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photoIt is Christmas morning at almost 9:00 am as I start to write this post, J and I have been up and about since 6:00, and he keeps discouraging me from starting on today's food preparations until a little later. I guess I am not used to being around the house in the morning, and I am having trouble settling on something to do until it's time to start cooking. I realize that this is partly because all of 2013 was conducted at a full-on run, mostly because of my job, and it's weird to sit still. We did actually take two little vacations this year, to Curacao for four days in August followed by a couple days at home, and then to see our friends in OKC for three days at Halloween. But those, and two days back in January, were literally the only days this year until today that I did not appear at work for at least a short time. Working 350 or so days of the year, as I did in 2013, isn't going to be sustainable in 2014.

But I am making some changes in the workplace in 2014 which are going to be good for me. I'll be reorganizing the team a bit and  filling a couple of vacant positions so that I can delegate away some of my more time-consuming chores and start to withdraw a bit from the minutiae of day-to-day operations. I need to to do this so that I can get some more big-picture stuff accomplished next year and also so that I don't just completely wear myself out. Also, I think my crew is getting tired of my stress-level (did a really bad job of keeping it bottled up inside this year!), and I would like to stave off mutiny for a while. But I kind of needed this year the way it was in order to figure some things out. My department expanded in size in 2013, and is about to expand again, and the experience of 2013 told me a lot about how to run a much larger operation.

Other Stuff
Changes at work need to help me create more time for other non-work stuff because I need to set some priorities and accomplish some things in my little writing/publishing world as well. M-Brane Press was considerably shrunken this year with only one new book title released and the promised revival of M-Brane SF magazine unrealized, and the long-promised final edition of Fantastique Unfettered altogether cancelled. A shame, because it was gorgeous, but I can't say I was too sad when its editor, Brandon, told me we were canceling. I was just too tired to finish my end of it properly anyway.

My own personal writing projects have been more or less in stasis for months. I haven't finished anything new and haven't published anywhere in a fairly long time. I am still plagued by what's now really a pair of novels involving a set of characters that have wanted their story finished to the exclusion of all else for a couple of years now. It's almost there, but it still needs some sustained attention.

This universe originally emerged in my 2009 NaNoWriMo novel (the only year so far that I actually made it to the finish line). Then, in the winter of 2011, I revived its characters in what was intended to have been a short story for one anthology or another. But it ended as a 30K-word novella, but still didn't feel done. Then I noticed that the two main characters from the '09 story, were separated from each other throughout the '11 story and only one of them was actually "on-camera" very much. So, sometime in 2012, I suddenly went to work on another big long thing focused on the other main character and what he was up to during the same time-frame as the '11 story. It could have stopped there. There's something I liked about the symmetry of the two parts. But it still wasn't done because Some More Stuff still needed to happen.

So '13's segment is intended to bring this to a conclusion at last. But now I have another problem: this three-part thing was originally imagined as a sequel to the '09 book. But I have somehow gradually changed enough stuff about these people and their past that the two stories don't make a lot of sense back-to-back now, or maybe that they make just enough sense together that the discontinuities are annoying to me. The timeline is messed up. I wonder if I don't really care about this or if I should somehow retcon the original story to make it match the newer one. It probably doesn't matter except for the fact that they might both end up in print at some point (just because I might put a revision of the '09 thing in a collection that I am considering). I have written some other junk here and there, but it's all been more or less unfinished or un-revised because this one project still wants all the attention. So that's the one that's getting it in early 2014 during this free time that I imagine I am creating for myself through reforms in my work life. We'll see how that goes.
J and I returned Monday from four days in Curacao, an island of the former Netherlands Antilles (now an independent country within the Kingdom of the Netherlands). It's been eleven years since he and I vacationed anywhere very far away together. I want to make a few notes on what we saw and did there.

ARRIVAL, AIRPORT, TAXI: Airports stress me out generally, but as airports go, I like these small ones that are typical in the Caribbean and some places in Mexico. We'd hoped to exit the plane by stairs as we did many years ago in Mexico, but here they did have that exit tunnel thing like at most American airports. But the exit tunnel and the arrival/immigration/customs area was open to the air, not air-conditioned, kind of sultry because it was hot that day. We liked this, being immediately exposed to the climate.Read lots more... )
Feeling need to talk to my journal about random topics, no particular logic to it:

Jeffy and I are going to Curacao next Thursday. This is the first actual vacation we have taken since 2002 when we went to Mexico. Curacao was a somewhat last-minute choice. We'd been planning a trip to France, but it got all off the rails for reasons too tedious to recount. Basically, we procrastinated our planning too long, weren't going to meet J's requirements for that particular trip, decided not to spend the money if it wasn't going to be right. But I was still determined to go somewhere completely away from home. We'd heard of this former Dutch colony just a few miles off the shore of Venezuela but we knew nothing about it. Now we are very excited about it. We have a suite in the capital Willemstad, which town evidently looks like this:


I certainly didn't need a new one of these to start up just now, but that's the way it goes. This is the opening segment of what turns into a haunted house tale of sorts later on:

Mud, made of red clay and the inches of rain that had deluged the land for the previous two days, finally stopped the driver of the old truck that was to have conveyed me the last few klicks to the Sanitorium Melancthon. It was not that his tires were yet mired, but rather that he wished to avoid that hassle, which he saw coming too soon down a road the pavement of which was probably two centuries decayed and which had been getting gradually more so as we drove. You’ll need to finish on foot, sir, he said. I’m sorry, but I’ll go no further in this mess. I paid him the full fare, pulled on my rucksack and trudged forward between ruts full of black water. The rain didn’t fall hard, but it was insistent and a bit too cold for that hot season.Read more... )

The water dreams are back. In these dreams, I am usually driving somewhere that I don't want to go and I find that as I proceed the road that I am on is too close to edges of bodies of water or that there are vast expanses of water to either side, and eventually the road starts to get washed out and I am trapped in some hopelessly cut-off swampy or oceanic area with no possibility of going forward nor any chance of retreating the way I came. I have been bothered by these dreams for most of my adult life. I went for a while without remembering one, but they recur a lot lately. I don't like it at all. I hope that when I am in Curacao by the ocean and on the floating bridge and in the floating market and driving a rental car within view of the ocean that some switch will flip back off and get rid of these dreams for a while.

Another ongoing work-in-progress caused me to do some quick Googling to determine if I could easily get an answer as  to whether, in the real world, something could somehow change with the genetic information transmitted in a human male's sperm as to make it somehow not really his genetic info anymore but rather that of an exomorphic entity.Read more only for TMI... )
Jeffy and I don't usually revisit the Thanksgiving leftovers in any big way. Post-dinner on Thanksgiving night, we send as much stuff home with his Mom as possible and then I stand in the kitchen doing a triage, putting away what little we probably will use again, consigning scraps to the trash and then asking Jeff questions like: "Any chance at all that we would ever look at this again?" holding half a turkey wing or a giant spoon of cold mashed potatoes. Or, "Does this item have a future?" And he says, "Maybe in a week when I throw it away!" Et cetera. But this year, I carefully reserved more stuff than normal because I had a Friday night plan already in the works before the Thanksgiving cooking had even begun.

We made a sandwich using some turkey leftovers, stuffing leftovers and the batch of "Mama Stamberg's Cranberry Relish" that we never ended up using last night.

First, I mixed some stuffing in a bowl with some chopped scallion, a bit of Louisiana hot sauce, and an egg:


The scallions and hot sauce added some freshness and punch while the egg supplied some structural adhesion for the next stage: making this into patties for pan frying!


And after forming patties, I coated them with bread crumbs, which may seem odd for a product that is principally made of bread already. And which will later be placed between slices of bread. But the crumbs afford a bit of help for achieving a nice crispy finish...


Which afforded us a second chance to have some of those crispy top and edge bits of the stuffing that are generally a thing of the past after the initial T-giving night serving. I heated some olive oil in an iron skillet and browned the patties for several minutes on one side, carefully flipped them, and then moved them into the 400F oven for about 15 minutes. In the oven, they hung out next to some turkey leftovers which I put in a small skillet along with a scant amount of the leftover gravy, just to give it back some moisture. 


I wrapped the turkey pan in aluminum foil and heated it while the stuffing patties finished. Also, I placed four slices of wheat bread right on a rack in the oven and toasted them. When everything was hot and ready to go, I slathered all four slices of bread with the cranberry relish (more on that below), added a slice of cheese to each stuffing patty and built two of these sandwiches:


That relish is the famous recipe that Susan Stamberg works into NPR's Morning Edition broadcast somewhere every year before Thanksgiving, and it is unlike most any other cranberry sauce recipe in that it is a totally raw preparation of cranberries, sour cream, sugar, onion and horseradish. This makes it uniquely suited as a condiment for this sandwich, the perfect foil to the richness of the rest of the dish. It has a sharpness, acidity and pungency that cuts right through the leftover-breadiness and makes a sandwich that would otherwise be a Total Abomination into something just right for a lazy post-TG Friday night.
This was the menu...


