I was a guest on a radio show recently called Last Word with Carly Newfeld. That was the first time I was ever interviewed about my book and my writing process. I tried to do some research about the host before my slot by listening to past interviews with other authors. I noticed there were a few conversations that had a spiritual tone. There was one about the power of healing through music and some about beliefs passed down through families. In a way, it might have been a mistake to explore those interviews ahead of time because I tried to continue that trend in mine. The first question was on my inspiration for the Mystic Rampage series and I brought up my interest in linking physics concepts to supernatural ones. What I said during the interview was true and that really was one of the things that shaped the events of the series, but based on the host’s reaction she didn’t seem interested in letting the conversation go too far down that road. Instead, the interview was steered more toward comparisons of Mystic Rampage to other fantasy authors. The host was a fan of Carlos Castaneda who I haven’t read but I’m interested in his books now.
It was good practice because it taught me that if interviewed again I shouldn’t approach it like I do for most events. I’m a planner, and I always do background research if I know I’m going to be talking to someone about a specific topic. That’s why I listened to old interviews and tried to keep the subject matter similar to what the host discussed before. In hindsight, it seems as though the intention was to have my interview go a different way from previous talks with other guests. If I hadn’t been so focused on what I’d planned, I might have noticed that sooner. It was still a good interview. Both of us were able to talk continuously so there weren’t any awkward pauses on the air. But there are always lessons to be learned from experiences and in this case the lesson was that interviews are a time when preparation can actually become a distraction.
Link to the interview: https://www.ksfr.org/show/the-last-word-show/2023-07-20/fritz
There have been a few competitions that I thought I had a shot at winning lately. Author’s Publish Magazine sends an email to subscribers featuring 30+ magazines that are open for submissions for short stories or novels. I took the opportunity to specifically look for horror magazines and submit some of my old ghost stories. I still want to improve my horror writing, but so far none of the contests have accepted my short stories. I’ve also gotten into Reedsy.com, which has weekly short story and flash fiction contests that costs $5 per entry. I like Reedsy because they provide prompts so it’s a good exercise for coming up with ideas quickly and flushing out a full story in 1000-3000 words. None of my submissions to Reedsy or horror magazines have been accepted and it kind of killed my confidence. Not having any successes to report has also hindered confidence among my writing group. Other writers in that group have been actively submitting as well but also haven’t had any successes. I was starting to get frustrated, and I doubt I was alone in feeling that way.
Feelings became more positive recently when I delivered a big piece of good news. While Googling open writing contests I came across one called The Book Fest. I signed up and submitted Public Display of Aggression back in February of this year. I submitted it for multiple categories, and recently was informed that the book won 3rd place for Fantasy Thriller genre and received an Honorable Mention for the cover art (special thanks to Lothar Speer for being such a dedicated illustrator). It isn’t 1st place, but I’m not complaining. It looks like there were hundreds of books submitted, so 3rd place is definitely a reason to be proud.
I’m still exploring ways to capitalize on this victory. The Book Fest offered a few different prizes but I didn’t purchase all of them. The cheapest prize was a set of “Winner” stickers. While simple, I believe it will be effective. At ABQ Comic Con earlier this year, Marie Parks placed stickers on her book, Unrelenting, indicating it won a Book Pipeline LGBTQ+ aware and it seemed to boost interest in and sales of her novel. Another prize was a press release. My plan for that is to print copies and ask bookstores if they’re willing to display it in their window for at least a weekend. There was also a pretty exclusive prize which was to have the book cover displayed on a billboard in New York City. I really wanted to take advantage of that, but it was a few hundred dollars and I’m hesitant about spending that much on anything. By the time I decided it was worth the cost, I discovered that space on the billboard was filled up, so that was a missed opportunity.
The important thing is that morale among the aspiring authors I meet weekly has been lifted and my confidence has been boosted. Gaining recognition for a craft like creative writing is a numbers game. I’m still on the lookout for short story competitions and I’m bound to win one of those eventually, but a book award is more valuable. It’s an award for a product that’s able to be widely distributed and will hopefully cultivate interest in the Mystic Rampage series overall.
It’s been a long time since I’ve added anything to this website. If I didn't include this URL on my business cards, I might not remember I have a web site. Even the event I’m writing about today happened a few weeks ago. For some reason I’ve just never felt compelled to chronicle my life. I’ve never kept a diary/journal, and my social media accounts are much less active than those of my friends.
