When you start researching instead of writing…

The game “Nine Men’s Morris” was popular throughout Europe from roughly the end of the Roman occupation up until Shakespeare’s time. The fourth book in the Stasis series is taking place in Ireland, and a few of my characters decided to have some polite (sort of) conversation over a game, and one of them let me know that this is what they were playing.

Naturally, I researched the rules, went to Hobby Lobby and bought materials to make my own game, and dug through my rock collection for samples of labradorite and rainbow moonstone to use as counters. Having played with my son this evening, I attest that the game is simple enough to allow for some conversation while playing, but strategic enough to hold a person’s attention.

Basic rules: Try to get three in a row. When you do, you take an opponent’s piece off the board. If your opponent has no legal moves (is boxed in) or has only two pieces left on the board, you win. Each player starts with nine stones. The game opens by players taking turns putting one of their stones on any unoccupied circle on the board. After placing all nine stones, on your next move, you slide one of your stones one space onto an unoccupied circle. You may not make the exact reverse of your last move on your next move (i.e., no sliding the same stone back and forth to keep making a row of three on alternating turns). When a player has only three stones left, on that player’s next move, the player may put one of those three stones on any open circle on the board.

(This is my excuse for not having met my NaNoWriMo word count today.)

Materials: 1/2 yd fake leather fabric, opaque metallic markers, ruler, hole punch, 3 meters cord, pinking shears, 9 stones of one color, 9 stones of another color.

Directions: double the fabric, cut out as big a circle as possible with the pinking shears, punch an even number of holes around the edge of the circle, and thread the cord through. Cut off the excess cord, set aside. (Your game board is now a drawstring bag.) Cut out a 9-inch paper square, fold it in quarters, unfold it, trace around it with the markers, mark the midpoint of each side using the fold lines of your paper square as a guide. Cut 1 1/2 inches from the outer edge of your square (to make a 6-inch square), center it, and trace around it and mark mid points. Do that one last time (the innermost square is 3-inches on each side). Draw four lines connecting the midpoints. Using a different colored marker, draw circles at all corners and midpoints. Let dry. Using remaining fabric and cord, cut a smaller fabric circle, and punch an even number of holes around the edge. This is your little drawstring bag to hold your stones. It goes inside your big drawstring game board so everything stays together when you’re not using it.


Personal incunabula

So many snippets. So many little bits of story from the other characters’ perspectives. The text of Ben’s letter to Bob, of Marie’s note to Ben, the conversation Ben and Thomas had while she was trying to figure out the outfit, the entire argument from the moment they put her in the room till just before their shouting woke her, etc., etc., etc. It’s at least an entire novel in length, and that doesn’t count all the time diagrams, bits of paper where I jotted down notes in the library as I researched the history of various places and people, backs of envelopes where I outlined the next few chapters (as I thought they might work out, but never did) and electronic notes I hastily “typed” onto my Nook at whatever bizarre hour of the night I woke up with an idea (most of which were altered beyond recognition during the writing process).

I started making a book of short stories, revising these early things to be consistent with what my characters had later revealed about their histories. However, there’s an entire story behind each of the little statements. Bob’s history alone could be at least three books. I wanted to hurry and finish the short stories anyway, and write the other books later, but I’ve gotten sidetracked on Marcel’s short story. It’s already a novella.

My husband assures me every writer has a personal incunabulum like mine. To me, it’s something like a fecund compost pile, with strange new things growing out of the rich soil created by words tossed out on the garbage heap.

Perfect Cinnamon Rolls

These are the cinnamon rolls she makes in Chapter 11 of “Entanglement.”

I worked on this recipe for months, making adjustments till it came out just right.

Perfect Cinnamon Rolls:

1 ½ sticks unsalted butter
2 1/4 tsp yeast
1/3 cup white sugar
3/4 cup light brown sugar
4 ½ cups flour
1/3 cup dry milk powder
2 tsp salt
2 ½ TB cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
1 cup water
4 oz cream cheese
2 cups powdered sugar
½ tsp vanilla
3 large eggs

Part I:

In a large mixing bowl, pour 1 cup warm water. Sprinkle 2 1/4 tsp yeast over the water. Sprinkle 1/3 cup white sugar over the yeast.

While it’s proofing:

In a small bowl, mix 3/4 cup light brown sugar, 2 ½ TB cinnamon, and 1 tsp nutmeg. Set aside.

Butter a jelly-roll pan. Set aside.

Put ½ stick of butter and 4 oz of cream cheese in a mixing bowl (to soften). Set aside.

Put ½ stick of butter in a small bowl (to soften). Set aside.

In a different small bowl, put ½ stick of butter. Microwave on 50% power till melted (usually about 30-60 seconds).

Now that the yeast has proofed, pour into the bowl the melted butter, 4 ½ cups flour, 1/3 cup dry milk powder, 2 tsp salt, and 3 eggs. Mix well with a spoon (or your hands). When it’s looking like a dough, turn it out on a floured surface and knead it until it’s smooth, adding just enough flour to keep it from getting sticky. When it’s good, let it sit for a minute while you wash out the mixing bowl it was in. After you’ve washed and dried it, butter it. Then pick up the dough, put it in the bowl, gently rub some butter on the top of the dough, and drape a slightly damp cloth over the bowl. Let it rise until doubled (30 minutes to an hour, depending on how warm your kitchen is). If you have time, gently fold it in half, pat it into a round shape (preserving as much of its fluffiness as possible) and let it rise again. This second rise will make the rolls lighter and flakier, but the rolls will still be wonderful if you don’t have time for it.

Part II:

On a floured surface, roll out the dough into a large rectangle about 1/4 inch thick. Spread the ½ stick of softened butter evenly on the dough. Sprinkle the cinnamon sugar mixture evenly across the buttered dough, being sure to go to the shorter edges.

Roll up the dough into a long cylinder. Cut it in half, then cut each half in half, etc., till you have 16 rolls. Place each roll on the buttered jelly roll pan. Let the rolls rise for at least 30 minutes. (Use this time to start cleaning up the mess.) Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit (it adjusts to 375 in a convection oven).

Put the rolls in the oven. Set the timer for 15 minutes.

Part III:

While the rolls are baking, add 2 cups powdered sugar, ½ tsp vanilla, and a dash of salt to the softened butter and cream cheese in the mixing bowl. Beat until fluffy.

Serve warm, with frosting melting on top.