We liked it a lot. As usual, I had a lot of fun with cooking all of it. But I am never all that excited about the actual eating of it all by the time we actually sit for dinner. Because then it's over. But we had a very nice time.

I actually have a leftovers plan in process for tomorrow night's dinner. As it turned it out we never used the Stamberg cranberry relish today because it didn't seem to fit in anywhere. But it's going to make the awesome sauce for some turkey/stuffing panini. 

melonThis is some real first-draft unedited business here, just a segment from my NaNoWriMo project that I came up with to tie into Thanksgiving. I submit it here in honor of the holiday, not because I think it was worth writing for any other reason. It is from the middle section of a trio of interconnected novellas, and so will make little to no sense to anyone in this stand-alone way. But it's got to do with dinner.

from The Curve and the Cairn

Lastain claimed never to have had in her entire life an actual Thanksgiving dinner. Her expression soured after she said this. She pursed her lips over the rim of her glass and sipped her drink. A-R told her that this was an absurd assertion: “Everybody in this country has at one time or another had a Thanksgiving dinner—even if it was a really shitty one. It’s embedded in our cultural DNA.”

            But Lastain persisted that her family had never honored the holiday properly, instead doing things like going to movies and eating popcorn, or running through fast food drive-thrus and eating in the car. A-R wondered if, during these times, she had been thankful for anything. Because, if so, then this too could have been a form of Thanksgiving dinner, albeit a shabby one. She said nothing at first, but peered at him darkly, sipping her drink. Then: “You have always been so snobbish about stuff like this, Arthur. Not everybody’s dad was a celebrity chef, you know. Hardly anyone has a kitchen this nice in their house!”

            “I’m not talking about the food.” A-R reddened, felt his ears get hot, and he looked inside the refrigerator. “I am talking about an unavoidable, deeply encoded cultural norm in America.”

            As if to defuse further clashes between A-R and Lastain, Haider interrupted with his assessment of the holiday and its fare: “Turkey, mashed potatoes, Stove Top Stuffing, cranberry sauce, green bean casserole and sweet potatoes with marshmallows on them.”

            “Barbarism,” muttered A-R, still examining the contents of the refrigerator. Lastain sighed loudly behind him.

            “And you watch football on TV.” Haider leaned back, ass on the countertop, satisfied. Case closed, he seemed to say.

            “Whatever.” A-R sighed and reached for a bottle of white wine. “You two are missing the point. Tomorrow night we will have Thanksgiving dinner together and I will show you how it’s properly done.” He looked at Lastain. “No snobbery, I promise!”

            “Arthur. It’s January.” Lastain pushed her glass forward, hopeful of a refill.

            “It doesn’t matter. Thanksgiving can happen any day of the year.”


            A-R wrote the menu with a chisel-tipped Sharpie on a sheet-pan sized piece of parchment:

TURKEY IN TWO STYLES w/natural pan gray





PUMPKIN PIE w/whipped sour cream

            Beneath this list, with a fine-point Sharpie, and in much smaller letters, he wrote his grocery list, checking the pantry as he went for items he might already have. When the list was finished, Hurricane jumped atop the steel island and examined it. “Coeurl,” he said. And, “Mew.”

            “Did I remember everything, kiddo?” A-R bent low to accept a nose-kiss from the cat. Hurricane emitted a loud purr, gazed at his human for a moment, and then leapt away, back about his day’s business. A-R added one more item to the list: cat food. Then he took a picture of the list with his iPhone, grabbed keys and left for the store.

            He decided to try the new supermarket that had recently opened on the former site of a desolated strip mall. It was called Circus of Foods, and rainbow flags flew gaudily, gleefully from its concrete ramparts. Having been raised by two dads, A-R could not see a rainbow-anything without thinking GAAAAYYY. But he doubted that this was likely the store’s proprietor’s intent.

            He passed through the broad entrance, grabbed a cart and turned left into the large produce section. Assessing it’s vastness and variety, he made a mental note to send Chris here—if Chris ever returned from Wisconsin. Celery, carrots, celeriac, garlic, parsley, chives, A-R said to himself, trying to tick off as much of the vegetal section of his list as possible before resorting to looking at his phone image of it.