Even though I don’t talk about what I’m up to, I’m always busy. I’ve been working towards getting a Master’s degree in Chemistry at the University of New Mexico. The goal is to finish this year and I’ve started writing my thesis. The work for my Bachelor’s degree was focused on ELISA testing, which is a method of analyzing behavior of antibodies. It’s an interesting procedure and fun to talk about, but very limited in terms of marketability. There weren’t a lot of jobs that I wanted which required ELISA skills, and I suppose I won’t find any unless I start looking into a more biology-based career. The scope of my Master’s project started with helping Ph.D. students synthesize a novel antimicrobial compound, and my thesis is about incorporating the compound into products through absorption and electrospinning, and also exploring how it interacts with microbes through utilization of UVVIS spectroscopy and fluorimetry in the presence of micelles or extruded lipid vesicles to serve as models of cellular membranes. (Try cramming that mouthful into a 5-word-or-less title). This Master’s project is more expansive than my Bachelor’s, and I expect the broader experience in the included techniques will provide more options when I’m ready to start looking for a new job.
But bacteria and viruses will always be around. Comic Conventions only come a few times a year, and they’re my main venue for book sales. I try to attend at least one convention every year. Last year I went to the Albuquerque Comic Con and the Phoenix Fan Expo. The year prior I went to Albuquerque and Santa Fe. All those events were great, but I’ve never made a profit. Costs for renting booth space is in the hundreds of dollars range, and adding gas and lodging for the distant events makes it almost impossible to break even.
This year I didn’t go to Albuquerque Comic Con alone. I’ve been in a writing group for a few years and two others have been published recently. Since we all have books out, we split the cost of the booth space and used it to sell all our items. Better yet, we looped in a fourth author after a pop-up market that took place for Small Business Saturday at a local store called Title Wave Books. Splitting the cost four ways drastically eased the burden of purchasing the space, but we brought a lot more than our work to the convention. I’ve kept up with my weaving hobby and brought more posters based on superhero television shows. The woven posters are at a disadvantage at events like Comic Cons since so many other booths offer more elaborate artwork, including 3D wall hangings. Yarn posters are limited in image options, but there are benefits in portability; yarn doesn’t tear or crease as easily as paper. Most people passed by them, but the few who stopped for a closer look were impressed by the detail I was able to accomplish on the logos and I sold out of my Agents of Shield poster, and also my Flash poster. Marie Parks invested in stickers and bookmarks that include a symbol from her urban fantasy book, Unrelenting (co-written with Jessi Honard). These small items proved to be effective in garnering interest in the booth, and Marie’s book specifically. When people see a strange symbol, they just naturally have a desire to find out what it means. After witnessing the success of the Unrelenting symbol, I’ve considered putting more emphasis on the relevance of the chi symbol in my book. Drew Overmier wrote a collection of short stories called Starved, Weighed and Prodded and designed the cover art himself. He used his artistic talent to create custom bookmarks throughout the convention which we displayed in the display copies of our books and help them be more eye-catching. Neal Holtschulte wrote a sci-fi adventure called Crew of Exiles, but he also has a collection of comic books and Nintendo Power magazines. I never understood the appeal of Nintendo Power, but they were the most popular of all the items we included at our booth. On the first day of the convention a group stopped by (all in cosplay, of course) and spent a long time flipping through the magazines. One of them found an issue that included cheat codes for Nintendo’s Goldeneye and I wish I’d recorded the reaction. They all broke out screaming and one of them even jumped for joy. They walked away talking about how awesome it was going to be to play Goldeneye with “large hands,” which I assume is exactly what it sounds like.
Hopefully it sounds like we thought this through far in advance. The truth is that a lot came together at the last minute. The four of us spoke before the convention and mentioned things that we’d be able/willing to bring, but we didn’t get a good look at any of it and had no idea how much space it was going to take up. We arrived at the convention a few hours early, laid everything around our taped-off spot, and just shuffled around until it fit and looked reasonably organized. Based on the response from the attendees and the sales reports, we succeeded. All of us made a profit on our share of the space rental and hopefully built up a fan base. We’ve already expressed interest in sharing a booth again at next year’s Albuquerque Comic Con, and possibly cooperating on a different convention later this year.
