Thursday, December 30, 2010

Butterscotch, white & chocolate-chunk

Because these were so good, I decided I really needed to show pictures.



I mean, look at all that chocolate. I left them all at home, and hopefully John will take them all to work. They're EVIL.



Oh yeah, and the key is to keep them on the cookie sheet after the short baking time. Or they'll flatten. . . like the ones in the pictures. I had eaten all the good ones by the time I found the camera.

***

I wonder sometimes that perhaps if I didn't do my morning pages, I might have more to talk about on the blog. But then all the ditherings that go on my mind would be out here in cyberspace, and I can't imagine that's a good thing, either. Roping them down on paper where they can sit and stay, far away from my daily life, seems safer.

In the meantime, "Undertow" is now "Lisse," I'm waiting to hear back on several submissions, which seem to have made it past the slush reader, and am seriously considering Clarion West. No, not considering anymore, I'll apply, for sure. Whether I'll get in, or even be able to go, is another story. But I must apply first, and see what happens.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Family picture

MORE on the pets, because I'm procrastinating on "Undertow," the tentative name of the current short. I keep thinking I'm not good enough to write it the way it wants to be written - the discomfort of something new. I did want to stretch myself with something I hadn't done before, but the resulting story wasn't what I'd intended. That just means the alien story I really wanted will happen later down the line.



We took at least ten pictures of these three, with Nellie in a different position every time - she's so squirmy. And Buddy is the only one who listens (mostly). Kitty was irritated that the dogs were so close to him, but apparently the presents were so comfortable that he decided it wasn't worth it to get up.

He did get up, though, after John started decorating him.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

More and more

On my mind to write about: bread and soup and cookies and flashes versus short stories (go read K.K. Rusch's "The Observer" up at Lightspeed to see an amazing example of how best to use 1500-ish words) and emotion in stories and the short story markets and my thoughts on anthologies and the names that sell them and so much more. But somehow, the last few weeks have flown by despite the grief around Mom's birthday and the 1-year anniversary of Grandma's passing the day after. Putting my somewhat fragile-ish thoughts up here seemed ludicrous, not to mention somewhat silly considering the frantic puppy energy at home all the time.



Damn cute, isn't she? (Although not related to the aforementioned frantic energy.) And Buddy doesn't mind her anymore, for the most part. She also runs to him when she's in trouble (which is far more often than it should be, considering the fact that she was supposed to be mostly potty-trained). And, she's a bit of a bully at the dog park; she wants to be in charge and shows all the other dogs that, even the year-old spotted Great Dane there last week, who was as large as a Shetland pony. I'd like to get her (Nellie, not the GD) to sit still long enough to weigh, so we can see exactly how much she's grown.

She's taking refuge with Buddy, here, whose eyes are especially bloodshot in this photo. It's normal for him, the later the hour grows.



Tonight we're going to put ribbons on all three of the animals and force them to sit for pictures. Kitty won't like it a bit. Poor Kitty - I was worried that Buddy might get less attention when Nellie joined us, but I think Kitty has been impacted the most, for the worst.

I finished a new short today - it's still very raw, and even ugly. The filling hasn't filled in yet. But it's exciting nonetheless, and I have decided not to pressure myself with this one. I know what I want it to be, and it may take some time to fill out, and that's okay. In some cases, forcing oneself through the muck is a good idea, but with this story, that won't work, and I don't want to overdo it, or frustrate myself more than necessary.

And a few other subs seem to have made it through the slush readers, which makes me hopeful. Perhaps there will be some good news in the next few weeks, or maybe come January.

In the meantime, I'm sacked with crits to do, and "The Harvester" short (as opposed to the Harvester book, which is about 40k long presently, and on hold) will be an Editor's Choice on OWW, going up on the 20th. Meaning more feedback, which I have mixed feelings about, considering it's mostly what I want it to be already, conflicting opinions or not. (Because everyone has either loved it passionately, or had serious problems with it. It seems to be an all or nothing piece.)

And John gave me a splendid slow cooker as an early Christmas present (like Nellie). We had the most AMAZING pork ribs last night. Amazing, amazing. Now I have no more excuses to not go to the gym after work (too tired, too tired to make dinner, blah, blah, blah) - so I did last night, and got my ass handed to me in an iron kickboxing class. But wow, is it good for the frustration/aggression/anything you need to get out. Krista's been telling me this for months, and I finally got it.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Nellie

There are a bazillion things I've wanted to blog about, including the terrible movie Gamer (which started off so great, then turned unbelievably confusing and completely unacceptable, structurally), the mass quantity of Christmas cookies including the (finally!) successful meringues (no breakdowns this year about meringues! but I had to stave one off about the third batch of buttercreams...), although I really should have kept them in the oven for 3 hours instead of 4, more dithering on short stories and trying to find the one that works, how the next one finally revealed itself, and then Nellie, the newest addition to the family, and my early Christmas present from John.



Yes, she needs a blanket and a pillow. Because she's a baby. She's 23 lbs, almost 4 and 1/2 months old, and very, very sweet. She was in a foster family for awhile, so I don't think she realizes that John and I (and Buddy & Kitty) are hers, but she'll get it soon enough. But man - taking the dog out to pee at 2 am in the morning? If that's too much for me, there will never be babies in our future. Not that we're in any hurry.

Monday, November 29, 2010

More food stuff

I was in a baking mood all weekend - not sure why, but it was fun, aside from the wheat bread yesterday that didn't really turn out. It rose decently, and then didn't rise in the oven, and turned out flat and ugly and rather bland. Oh well - after the success of T-day dinner, I don't think I care.

Plus, this turned out splendidly:



A huge batch of homemade eggnog. I've never made it before, and after having this, I cannot imagine for the WORLD how anyone can't like eggnog (like my neighbors, who turned this down...). I perused recipes for awhile - I had a killer one from Malia, with ice cream and 3 different kinds of boozes, but I decided I didn't want ice cream in it, and wanted to stick with rum. The recipe I ended up with had rum and whiskey, and wow, was it amazing.

Here's the link. After drinking a ton of this, I think I may prefer less froth more cream, so I may play around with the recipe next time I make it. And I used slightly less whiskey than it called for, since I couldn't bear to empty the bottle just yet...but it was fantastic.

