sheet inside was like Wander’s favorite painting, called “The Wanderer in the Fog.” In the painting, the figure held a walking stick, wore a black tailcoat, and stared out over mountains and valleys. This was similar, but different.

Running a fingertip over the surface of the art, the rough and smooth textures left no doubt that this was a painting. On a narrow outcropping sticking out from the edge of a rocky cliff, a figure stood before a sheer drop to a white-capped, gray-blue sea below. At the far edge of the sea, Wander could just make out a thin line, as if a new world lay just beyond. Despite the blue sky, shadow obscured the figure so much that Wander could not tell if it was a woman or a man. The black rock of the cliff didn’t look like it was in shadow though. It looked like it had been burned and charred. Below the cliff, a strange, shadowy light seemed to glow upward from somewhere unseen, somewhere down the cliff toward the sea. It enhanced an overarching conflict, as if the painting were caught between darkness and light. Calm seas had grown teeth, whipped into a growing frenzy as a storm blew in.

“The Wanderer” showed only one figure. And so did this painting—except in the foreground, at the left bottom corner.

Gloved in black leather, a left hand reached out toward the wanderer at the edge of the world.

Heart pounding, Wander turned the painting over and read:

No matter where you wander,

May you always find a

Happy Birthday

The Thai madwoman had signed her name. Wander smiled and let out a chuckle. It made no sense that the madwoman’s painting had gotten from Chiang Mai to this hostel in Morocco, but if anyone would have managed it, it would be her.

Beneath the message was a P.S.:

I dreamed recently, and at the last moment of the dream, this is what I saw. I don’t know how I knew it, and I don’t know where this is, but I knew this was you.

Wander stared at the calm seas outside the hostel’s window. The madwoman had to be wrong… but Wander knew better. Trembling a little, Wander tucked the painting back into the envelope.

“Happy birthday,” said the traveler sitting nearby, with a nod toward the card. “I couldn’t help but see.”

Wander shrugged. “I’m glad someone noticed.”

The sunlight coming through the window was warm, bright but soft. Wander had savored every moment so far, every bite of breakfast, every sensation, the touch of water on hands, the scent of tea. But the painting changed everything. A shadow hung over the sunny morning. Wander looked at the card again. A birthday could be a momentous day. A day where everything could change. A day where someone could make a decision that just might change everything.

Wander considered going back to the dorm room and putting the card in the big pack there, but decided against it. The card was a memento, a reminder of what the madwoman had helped Wander learn, there in Thailand, those lonely, hard weeks ago. The daypack always went with Wander—and so would the card.

Wander unzipped the daypack and put the card inside. By now, after all these years, the pack reminded Wander of a dog, though by now it was an old dog. It was the one thing Wander still had from then, from there, when as a teenager Wander had been left with nothing and so had left with nothing. Except for the backpack. The one constant in Wander’s life for the last five years.

With a sigh, Wander went back to the front desk. “So, what did you decide this traveler should do today?”

He smiled and leaned forward.

On a small piece of paper, he drew a map. He said nothing, only occasionally looked out the window, as if gauging something, checking something. Whenever he did, when he looked back the smile would be gone from his eyes, as if it had been taken by whatever he was looking for.

Or maybe he just wasn’t looking forward to cleaning up the puke in the upstairs bathroom.

Accepting the map with a thanks, Wander started to walk away.

“Wait,” said the proprietor. “What you got in the mail. Was it good news?”

Wander shrugged. “You tell me.” Reaching into the daypack, Wander handed him the painting.

He looked at it, saying nothing, staring and staring. He read the back. Then, at last, he looked at Wander.

“Well, this is interesting,” he said. “I indeed gave you one map, one option. But if you want, you could go here instead.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Rucksack Universe

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