Unrelenting by Marie Parks: https://www.amazon.com/Unrelenting-Jessi-Honard-ebook/dp/B09VF5CKVZ/ref=sr_1_1?crid=21ZR5YHHWPK50&keywords=marie+parks&qid=1675110195&sprefix=marie+park%2Caps%2C309&sr=8-1
Crew of Exiles by Neal Holtschulte: https://www.amazon.com/Crew-Exiles-Neal-Holtschulte-ebook/dp/B0BH5BGGK9/ref=sr_1_1?crid=2YRB96DUAISKI&keywords=crew+of+exiles&qid=1675110237&sprefix=crew+of+exile%2Caps%2C235&sr=8-1
Starved, Weighed, and Prodded by Drew Overmier: https://www.amazon.com/Starved-Weighed-Prodded-Pantheon-Anthology/dp/0578367769/ref=sr_1_1?crid=2FTQA1R016JKR&keywords=drew+overmier&qid=1675110372&sprefix=drew+overmier%2Caps%2C212&sr=8-1
Anomaly Aftermath by Hugh Fritz: https://www.amazon.com/Anomaly-Aftermath-Hugh-Fritz-ebook/dp/B0BNG99DKT/ref=sr_1_1?crid=3SPIDEVICHR55&keywords=anomaly+aftermath&qid=1675110421&sprefix=anomaly+aftermat%2Caps%2C196&sr=8-1
Photos of Comic Con:
That's me. I went as the Lone Ranger.
I’m done with the third and final Mystic Rampage book. It’s with the publisher and now I just have to wait for the verdict on whether it’s suitable for publication. They’ve informed me that if all goes well, the release date is planned for mid-October of this year. It would be a shame to sit on my hands for the next few months, so I’m taking the opportunity to write competitively again. I’ve been focused on finishing this book series for so long that I haven’t taken the time to submit any short stories to magazines or contests. A few years ago, I wrote a bunch of <1000-word stories and this week I found the flash drive that had all of them. I submitted one earlier this month. It didn’t win, but now that it’s out of the contest I can publish it on this website under Other Works. It’s called Caretakers and it’s a bleak dystopian world story. For the next few weeks my plan is to revise more of the short stories on the flash drive, submit them, and if they don’t win, I’ll use them to build up the Other Works section of this website. At least publishing them somewhere will be a way to ensure that writing them wasn’t a waste of time.
I tried new plants and techniques in the garden. Last year I utilized the 3 sisters’ method and grew corn, pumpkin, and beans in the same raised bed. It produced a fair amount of food but maintenance was difficult. I had a hard time reaching through the corn stalks to prune the beans and train the advancing pumpkins. This year, I tried the same setup but in containers. The goal was to have 1 corn plant and 1 bean plant in a 5-gallon container, and pumpkins in their own container of the same size. I saw someone online grow corn in a 5-gallon container, so I believed it was possible. Perhaps it is, but my luck was poor. Most of the corn didn’t germinate (I direct sowed it), the beans haven’t grown very tall so far, and the pumpkins started strong but now most look sick and 1 is dead. I believe the problem with the beans and pumpkins is the heat. I have a west-facing growing area with no shade, temperatures are already consistently in the 90s, and clouds are usually absent. When I planted beans and pumpkins in the ground they did fine but it’s likely that they’re getting too hot in the containers.
Not everything in containers has had issues with the heat. I have gourds which are filling in their trellises nicely. I figured that if the trellises can hold gourds then they might be able to hold fruit, too, so I have containers of muskmelons in the same area. The melons have not produced fruit yet, but there are a lot of flowers and plenty of leaves.
I kept some things basic and once again planted peppers and tomatoes. I tried most of the peppers from seeds collected from last season, but 1 Thai pepper was overwintered. I’m pleased with how the overwintered plant has progressed. It already has a pepper that is red and should be ready to pick soon. Another group that has done better than expected has been the tomatillos. I had so much trouble last year getting any of the plants to live long enough to bear fruit. I was able to get 2, but I didn’t eat or even preserve them in any way. I just left them in a dark drawer all winter long, and late February I cut them in half and put them in a starter pod. It turns out two survivors were all that was necessary. The seeds germinated like crazy and the section where I planted them is now thriving. If I could stay until the end of the season, I’d expect to have a large haul of them.