One more batch of cookies - the dreaded meringues, which I mucked up twice last year, and gave up on, and then I've made all Mom's staples: meringues, noodle cookies, the French Buttercreams (red & green), and Russian teacakes (snowballs). She made a few more, usually, including almond bark pretzels, but since those are easy to buy in stores, I usually avoid them. And those damned wreath cookies - John cast the vote to nix those this year, since they're like crack: cornflakes, marshmallow & butter. Tons of butter. It's not worth it, if I still want my pants to fit. Because after all the pieces of pumpkin cake I had...which just gets better the longer it sits...oofta.

Oh! And we got a tree! Which I decorated while John set up our new television, and we drank eggnog and listened to Christmas music. And then we played Halo on the new television and it was stunning. And got caught up on The Walking Dead, which is kind of boring by now. I'm not even remotely invested in it, which makes me sad - especially since I love the opening credits and music so much.

Back to real life today. I've got tax programs to figure out, slush to read, crits to do, and a new short which refuses to tell me what it's all about. It's chilly today - hopefully I can bring myself to run after work, instead of going home to tackle the meringues.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving potpourri

This is my hundredth post! So I'm going to take pictures of everything I've made today, which I was going to do anyway. I've made Thanksgiving Day food before, but not my own turkey. And it's the first T-day without any of my family, so I decided to make the most of it.

A few days ago, I finally went out and bought a baguette pan. Turns out, baguettes actually hold their shape if you do them properly! I was thrilled - they're so beautiful. They'll be for the holiday artichoke-crab dip, our appetizer.



My favorite thing was how they rose (sank?) through the little holes at the bottom, creating this effect:



So neat, and slightly bizarre.

I just used the simple French boule recipe I always fall back on: 5 cups flour, 2 cups warm water, let it autolyse at least fifteen minutes, mix in 1 serving of yeast (2.24 tsps for me) and salt (I eyeball it. And I have eyeballed too much before...). A little kneading (with olive-oil hands, don't use excess flour), and you're off on the first rise. (2-4 hours). Punch back, then let rise in whatever baking dish/pan you're going to use, another 2 hours or so. I bake it at 450 for 15 minutes, spraying the oven with water, then another 15-20 at 350.

More soon! First, it's the Turkey Trot. In the 30 degree weather.

***

Holy crap the Turkey Trot was freezing. But John and I ran it like champs.



Then we got peppermint mochas, and came home to pancetta-sage butter up the turkey.

Malia was telling me about taking the turkey out to rest for an hour, and because the breast dries out so quickly, keeping it colder with ice cube packs - she heard it on NPR or something, so I thought I'd try it. I'm not certain I'll be able to tell the difference without tasting a non-ice-cubed turkey in comparison, but I like that I did it.



It's all slimy with the pancetta-sage butter, from this recipe. And a happy organic, free-range turkey. I think it had a good life. Until now, I suppose. But at least it was more content than most.

You can see the lovely stalk of brussels sprouts in the back. Those go with shallots, which I need to prep. And the stuffing, and the artichoke-crap dip.

***

A success, all of it, with the exception of the turkey stock I was making from the carcass after the meal, because I got distracted by leveling up a new Horde character in WoW, with John & his Reno buddies. When I came back downstairs (2 hours later), there was hardly anything left in the pot except bones.

But the meal was great - I wish I'd taken a picture of the cake before cutting into it, since it was the best of the 3 years of 4-layer pumpkin cake yet. And Malia was RIGHT about the icing the turkey breast; the meat was the most tender I've ever had, but of course I didn't remember pictures until after it was cut open. Kick ass gravy, good brussels sprouts with shallots and vinegar and a little sugar, John's Grandma's strawberry cream salad, and then this recipe for stuffing. I made a loaf of bread for it yesterday, a split-tin white loaf, and while the stuffing was full of lovely herbs and a huge head of Swiss Chard, I'm not certain I'll make it again. It got slightly dried out, (yes, I should have checked it), and I'm not sure I liked the Swiss Chard in it. But the many herbs were lovely.



There's no reason to buy cranberry sauce, not when it's so jellied and molded and full of sugar and preservatives. It takes 30 minutes to make your own, full of cloves and cinnamon and honey and a little brown sugar - lovely.



And the best cake ever. I changed up the recipe this time - less powdered sugar, more pumpkin liquor, and real whip cream instead of cool whip. And it was to die for.



Then we watched Miyazaki's Ponyo, which had a terrible number of ridiculous lines for a Miyazaki movie, and so I quietly excused myself and cleaned the kitchen instead. Then games, more wine, and bed. It's been a delightful day, made even better by an email about one of my stories being considered for an anthology. I'm going to cross my fingers and hope it works out.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

It's that time of year...

...for goal-making! Among other things. Because it's almost the end of the year, and because I'm inspired by fellow Lightspeed colleague Christie's post on goals to ramble about my own. Because I can't remember having any specific goals last year, writing-wise, other than the general 'get shit published.' Plenty of life-goals, a few I accomplished, a few I didn't (no half-marathon yet), and here we are.

But first, a bread bowl with broccoli cheese soup, because I like food and pictures.



This wasn't the pretty serving picture, this was the picture I took after I grabbed John's food away from him in a panic because I'd forgotten the picture. He'd already mixed in the cheese and smoked paprika, which you can see on the bread, but it still looked better than mine, which was broken apart and messy since I'd torn into it like some crazed animal.

The soup was terrific - amazing, in fact, and now I want to go get the leftovers I brought to work. I used this recipe, proceeded to add more cheddar, just the basic French bread recipe I usually make with any kind of pasta or soup. But the bowl-sized shapes were going flat with each rise, and so I gave up and cheated by just forming the bread around a small ramikan placed upside down on a baking sheet. It did the trick, as you can see.

I'm having a blast planning out Thanksgiving dinner, too - all I need is some pancetta, for the pancetta-sage turkey, and because this is Oklahoma, I have to actually go to a butcher's. (But then it shall taste better, so I'm not complaining too much...)