But I can’t stay until the end of the season. Like many people my age I don’t own the house I live in; I rent it. Every time I’ve signed a lease, I’ve seen the same language: either party can terminate this lease agreement at any time with adequate notice. I never paid much attention to that phrase because no landlord I’ve ever had has done it. Until now. It was a shock to find a letter taped to my door telling me that I had to pack up everything and leave the premises. It wasn’t malicious in any way. It was formal and the leasing agency has already been helpful in finding a new place for me to move into. I’m not fighting them in any way. I realize they have their reasons, I’m grateful for the help they’ve provided so far, and when the time comes I’ll have all my stuff ready to go. It’s just the things I can’t take with me that will be tough to leave behind. It’s a good thing I put so many plants in containers since it will make them easier to load into a car. But the tomatillos are in the bed and can’t be moved. I could try to dig them up, but I’m too worried about damaging the roots or giving them transplant shock. The overwintered pepper will also have to be left behind, along with a bunch of grains that are also in the raised bed. I haven’t heard from the leasing agency about when the house will be inhabited again. It’s possible that I’ll be able to come back before another owner moves in and continue caring for the plants I can’t take with me. An ideal scenario would be if the next owners allow me to visit them for the sake of looking after the raised beds. Whatever happens, I can at least find comfort in knowing that until recently this was shaping up to be a bountiful growing season.
It was an honor being asked to provide praise for Unrelenting by Jessi Honard and Marie Parks. I have worked with Marie for a few years since we are both in the Cyberscribes creative writing group. Marie earned this publishing opportunity by submitting this story to the Book Pipeline competition. I also submitted the first Mystic Rampage book to the same competition several years ago, but it was not a selected finalist.
Like my book, Unrelenting is an urban fantasy about a group of supernatural beings living in secret. The protagonist is a woman named Bridget looking for her missing sister, Dalia. The search leads her to a group of magical creatures called Grigori. Those familiar with religious mythology might be familiar with the term, as Grigori are like angels. Magic in this book works by providing each of the Grigori with power over an element. The antagonist controls air and uses it creatively when he fights other Grigori, particularly the one capable of creating and controlling fire.
Unrelenting is available online and in bookstores throughout Albuquerque. Organic Books in Nob Hill stocks it and is also one of the first places I went when looking for stores to include Mystic Rampage. A store that is new to me is Title Wave books near Wyoming and Menaul. I highly recommend checking either of these stores out and picking up Marie’s book.
There is already a lot to look forward to this year. I have explored options for comic conventions and have reserved a space in Phoenix, Arizona that is scheduled for Memorial Day weekend in May. That’s the same month I told my publisher I would have the final Mystic Rampage book completed. I have it all written and am rereading it as many times as I can each month, altering a few portions and finding grammatical errors. There was a slight obstacle since Lothar Speer, the illustrator for Public Display of Aggression was unable to work on any new projects due to too many other clients and medical issues. I found another illustrator of Thumbtack and they already have started working on the cover for Anomaly Aftermath (that’s the title of the third installment). Another event is a virtual tour set up for July that will hopefully generate more reviews online, and that one might be moved to an earlier date.
The event that I’m most excited about is just around the corner. I planned on being back in Chicago to get together with family for a celebration. I don’t check Facebook very often but I’m glad I did last month because I noticed a friend started an event planning service. It’s called Dreams Do Come True and they usually plan things like weddings. I reached out and asked if it would be possible to set up a live reading somewhere in northern Illinois. Surprisingly, they were quick to say yes and even faster to send me a list of locations that offer rooms for events. We decided on Graham’s 318 Coffee House in Geneva, IL on April 23rd. This will be my first time holding a live reading event. I’ve done readings before for a Beastly Books event in Santa Fe, but it was virtual, so it was a recorded reading which I imagine is a different experience. I’m still working on exactly what I’ll say, but I plan to open with something I’ve always wanted to do: I’m going to bring a pen with me and do a mad lib of one or two pages. After that I think I’ll talk about each character, how I developed them, and what I like and don’t like about writing them.
Lately I’ve been considering if I want my life to have a new chapter, and if so what it will be. For a long time my goals have been prescribed. In school I fell into a rhythm and got through classes one day at a time with the intention of graduating. I was a student longer than necessary and went to graduate school which included an internship. The internship had a time restriction so again I found a pattern and counted down the days until termination of the contract. My current job does not have a time limit, and it’s felt strange not having an end date on the horizon. Part of the reason I went to grad school again was to have something else to put on the calendar. Most students in my current university complete the Master’s program in 2-3 years and I’ll probably stick around as long as possible just so I can keep marking off days of as many semesters as I can.
This could be the pattern for the majority, or even the rest, of my life. I could take a year or two off to focus on my day job, then register for grad school and struggle with balancing the two just to celebrate when I complete the degree requirements. After all, as much as I enjoy chemistry I’m far from the brightest student in the university. With my academic history it’s doubtful that I’ll find a position in a high-end laboratory and do the kind of research I read about in magazines like Science or Nature. The more likely outcome is finding a position as a lab technician just like I had one summer after completing my undergraduate degree. I wouldn’t complain if that were to happen. Completing basic operating procedures in a lab isn’t a bad way to pass the time, even if it is repetitive and gets boring. I also wouldn’t have any reason to complain if I kept my current job and re-enrolled in school occasionally. I know some people older than myself who stayed in school their entire lives and seem happy.
There is another option, and it’s one that I never would have considered if my books weren’t published. I could find a way to make a living using the creative part of my brain, rather than the analytical one. There are independent bookstores in town which cater to local authors. I have come to rely on them for distribution of my book and one time, on a whim, I asked the owner about the process of purchasing and operating the space. I’ve never thought of myself as a business owner, but if I had my own place where I could prioritize helping other writers make their work public, it would be one more future that I wouldn’t complain about.
I’ve looked up independent bookstore owners online and talked to other people around my neighborhood. The common piece of advice I’ve heard is that just selling books isn’t ideal. Most places hold events like live readings from authors and charge admission. The common secondary source of income is to designate a section of the store to selling arts and crafts or setting up a café. Most places don’t seem to have anything fancy; just a display of charms, or maybe an espresso machine coupled with a rack of scones.
I have plenty of things that aren’t anything fancy. I’ve maintained my hobby of weaving superhero logos to serve as wall hangings or coasters. I’ve brought them to comic conventions to sell along with my books and last year I almost sold out, so there is at least a small audience for them. I’ve also been an amateur baker for years. I make sourdough bread every week and I’ve gotten pretty good at it. Lately I’ve expanded into practicing small pastries like muffins, doughnuts, cinnamon rolls, and scones. The recipes are simple: a few cups of flour, some sugar, an occasional egg. This week I focused on muffins and doughnuts and despite the simplicity, they took a long time to prepare. That should improve with practice. Kneading bread used to be tiring and take a long time, but now I can do it even when I’m half asleep.
In all honesty, opening a bookstore is not probable. Even if the weavings and pastries sell, I’ve heard it’s difficult for young businesses to stay afloat. It’s especially troubling now since I have a deeper appreciation for how quickly a global crisis can derail any hope of turning a profit. But I’m going to keep practicing and preparing. I’ve started looking at storefronts for lease both in and out of Albuquerque and have found a few locations where I can imagine myself setting up a shop. The main library in town has monthly sales which I’ve been taking advantage of to increase my used book collection. I’ve been weaving every night to find out how many wall hangings or coasters I can complete in a month. I’m also going to keep practicing baking and my goal is to have a sample menu prepared by the end of the year. While I don’t know if I ever will pull the trigger on this dream, it will take a few years before I’m even prepared to attempt it, and it feels good to have another countdown. There was a time when I’d wake up every morning and think to myself: “in X more years I’ll be done with school,” or “my internship will be completed.” Now I’ve set an arbitrary date to quit my current job and open my own store. I don’t know what I’ll do after that. Perhaps by that time I’ll be ready to stop counting down and start settling down. Only time will tell.
I realized I never posted how the homegrown beer turned out. I’ve been enjoying it for a few weeks, although “enjoying” is a bit of a strong word. It took some getting used to. I mentioned before that there were signs of problems during fermentation. The airlock was not showing any activity at all and during transfer it smelled like vinegar. Since the yeast seemed to be progressing slowly, I figured it would need to be in the bottles longer for carbonation to build up. After the bottles were capped, I moved them to the room where they would be least likely to get in the way throughout the day, which just happened to be the same room I’m using to overwinter my pepper plants. That was a mistake. I don’t want the plants to get too cold, so that’s the only room that’s being heated. The warmth seemed to have provided a suitable environment for the yeast, and the bottles probably only needed to sit for one week. Instead, let them sit for more than two weeks. This was partly because of the low fermenter activity and partly because it was finals week, and I was too busy worrying about exams to check on them or move them to the refrigerator.