Goals! That's where I was. Let's see. This year saw the publication of "Light Stones" and "Becoming Normal," both of which made me very happy, and especially the latter, given its pro status. I spent about 6 weeks cleaning on Stone Lake for a friend to read, and he gave me so many things to work on - all good and necessary things, mostly structure-related - and I'm not certain I'm good enough to fix them. One day, and hopefully soon, because it's a damn good book.

But I also wrote 4 brand new stories, and completed "Child of Fortune," worked on two different (new) novels, spent a lot of time with Lightspeed, and did a lot of critiquing, mostly for the Fragments. It hasn't been a huge year, but I think it's been an important one - I learned a lot of basics, mostly in short story structuring, what works, what doesn't, and when someone's advice for your story isn't the right advice for your story.

Hmmm, this doesn't seem to be about goals any more - it's what I have and haven't done. And while I want to write things like 'finish Harvester with a solid structure' and '6 shorts or more in 2011, at reasonable lengths versus upwards of 8k like in 2010', I wonder if there's a reason I haven't been able to make myself writing goals for the last few years. Probably because the writing itself is in charge, as are the stories - they take me where they want, and they write themselves out when they want. The only stories I've tried to push through for whatever reason have been painfully sluggish and awkward and unwieldy and ugly. And not fun.

Maybe my horizons need to be broad, so anything's possible. I like that a lot.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Cheesecake and alchemy

It's a gorgeous sunny day, and almost looks like fall here. My fingers are freezing from the window being open, which I love even more. It's the perfect kind of being cold, although I have to type slowly or I get thdfj a;skdfjpieya.

I passed on the "The Harvester" to both John and one of my favorite beta readers yesterday. To my massive delight and relief, they both say it works. I do need to de-knightoftheholygrail it, though - any comparisons to Monty Python would be dreadful, and perhaps clean up some of the awkward spots, and then off to the rest of the writing group and OWW it goes. It's not the story I expected to finish, but I'm so thrilled I've got a workable draft.

And now I wonder - maybe I can even finish the novel around it - which I already have 40-ish thousand words of. Some of the key elements would change a little, but it could really work...perhaps it was the end that has kept me fumbling at it, and now with this new end, found in the short, the novel is accessible again.

I'm going to over to John's mom's tonight to hang out with her & my sisters-in law. Girls night, with a movie and dinner and pumpkin cheesecake.



This is from the Martha Stewart recipe, which doesn't let you open the oven. It was extraordinarily hard for me, but I tried not to think about it, and it turned out pretty good, aside from the fact that I used the six inch springform pan instead of the nine. The extra cheesecake batter naturally turned into pumpkin chocolate chip cheesecake brownies. I think I've made brownies once in my life before, and have certainty never even thought about pumpkin chocolate chip cream cheese brownies before, but damn, were they good.


I just picked a random cheesecake brownie recipe, poured the cheesecake over that, threw in some chocolate chips, and swirled it with a toothpick. For the last few months, anything I've slightly experimented on has sucked, big time. And sure, I should have taken them out of the oven when the buzzer went off, but the cheesecake looked so runny I couldn't bring myself to - I will next time, since the outside of the brownie was a little chewy. But these weren't anything like the time I tried these cookies that literally melted into a sheet of sugary chocolate - I nearly cried. It was awful. And some of my soups have gone astray, the breads, etc. I don't know why I think I can throw shit together and it will work, because it suddenly stopped there, for awhile. Yet these brownies mean its possible. That's probably not a good thing.

The cat is whining at me. Now I must do my morning pages, because I've been procrastinating by answering emails and posting pictures and brainstorming about alchemy. And then I'm going to think about a loaf of bread for John.

***

Oh, the cat's not whining at me, he's whining at the dog. But the dog doesn't want to play. I swear, sometimes, that dog is so slow.



The picture is a little distorted from where I sit at my desk. Kitty is only about 1/3 the size of Buddy.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Mom & thirdpersonotherworldhotmess

Krista and I were talking about grief the other day, and Mom, and how not much seems to have changed since last year (awful first year holidays) except the actual pain. While I may not actively feel numb and cold and wondering how I can get through this, I still react to anything and everything much the same way. Whether its learned and/or habitual, or like Krista thought, residual traces of grief that needs to be felt, it's fairly inconvenient, and exhausting, honestly.

It sounds silly, too, but I'm dreading the flip to 2011 - because then Mom didn't just die last year anymore. And it's still so terribly new to not be able to call her, or talk to her, or see her. Terribly awful.

I found these pictures on my lovely sister-in-law's facebook page; I'm not sure why I hadn't seen them before, but I swiped them immediately, since Mom looks so pretty and healthy and happy, as does Dad.

Denae had made her a quilt, with squares that we had all contributed on. Mom's birthday, 2007.







***

Writing has been hard, lately. I think it's because I want results, even a finished draft, and what I'm working on now isn't something that just churns itself out quickly. Third-person-other-world stories are really hard for me. Give me first person, a teenager, and/or a quirky idea and I can write it quickly, and it can be good. But the worldbuilding takes time for me (potentially more than it does others?), as does the science, real or made-up, and I rant and rail at myself all along the way and think that perhaps this is all a big joke, or I'm the big joke. And I conveniently forget how long "Child of Fortune" took, as well as "Light Stones" - I struggled with that story like nothing else, and it was the first one of mine to find a home.

So, yes.

Back to the practice idea that I blogged about weeks ago - real practice means working on something I suck at. Which means I must be on the right path.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Writing update

I'm unusually spry this morning (yes, I'm an old geezer) for a Monday - it's refreshing. I'm not certain why, but I'm not complaining. So far: slush read, one OWW crit done, and I've got another friend's revision up next, and some nits to "Child of Fortune, Child of Labor" before I tinker around with the worldbuilding a bit. Or maybe the new short for the Anywhere but Here anthology, in case the venue where CoFCoL is currently out at decides to take it. But I liked X6 so much that it would be silly for me to not try for something in a couer de lion publication.

And then there's "Fish out of Water" to work on - less cliche characters, Ilan says. And the alchemist short which I haven't touched because either I've taken a wrong turn, or it's not the right time to work on it. I've got six other shorts out there right now, and as I hear back, that will mostly likely mean more revisions. Which is good - I need to do all I can before tax season, which is already looming over me.