I realized the mistake immediately when I opened the first bottle. It was a flip cap and opening it over the sink did nothing to prevent the mess. As soon as I pressed the wires the cap was knocked out of the way and a stream of suds hit the ceiling. I tried to force the cap back into position, but the pressure was too strong. Trying to wrestle the cap onto the lip only caused the beer to be emitted in a ring instead of a geyser. It was exciting, but by the time it was done there was only about three fingers of beer left in the bottle. On account of the time I put into making it, you better believe I savored every remaining drop.
Thankfully, only one bottle was a flip cap. The rest were aluminum crown caps so opening the rest was more controlled. I still lost some volume on each one. I had to continue opening them in the sink, and I did it by prying the cap off gently and letting the gas and foam be directed downward. It took a few minutes for each bottle to equilibrate and when it was finally ready to be opened fully there wasn’t much head to the product since most of the pressure was released during the opening. Despite this issue, for a first attempt at using homegrown ingredients for brewing, I’m satisfied with the results. I thought I smelled vinegar before, but it doesn’t taste sour at all. It’s a light beer and corn is the dominant flavor. I’ve heard beer described as liquid bread. Well, this tastes like liquid corn bread. In quality it doesn’t come close to anything that can be purchased in a store, but the most common style in my neighborhood is IPAs and this is refreshing after all the bitter brands. In conclusion, this was worth the effort, and I intend to try it again this year.
As a side note, I also tried making wine for the first time and found greater success. This was also brewed using homegrown grapes, but they from my neighbor’s plants instead of mine. I didn’t exactly have their permission to use them. We have a brick wall between us instead of a fence, the grape vines cascaded over the bricks so technically they were in my yard, and if I didn’t eat them the birds would have so I like to think I scored one for the humans. Anyway, I don’t have any experience making wine, so I decided to use a process similar to the Bug method that I use when making ginger beer. I put a portion of the grapes in water, crushed them, added sugar, and let that concoction sit for a few days. When it started bubbling, I put the rest of the grapes in a pot of water, crushed them, heated them into a sort of hot grape juice, and strained it. When the juice reached room temperature I added the bubbly starter and transferred it all into a 64 fluid ounce growler fitted with an airlock. Unlike the beer, that airlock showed activity within 24 hours. Once the bubbling stopped I replaced the airlock with a screw cap and let the growler sit for approximately 3 months. Some of that time was spent in the closet and some in the refrigerator. I don’t think the grapes had a high sugar content, so the final product didn’t have a high alcohol percentage and lacked the sting of the wines I usually buy. But the color is rich, and it tastes dry but pleasant. It’s a great dinner wine and it’s also something I want to try again. I don’t know how long I’ll be able to keep swiping grapes from my neighbors so this might motivate me to grow my own grapevine.
I’ve always wanted to grow my own beer ingredients. I tried hops and various grains and corn since I moved out of my apartment and started renting a house with a yard. It’s taken a few years of soil remediation, but there have finally been some results. Unfortunately, the hop seeds never germinated. After some researching I found out they need to be cold-stratified. I tried it last year by wetting the seeds and putting them in the refrigerator, but they still didn’t sprout. This year I plan on stratifying them naturally by putting them outside all winter. This attempt will be the last of my seeds so if it doesn’t work, I’ll either have to buy more hop seeds or try another plant. I’ve found out an herb called mugwort was used before hops were popularized so I might try growing those instead. I’ve bought some dried mugwort at the beer supply store before and it yielded good results.
The crops that did perform this season were the grains and corn. Specifically, I planted spelt grain and two kinds of heirloom corn: Jimmy red and blue clarage. I figured planting heirloom seeds would push me to take extra special care of them. It worked, and by the end of summer the 24 plants returned over a pound of new seeds.
The spelt didn’t provide as high of a harvest. There was less than a pound of grains once they were removed from their husks. Usually, malt is sold in 1 or 3 pound bags so I cheated a little and bought some more spelt grains to make the total of weight of corn and grains 3 pounds.
I’ve read about the principles of malting, but this is my first time trying it. It seems the process is a lot like making veal: you’re supposed to provide the conditions for growth and then kill the subjects at a young age. In this case, the seeds need to germinate, and then be heated to halt that process. The purpose of germination is so the seeds develop sugars which can later be converted by yeast. I saved as many seeds as I felt comfortable sparing to plant next summer. The rest were soaked overnight. For the following few days, I stirred them and ran more water over them when it felt like they were drying out. I wasn’t sure how long to let them grow but in a week the shoots were pretty long, so I went on to the next step.
The research I’ve done indicates cooking at low temperature, somewhere around 180 to 200 degrees Fahrenheit. However, the duration depends on the altitude and type of seeds being malted so there is room for experimentation. I started at 180 degrees, and every 30 minutes I took them out of the oven to turn them with a spatula. It was taking a while for them to dry so after an hour I increased the temperature to 200 degrees. In about 2.5 hours they were dry and brittle, so I let them cool and stored them in mason jars until I had time to process them more.
I spent two days contemplating if crushing was necessary. The malt I buy comes in liquid or powder form, so I decided to give it a shot. I put the grains into a food processor, in small batches since I didn’t know if my machine was strong enough to turn them into fine powder. In the end I was pleased with how the spelt turned out. It smelled like malt I buy and had the same texture. The corn was a bit coarser but I didn’t want to risk damaging the blade in the processor, so I left well enough alone.
Finally, the weekend arrived, and I was ready to cook. I brought 1 gallon of water to boil and added the powdered spelt first. The results were exactly what I expected. They foamed up nicely and smelled exactly like the store-bought powdered malt.
Adding the corn damaged my confidence. It didn’t bring the same foam or smell as the spelt. In fact, it absorbed the moisture more than I expected and I ended up with more of a thick stew than classic wort. I tried adding more water, but it didn’t help, and I didn’t want to risk overflow. I decided to let it boil and wait to see what happens.
It was difficult adding the store-bought hops to the thick wort and I’m not sure how well they were incorporated. I stirred as best I could and let it simmer for 90 minutes. I collected 5 gallons of filtered water and transferred the wort into it once it cooled to room temperature. Due to the thickness, it was difficult to disperse it evenly through the water, but eventually all the chunks broke up. I added the yeast, stirred it some more, sealed the bucket, and took the initial gravity reading, finding it to be almost exactly at 1. A week passed and the airlock didn’t bubble. It’s been cold lately, which I thought might be slowing down the yeast activity.
Today I opened the fermenter and the results weren’t too good. The color of the beer is fine, but it has a slightly sour smell. Since the airlock didn’t bubble, the oxygen wasn’t pushed out and some of the yeast formed vinegar instead of alcohol. The fact that the conversion to vinegar occurred at least means the yeast is active, so there might be some alcohol forming as well. It can’t be that much, because when I measured the gravity again there wasn’t much change. However, the most important thing is the taste test. I pulled a sample and it was passable. It is slightly sour due to the vinegar but it also has an earthy taste, like an IPA. It’s in the second fermenter now and I’m going to let it sit another week.
Even if the beer has its problems, homebrewing is never a waste. Once the liquid is filtered into the secondary fermenter, the solids at the bottom can be collected and used for other purposes. I usually add it to my sourdough starter. The beer slag has been keeping that starter alive and highly active for years. This time, since the corn grounds were so much larger than the malt I’m used to, I had a much larger volume left over than usual and it wasn’t the consistency I like to use in breadmaking. Instead of putting it in the starter, I just saved it in Tupperware and decided to use it as a waffle mix. At least, I would have if I had a waffle iron. With the materials I have available, the best I can do is make square pancakes with deep indentations. It’s still worth doing. Fermented hot cakes from heirloom corn have a unique taste that can’t be reproduced in any restaurant.
I’m going to bottle soon and hope for the best once it’s time to open them. I’m also going to try again next year. There are plenty of things I’ll do differently, like increase the amount of spelt and decrease the amount of corn. I’m already planning my garden space for next summer and will be dedicating a lot more space to growing the grains. I also might increase the germination time when malting because the seeds might not have had enough time to develop enough sugars to feed the yeast. Perhaps I’ll need to find an additional source of sugar to kickstart the process and get the airlock bubbling sooner. Ultimately, this is still a work in progress, and I feel it was a good first attempt.