Oh, and I need to read the rest of the Apex Magazine Muslim/Arab issue (I loved, loved, loved the El-Mohtar,) the Toblar and the Daly at Fantasy Magazine, and some Electric Velocipide, too, in case they ever open again to submissions. I'm not sure if anything I have will fit there - which is why I need to read them.



Cute, aren't they? The difference in the size of their heads is hilarious to me. John made Buddy sit next to the cat, who got up and left right after he snapped the picture. They've both been so sweet lately - aside from the cat trying to escape for freedom every time we open the front door, which is the only obstacle from sweet killing of birds and feline HIV. Unfortunately, no matter how many times I warn him of the latter, it never sinks into his cat brain. He just wants to kill, kill, kill.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Gluten-free

I finally made those cupcakes I've been talking about for weeks, last night - red velvet cake cupcakes, gluten-free.

Here's how they turned out:





They looked great, the texture was perfect - so cake like, which I hadn't been expecting, and the taste was good. Just a little strange, and if I hadn't had black bean brownies so many times in the past, I may not have been able to figure out what was different about them. They're not something you're going to sit and devour, so its almost not worth it to make them - I think I'd rather have the real thing, where you have to force yourself not to eat the batter.

Plus, the above still has some sugar, and needs it, too. So they're not entirely guilt-free. Another vote for the real thing.

The recipe above makes about 11 or so.

***

I've got French bread rising, and tonight I'm going to make my favorite meatballs, next to Mom's Swedish meatballs. Yes, they have bacon! I might even go all out and make the noodles, too - I haven't done that in awhile, and I'm in a cooking mood, for some reason. Nothing is better than lounging around the house and leisurely making elaborate foods while playing Borderlands (gooo, multi-tasking!) and drinking endless cups of coffee, which leads to endless glasses of wine. Lovely.

Also, I'm mulling of the thought of changing the world of CoFCoL a little to fit a particular anthology. It wouldn't take too much work, and since its a great antho that accepts novelettes, it might be worth the effort. We'll see if I get to that today.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Writing politics

There's an uproar going on about a blog post on Apex books, regarding gender and table of contents in anthologies. Actually, its a little more complicated than that, but you can see for yourself if you're interested. (If you are, read the comments - they go on and on and on, including links to other responses).

I clicked on Sophy Z. S. Adani's response, as she was one of the editors of Destination: Future, where "Light Stones" was published. Her blog entry regarding it revealed something new to me - turns out, my little story was most likely chosen (although I will probably never know for sure) because of my gender. My first reaction is to feel sad about that, but in all reality, that story is so terribly flawed that I can hardly read it now. The plot itself works, but the writing...I'd change so many things. I'm very fortunate that it stood out enough for them to get this far (and maybe some day I can clean it up).

The whole point I'm getting to - the last major controversy was Elizabeth Moon's political post, and only recently, WisCon pulled her as the Guest of Honor - a very strong reaction, but I'm not sure what else they could do, considering their stance as the leading feminist SF convention.

I've been writing for awhile now, and before that, reading, but only in the last year or so have I immersed myself into the nitty-gritty below the surface, which happens in the blogosphere and Twitter, mostly. It's crammed as full of opinion and color as the music world is, with ugly things scattered amidst the truth, with both peace-loving wise people and crazies arguing to have their voices heard. For me, it seems like the wisest thing to do is sit back and stay quiet, even when I believe very strongly about something. And then if someone wants my opinion, they'll ask for it. (I'm not quite important enough. Yet.)

***

And am I stalling around on other blogs in order to keep from working on the alchemist short? Yes.

OKC fall

The weather today looks like the current background of this blog, only darker, blustery, and with driving rain. It's lovely, but I'd prefer to be at home on the couch with hot chocolate, rather than at the quiet office, watching it through the window.

We're robbed of fall here in OK in both temperature (yesterday, it was almost 90 degrees) and color - the trees are all green, still, or a boring sort of green/brown/neutral.

Except for the one tree in the front yard, which has exploded into orange. I kept forgetting to take a picture of it until yesterday, although by then, it had lost so many of its leaves.





I've finished fairly solid drafts of both Parasite & Round Robin, now, and have posted them on OWW. Already I've gotten some good feedback, although I'm certain Parasite has a ways to go yet. One friend called it 'fascinating and complicated,' which was the exact experience I had in writing it; I had to break all the 'rules' in writing it, given Josephine's disability, which continues to have no shortage of complications.

While I wait for crits on that, I'm bringing up the alchemist story again, in hopes that things might just suddenly happen (like the end of Round Robin did, which had gone endless for nearly 2 years). It's a lot to hope for, but you never know.

***

I want to make some of these recipes this weekend, particularly the Red Velvet cupcakes. Cupcakes! Just look at those delectable pictures. Surely there's a way to make a less sugary frosting? But chances are John may not care for them, which leaves the responsibility of consumption up to me; and I'm too quick to give in.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Zombie girl

She's finally up! My little junior high girl that doesn't belong. I'm glad she has found a good home at Flash Fiction Online.

I was talking with my sister Shannon a week ago or so about it, and my bro-in-law Benny asked if the story was a social commentary about America. I said he was more right than he thinks.

Yesterday, John and I went kayaking on some river (yes, I do not know my Oklahoma geography) through a nature preserve, on a 'nature trip.' There was little nature to be seen - other than many adorable turtles (John wanted to take them home, but I said no) and a few 2-legged creatures sitting on lawn chairs near some random hill. But they posed little threat. And the water was gorgeous, and John didn't tip his kayak over, nor try to tip me over like at the reunion; all were civil, and it was a lovely trip.

Then, butternut squash soup and French bread, both of which were amazing. I had far too much bread, but it was like Holly's crack dip - you just can't stop.





Today is not a typical Monday, yet - I've caught up at work, read some unusually humorous (unintentionally so) slush, two shorts critted, and now I have to fix "Parasite." John and I talked about what a parasite really is, and now I have an idea of what the story needs. I doubt I'll be able to pull it off completely, but that's what my writing buddies are for. Right? Right.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Reverie

I finished "Parasite," finally. The idea of it has been completed for nearly a week, but now the remaining gaps have been closed. I'm not convinced the ending is enough - actually, I'm nearly 100% positive it's not - but that's for a later draft, and I believe I need to spend some time with a thesaurus, also, for authenticity. But it's a feeling of accomplishment, nevertheless, to add another short to the list. Perhaps this one will go somewhere.

And some moments that I caught at the nature preserve over lunch. As much as I complain about this state, it does say something for the fact that I can spend an hour here every day, rather than mad rush of downtown Chicago that was my lunch hour for the many, many years before I moved.



Leaf collages:







And these that made me long for Christmas:



Social rant

There was a lot of stuff going around on Facebook within the last week about National Gay and Lesbian Coming out day, which was the 11th, including 'donating your status' by putting in a quote like this:
" (Your name) is a straight ally and today is National Coming Out Day. I'm coming out for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality because it's 2010 and you can still be fired from your job in 29 states for being lesbian, gay or bisexual and in 38 states for being transgender. Donate your status and join me by clicking here: http://bit.ly/d9yubh."

I never did it because I didn't want to provoke or instigate controversy among the very many conservatives I grew up with and are on my friends' list (and who are by the whole more conservative than those at Wheaton, who are in turn more conservative than my Roosevelt friends, and now I've somehow landed myself in the Bible belt). But I very much wanted to. And I'm certainly not ashamed of what I think and believe, it's just that I had-and still have-very little energy to expend on a 'why or why not I think God/Jesus would be okay with it' argument, or get into the very many reasons why I believe 100% that gay marriage should be legal' which would only lead to the 'don't you realize you're bordering on severe hypocrisy by what you're saying' conversation.

But this article (via wise Molly at Fantasy Magazine!) broke my heart a little today, enough to make me put down the short I was working on and write out my thoughts. (And also, because this is my blog, and I can say what I want.) As harsh as Dan Savage's words sound, he is right, I believe. What he says is true, true, true.

The kids of people who see gay people as sinful or damaged or disordered and unworthy of full civil equality—even if those people strive to express their bigotry in the politest possible way (at least when they happen to be addressing a gay person)—learn to see gay people as sinful, damaged, disordered, and unworthy. And while there may not be any gay adults or couples where you live, or at your church, or in your workplace, I promise you that there are gay and lesbian children in your schools. And while you can only attack gays and lesbians at the ballot box, nice and impersonally, your children have the option of attacking actual gays and lesbians, in person, in real time.

Real gay and lesbian children. Not political abstractions, not “sinners.” Gay and lesbian children.

I have the right to say this, I think, because I've lived this perspective of the questioner in that link, for too many years. I've been on that side that see gay people as sinful or damaged or disordered, no matter how politely so, because I didn't really learn to think for myself until after undergrad. And even then, it didn't sink in until I was 21 and in grad school, and one my dearest, dearest friends--my first real 'out' friend, I suppose--looked at me and said, "Do you think I want to be gay? Do you think that I would choose this?"

It blew me away. And I'll never forget it. Even now, I'm fully aware I don't know quite what it's like to experience that side of life, to deal with that kind of oppression and repression, and it grieves me to know that this is even an issue, because it's just so simple.

God is love. And truth, to face what you may not understand, because you've never been there. He's not hate, bigotry, and certainly not 'your sexual preference is wrong and mine is right because I'm saved.'

End of rant.

Oh, and one last note: this is great news for our country. Hopefully the ludicrous and fearful worries of the ignorant will be ignored. This is a good start.


Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Practice makes ______.

I stumbled upon something tonight that changed my outlook on everything writing - a single blog post. And it's such a simple concept that I feel quite silly. Maybe I knew this, once upon a time, or perhaps subconsciously, but my lack of acknowledging it hasn't done me any favors.

Practice. That's all it is. You practice to get better, over and over and over again. And to do that, you don't work on the same stuff you've already done (which according to the blog, so many do), but you practice harder things, things you don't know how to do at this very moment.

Everything I know about practicing is music-related. Mom would make us girls sit at the piano bench for hours; we'd get in trouble if we didn't (because honestly, none of us really wanted to). In junior high, and even in high school, she bribed me with 'expensive' basketball shoes in order to get me to practice an hour a day (and that's after school, and after basketball practice, and after homework). Granted, I was glad in the long run, since it made me good, and eventually helped me shift into singing, but oh, it was agony at the time.

Even so, I wasn't consistent with practicing both piano & voice in undergrad, at least not the way I was in grad school. By then, I understand what I had to do, to get what I wanted. I would spend hours locked up in a practice room, and actually see something for my efforts. And perhaps it was easier, then, because I loved it so much, in a way I never did with piano. (With classical voice, I had the words, the languages, which is why writing eventually trumped both piano and voice.)

Anyway, all this output of mine - the short stories, the books - good or not, and better than others I read, they may be all about the practice, the learning something new. If I can challenge myself with something I didn't know how to do before, then I'll eventually nail more elements in a story than not, which will open doors into the markets I really want.

That probably explains why "Child of Fortune, Child of Labor" was so terribly difficult for me - just opening the document made me start sweating. I'd never written anything like it before, with that sort of tech and worldbuilding. But this encourages me in the other two shorts I'm working on now (tentatively titled "Parasite" and "The Harvester") as there's so much that's unnatural for me in both. Maybe this is a good thing.

***

Oh, and "Tight Little Stitches in a Dead Man's Back" by Joe Lansdale is up at Lightspeed. It's definitely not for the faint of heart (or the ultra-conservative). I remember my reaction when I first read it, sitting in our beautiful little hotel room in Solvang, waiting for John to wake up so we could go on our visits to multiple wineries. We were still looking for an October reprint at the point, and I was shocked, entranced, horrified, aghast, impressed, by the story. (Perhaps I read it too early in the morning...) My reaction ensures I will likely always remember it, as reactions occasionally stick with me even more than content, especially when they leave me numb from a shocking ending, or with a rushing heart. That's my goal in my own writing - the reaction, which makes something memorable.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Thoughts on Slush

I've realized something very important, but only since I've been with Lightspeed. (Don't ask me why it didn't click in my slush reading with Fantasy...because it didn't...) Since I've made this mistake umpteen times myself - actually, I could count them up for you, based my nifty little submission spreadsheet, but since it's embarrassing, I'll just get to the point - how many times I've submitted stories without reading the magazine first. Even one issue will help, but seriously, if you're going to submit anything, save both yourself and the slush readers the effort by reading, ideally, multiple issues, before you do so.

I've been trying to repair this error the last few months by reading every single story published in every SFWA magazine I can. Usually I make it to about 5 out of 8 (the bigger names) or so, and sometimes end up skimming those about which I have started to have serious doubts regarding quality. But I've been thinking about this lately, and then decided to write this out simply because of the number of stories this morning which in no way bear any similarities to what the first few issues of Lightspeed have put out. Just now, I read a story from a SFWA-credited writer (multiple books with big SF publisher) that consisted of about 6 pages of dialogue between a woman and her best friend. No significant SF elements. If the author had read Lightspeed at all, he/she would have (hopefully) realized it's not the right fit. Plus, rarely do we take anything under 2k. There's been one exception, a reprint coming up in the next few months, but that one is stronger than my morning coffee - and anyway, flashes (and anything under 2k) need that in order to be competitive against heavier hitters.

Then there's always the problem of when reading the magazine isn't enough. Let's say, stupidity gets in the way. And I'm quite stupid, quite often. I got a rejection from WEIRD TALES on Sunday for a story that's very dear to me. It's a good story, I believe - not something I'm just close to, but it has honest value. And I've been subscribing to that magazine for a few years now, which granted, doesn't mean as many issues as I'd like because it comes out what, 4x a year? 6? Anyway, I adore it. But while what I write may have some merit, it's not WEIRD. It never has been. (And sadly, it may never be.) And throwing in a few weird-ish elements doesn't make it WEIRD. Yet I made the mistake of adding one more story to Ann VanderMeer's slush pile for her to wade through - in a moment of stupidity. And even now, talking with a close writing friend about where to send it next, I suggested another magazine - stupidly - and my friend said try it, but it doesn't fit.

We all need peers (preferably of the writing with common sense variety) to save us from poor submission choices. From our stupidity.

So I took my own advice, and purchased copies of Black Static (for Braeberry Street?) and Cicada (for Children Dumping Soup?) over lunch. Here's hoping it will get me a little closer.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Real friendship is...

It's finally fall here, mostly. Right now, it's 55 degrees outside, and I've thrown most of the windows open, and even the back screen door, although there's a gaping hole about 2 inches wide between the door and the frame - Buddy got excited one night last year and didn't see the screen, causing the door to bend nearly in half (and he didn't even get outside). But we haven't been able to bend the door completely back, nor does it seem to be easy to get a new door. I'm not complaining today, though. A few bugs are worth it.

Then it will get hot, by 11 am, maybe noon - 85 degrees in the sun. Still better than 105, but it doesn't quite make for a nice stroll.

Either way, I'm suddenly in the fall mood. I made a curried pumpkin soup last night, and chocolate chip banana bread - the soup turned out quite well, and the bread burst over the tins, but oh, it's so good. And I also bought some pumpkin beer - which tasted like ass. Terrible. Terrible, terrible, terrible. So, a Leinenkugel fall sampler pack it is. I wished I lived somewhere with a lovely local brewery, but this will certainly do. And today, maybe some kind of bread, and another soup.

But this post isn't about food, it's about video games.

I love them. I always have, far more than seems possible given the fact that we didn't have a television growing up. But I remember playing Mario Brothers at my friends' houses, and sitting for hours in my older sister's dorm room playing some quest of something or another on her roommate's computer - an ancient game. That was in, what, 1993 or something? It had to be in MS-Dos.

And then my brother bought an Xbox after I went to college - by then, we had a computer /monitor/television screen (that had no channels) at home, so I was introduced to the James Bond games - which I loved, and Halo. I loved Halo, too (aliens! spaceships! strange planets!), but I was so terrible at it, and the popping heads-bobble-alien thingies would always explode and kill me when I least expected it.



See? Look at him! Terrifying. And then right when you get up close, BAM!pop-pop-pop-pop-pop! He explodes all over you. Tiny creepy crawling thingies.

Yet I still twisted Josh's arm to play every time I went home, and then I'd just run along behind him as he killed all the aliens.

Then after college, I was introduced to Diablo 2, when I nannied for four amazing children of the most amazing woman. (Her husband was the Diablo player). And that was a fun game. Was it all the treasure chests? I don't even know. Maybe it was the catacombs, the skeleton armies, the random beasts you'd meet underground.



But it was so much fun that I'm nearly as eager as John for Diablo 3.

And skip to present day, with the Xbox 360 downstairs, and the dozen games we have. There's only a few I like, and I really, really, really like them. I've tried to figure out what it is that appeals to me about them - part of it is the story, the adventure of it. I like both the Left for Dead games (zombies! What's not to like?), but there's no real story in Borderlands, the 2k game that came out some time ago, and I adore it - the post-apocalyptic setting, the great music, the crazy mutants and rabid dogs, the bandit-like natives, the constant flux of stuff to find. It's a huge treasure hunt. And then add in zombies, one of their expansion packs, giant War-of-the-Worlds-like spider-thingies, and ninjas. I could be a spokesman for the game. (There's another expansion I might get today - sooooo excited).



But story - the real story award goes to Bioshock, both 1 & 2. I love the story, there. Dystopia galore - a new world set under the sea, with genetic enhancements and modifications? It's like a dream. Besides the story, you get to find shit (Bioshock is made by 2k - I sense a theme...) Weapons, plasmids, ammo, fun things, oh, it's wonderful. And, there's a new one coming out - I'm so excited. (I've hooked my sister on playing, too - it's that fun).



And there's Halo. People talk about the story, but meh - both Halo ODST and even the new Reach have meh stories, especially Reach. I still think Halo 3 campaign trumped ODST and Reach put together, but I've finally accepted the lure of player versus player, pvp. Not so much the addictive quality, but the endless opportunities to play better. And it's just so much damn fun when you succeed.



(Ghost Town, one of my favorite pvp maps)

The best part about it is that we can play with my brother Josh in North Dakota, his wife's brother Jordan in Wyoming, John's friend DJ in South Carolina, and his sister (across the street), and anyone else who's got an Xbox360. It's a community event.

Oh, that's where I was going with this - with an Xbox360, we can drink fall beers together, in opposite states, and shoot aliens. That's real friendship.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Scalzi and more

My Lightspeed interview with John Scalzi is up today!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Open the trunk, or not?

I think Aliette de Bodard best describes my last few writing days in this interview by Josh Vogt, with the following few sentences:

"I have a trunk, and it is full of stories that will probably never see the light of day. A lot of them are pretty much broken, to the point where they'd require a complete rewrite if they were to work."

A simple way of saying maybe your earlier stuff is better left alone. I can't count how many times I've pulled out some of those first few shorts - not even the first and second, which can't find a shape no matter how many rewrites, but the third and fourth - the fourth with which I worked on today, and the third I sent off to magical Gio in hopes that she could find an answer. The fifth was lucky enough to find a home, although I cringe when I look at it now - that's the way it works, I suppose. But the last two days have been spent trying to make the old new again, and I'm wondering if it's worth it. Add the third novel to that same quandary, too.

Somewhere down the line, something's got to work, eventually. I understand, too, for the most part, what works now. Yet I can't always get my own stuff there, especially the old.

I'm over halfway through Les Grossman's The Magicians, and it's official: I'm skimming, now. I really hoped it wouldn't come to this, but I cannot handle the impersonal style - the way of storytelling that distances me from Quenton, the main character. Get me into the mc's head, and I will follow you anywhere - no matter the genre. And it's not hard; I'm an easy hook. But if you can't - and Grossman didn't, from the beginning, instead, driving me batty with Rowling references, although to his credit, his characters were actual teenagers (meaning drugs, booze, sex, etc.) and one terrific monster that showed up 1/4 of the way through and hasn't again) - then I'm going to resort to skimming.

It's disappointing, really. I haven't read a novel I thoroughly enjoyed since Kiernan's The Red Tree, which was back on our Solvang trip. A month ago. Far too long. And since I brought up Kiernan, I cannot speak highly enough of her Sirenia Digests. Brilliant, and so gorgeous, with delicious, spellbinding moments that seem so hard to come by these days, for some reason. $10 a month, but I'd pay triple that - the quality is 3x F&SF and even Asimov's, in my opinion, and only comparable to WEIRD Magazine (and occasionally Realms of Fantasy), which doesn't come out often enough for me. Kiernan's Ammonite Violin is in the mail to me now, as well as a new Tanith Lee anthology (!!!!); I'm extraordinarily excited for both.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Jumper

Back when I was putting up chapters of Stone Lake on OWW, I had reader after reader bring up Ilse's motivations, or rather, lack thereof. I knew it, too, but thought I'd fixed it. Not even close. At this point, the structure is so terribly off that it's embarrassing. It's still a great story, with great characters, but a fellow Fragment is pulling it apart and showing me how Ilse and Conn and Stone come across, which is entirely different than my original intentions. No wonder it didn't work. Hindsight, like always.

Which is why you've got to get people (who have some sort of positive influence on your writing) to read your shit for you, or its not going to sell. That's what I'm reminded of in the Lightspeed slush every day.

As if that weren't enough, European Gio and I are changing around Rotullo's life, in our first story together that we wrote last year - almost exactly a year ago. We've come to the conclusion that even with 10k words, it's possible to have too much going on, too many personal goals that must be followed through, and no matter how good of a job you might do on having those goals met, the number of experiences must be proportional, as well as the actual word length, the climax, and a bazillion other things. So, we're going to back to the original roots of the story, and keeping in mind our original submission site. We'll see how it works.

***

John and I have been working our way through Nip/Tuck from the beginning. I only started watching the end of Season 2 with Malia, so I'd missed quite a bit - turns out there was some actual quality writing there, aside from the unbelievable amount of trashy drama that fills in the more narrow of plot points. It's a reality show on speed. Everything happens these men. Anyway, Netflix was doing updates last night, so we found the movie Jumper on the television, which was one of the most baffling watches. Baffling, because I don't understand how it even got made.



I had no problem with his jumping, with his robbing banks, etc. But to pass off the Paladin/Jumper war as something ancient, predestined, etc, was just silly - you can't throw that in and expect us to believe it. The problem is that I don't know how they could fix it. It could be done, well, although I'm not sure how or why.

That wasn't really what bothered me - it was everything else. (Except for Hayden Christenson's acting - he was rather decent. He made hardly any any sullen faces, nor did he moan and groan about his fate and the unfair Jedi. It was refreshing.) Rachel Bilson's acting, on the other hand, was static and ridiculous (which surprised me, because she was the most adorable thing ever on The O.C.). I'm the first one to suspend believe, but really, who drinks a beer while they're on their shift at Houlihan's? That's what I thought. Although that speaks to the director more than her, but she did her part, with the sappy hellos, instead of the 'I thought you were dead' necessities.

There are plenty of other things. No girl is going to go out with a guy who says he's her friend from junior high, it's 8 years later, and he's supposed to be dead. Next, she's not going to just up and fly with him to Rome. And then, they're not going to just go have sex in the hotel room.

Maybe the real question is why we kept watching it. But honestly, it was such a great idea that I was surprised it was done so poorly. The romance was just chucked into the story - that's when it all started going downhill - and the 'my mother is a Paladin' was even more tossed in.

Tonight, I think we'll just stick to playing more Halo: Reach.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Resident Kickass

John surprised me with this a few days ago -



- which we'd talked about, but hadn't yet committed to. I'd wanted one to read Lightspeed slush on, and stay more updated on all the online (genre) fiction I can, and this was one way I thought I could do better at it. We'd agreed awhile back to think about it, because they're just far too much money. Plus, first edition/version/whatever that's called. Model? Generation, that's what it is. First generation. Any kinks would be worked in the second.

But a few days ago, I woke up to the sweetest note on my desk, which led to another note on the bookshelf, which led to one in the kitchen and then one behind the television, along with a gift-wrapped box and my very own Ipad. I can't stop playing with it. It's way better than my phone.

We saw the new Resident Evil movie today in the theater - in 3d, naturally, and even on the Imax screen. I liked that they didn't overdo it; that every single effect wasn't in your face. (As of right now, the best 3d I've seen yet was Beowulf, back when it was used less frequently.) And Milla Jovavich is just so kickass that it was a blast, despite the fact that nothing was logical. I remember how frightened I was in the first two, which I watched back at 1350 N. Kedzie on a night when Malia was gone, and I was so convinced that scary things were going to jump out at me after I went to bed. The third one was mostly fun, too - nothing like a good post-apocalyptic/zombie thriller in the deserts of Nevada. But this one...there was no longer any Alice fighting the evil Umbrella corporation for no reason - there was Alice fighting a single dude from the Umbrella corporation for no reason, which just didn't have the same appeal. He must have been a guy from the other movies, although I didn't recognize him (it's been awhile - I was hoping some cable channel would play them all pre-release of this movie, but that was a no-go), and they just didn't have any heroine/villain chemistry. Plus, a little bit of explanation - even some bs - would have gone a long way in justifying why every single new bad guy had sucking tentacle things shooting out of his mouth. Evolution, fine. But come on - at least pretend for us. And there was this scary giant guy, too, but nope, no one in the movie questioned him at all. And there was only one.

????

Or maybe it's a good thing that the creators didn't bother pretending to explain things - that's not what it was about, anyway. And while I didn't appreciate the Matrix moves everyone seemed to suddenly have - the freshness of these movies was lost when Alice suddenly got special powers from the T-virus - her slow motion scenes were pretty neat (an obscene amount of footage shot in slow motion - a lot of dodging bullets for all). She makes some great faces in her fight scenes.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Second batch try

I wasn't necessarily in the mood for another batch of bread today, but for some reason, I couldn't let it go - this bread won't beat me. So I tried again, measured the recipe in grams as it says (rather than converting it), and used the leftover starter from last night to make a sponge for sourdough English muffins for this morning. With extra sharp cheddar and sunny-side up eggs, these made the best breakfast I may have ever had:



And then, the bread. The dough is so gooey right out of the mixer that it seems wrong - but this time, I just let it be a mess and get everywhere. Sure enough, as it fermented, it came together more, until I could fold it and not lose anything on my hands.

It actually tasted like sourdough, too, which was very neat. The crust browned better, too, although I still have to work on the steaming process.



Some writing today on Stone Lake, finally. Not as much as I wanted, as neither I nor John were feeling well all day, but hopefully what I did manage will start me off to a good week. And if I can get through this scene, the good Underground stuff comes next.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Done and more

I wrote a long post while I was making of the first sourdough loaves yesterday, about what worked & what didn't, and the whole post was so boring and infomercial-ish that I deleted it. So here's the short version. I shouldn't have tried to convert from grams to cups because somewhere along the line, something went very, very wrong. And I probably did something else wrong, too.

This was the result -



Great-tasting, but not sour enough (so that was a problem back with the starter), and since I didn't have an adequate steaming system, they weren't as lovely as they could have been.



Plus, not enough holes. They just didn't look right, although they tasted fine. Like white bread, really, which I could have made with far less work.

Then, the lasagna had too much ricotta. Who knew that could happen? I do, now.

The lemon custard ice cream, on the other hand, turned out better than I could have even hoped. I think it was the most splendid ice cream I've ever had, both today and yesterday. I adored the rinds in it, too, which gave it a lovely aromatic, rich flavor.



This morning, we made the best out of the rest of the sourdough.



I had a quick run, played some Bioshock, and then John and I went out to see the movie "Machete," which I loved as much as the other two Grindhouse flicks by Rodriguez & Tarentino. A terrific movie, in classic "B" fashion, only with a pretty decent plot. Lots of layers - or rather, lots of hands involved in the drug money, with some really laugh out loud moments. And the timing on the music was so perfect so many times that every bom-chicka-bom-bom moment was hysterical. Great fun.

Then dinner at the Deep Fork Grill, where John had a glass of 18-year-old Macallan- which was to die for - and I had a beautiful California Cabernet Sauvignon. We're going to finish up with some Nip/Tuck tonight, since we're still working out way through the first season - when it was still (mostly) classy.

Then up early to run tomorrow, before it gets hot - I desperately need to work off this booze & bread. I thought about trying the sourdough again, but we'll see - it may be too soon, although I know a lot more know than I did before. I'm also going to try to treat tomorrow like a normal work day, so hopefully I can get the writing done that I need to.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Sourdough Starter Day 6

Hurray! The starter doubled itself by the time I got home from work, so maybe...10 hours? Now I skip the rye, and feed it only warm water (not hot - I think that's why mine took two days longer to grow than her's) and happy white flour. My favorite part is that the starter already smells like warm, homemade bread.



I actually tasted it- it was terrible. Very, very, very sour.

!!!!

Doing some more reading - I learned some fantastic things about sourdough. It's got a lower glycemic index and show digesting potential for people who can't digest gluten (but who eat it anyway, like me!). It makes certain minerals more absorbable by the body - also so important, more than most people realize. (Why take vitamins if your body can't absorb them anyway?)

I can't wait to make loaves this weekend - I'm a little nervous, because I'm certain something will go wrong, but I have to start somewhere. And then I have to figure out how to maintain it.

After that, sourdough everything. (Sourdough pancakes! Roasted garlic bread!) It will be my way of celebrating getting out of time and billing hell at work, which I think may actually be over. Now back to some serious writing.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Sourdough Starter day 5

It's growing!



Look at all those bubbles! It even smells like delicious bread, as opposed to terrible ass.

When it doubles in size between feedings, ideally in only 8 hours as opposed to 12, then I've raised a proper hydration starter.

We'll see how much it grows tomorrow. Perhaps I may be able to make a real sourdough loaf this weekend. Which I can't wait for - this week is killing me. Nothing like sitting next to your boss for 6 out of 8 hours of your workday as you try to figure out how the hell this new system works. I'm losing my mind.

And all I want to do is work on Stone Lake revisions, which are going swimmingly.

It's lightninging out--we really need the rain--and I need to go to bed, because we're going running in the morning.