            A big bin caught his eye. It was heaped with a large red-purple fruit with bright green and yellow fibers growing wildly from its skin. He had never seen anything like it. He picked one up. It was heavy for its size, fist-sized and cool. “It’s fantastic, isn’t it?” said someone. He looked to his right. A boy in the store’s uniform stood there, moving more of the fruits from a big box into the bin. The kid’s blue shirt collar splayed open to expose a necklace: steel charms in the shape of curvy tentacles hung from a knotted leather strap. Cult Cthulhu, A-R thought. But said, “What are they?”

            “They’re called kudzu fruit,” said the kid. He grinned. “They’re delicious!”

            Not on the menu: A-R took two anyway.

            Chopping an onion:

            Arthur-Rimbaud did it first, shedding its skin, halving it from root to stem, sweeping its ends to the side. He laid one half on its flat cut surface and quickly sliced through it in many close cuts perpendicular to where the root had been. Then he turned the thing slightly widdershins and sliced again, rendering the half to tiny dice. “Like this,” he said to Haider.

            Haider had just asked how properly to dice an onion, professing that he’d attempted it and occasionally seen it on a TV show, but had fallen short in accomplishing the task himself. “I’ll teach you,” A-R said, “by making you do it yourself.”

            Lastain sighed. “Oh Jesus Christ,” she muttered.

            A-R glanced at her, said, “We need a ton of onions anyway.” He pulled from the basket another onion “Here,” he said, setting it upon the board, handing Haider from across the steel prep island the ceramic knife, handle-first. “I will talk you through it.”

            “You did that so fast,” said Haider.

            A-R wondered, “Are you left-handed or right-handed?”

            Haider pursed his lips, nodded slowly. “It kind of depends. I’m kind of bi.”

            Lastain snorted behind A-R.

            “OK,” A-R said, “let’s say you were hacking to death a zombie during combat in Ruhrapenthe, in which hand would you be holding your war ax or machete?”

            “The right,” said Haider, no hesitation. He grabbed the onion.

            “Hold it against the board,” A-R said, “on its side. Yes, like that.” He watched Haider position the knife for the first cut. “Now, cut. One slice. Take off that end.”

            “And again. The other end. As close as you can to that root.”

            Haider did as he was told. Next, A-R showed him how to make a shallow cut through the skin from end to end and then peel away the papery layer.

            “I know how to do that, dude,” Haider said, gazing at his peeled onion. “But what I don’t get is how you get it diced without chopping it all to fuck.”

            “You’re making a big mistake,” Lastain said, rather dryly. “Letting Arthur think that he knows something that you don’t.”

            “Ignore her. Listen to me.” A-R grinned at Haider and was surprised that he smiled back. “Now do what I am doing.” A-R grabbed the remaining intact half from his onion and pretended that he had a knife in his hand. He positioned the end of its imaginary blade against the onion’s white flesh. “You put the tip roughly here, just short of the end of the onion, and make one straight slice downward. And then again, as close as you can to the first cut. And so on, et cetera.”

            Haider paused for a second, considered what he had seen, and then botched it entirely by making his first cut in exactly the wrong direction, making half-rings fall from his onion half.

            “OK. Stop.” A-R stepped around the end of the island to Haider’s side. “Don’t freak out. Because I am going to touch you, bro. Don’t go all PTSD cyborg killer on my ass.”

            Haider gazed down at A-R for a moment, as if deciding how to answer that. He laughed. “It’s cool, dude.”

            “It’s like trying to tie someone else’s tie,” A-R explained. “You pretty much have to be standing behind him.”

            Haider frowned.

            “But,” A-R said, “you are enormous, like a furless Chewbacca. So I can’t reach around you from behind and still see what I’m doing. But I can kind of get beside you.” A-R sidled close to Haider, extended an arm in front on him and grasped his knife hand. He took Haider’s other hand with his own left and moved it into place, fingertips against the onion. “Here is where you make the first cut,” he said, carefully positioning Haider’s right hand with his own. “And now. Slice.” Slowly, they did it together.

            Lastain leaned forward, opposite them. “You boys are so fuckin’ sexy right now,” she said. “If you accidentally start making out, I may just wet myself.”

            “Silence, Satan!” A-R hissed. He and Haider made four more cuts together and then A-R released his grip. “Continue, just like that. Try to make each cut as close as you can to the last.”

            Once the final slice was complete, A-R told him to turn the onion half so that he could slice it again, this time perpendicular to the previous set of cuts. “As if you had sliced a zombie from head to toe and then needed to do it again from shoulder to shoulder and hip to hip, just to make sure it was good and really dead.”

            Suddenly confident, Haider did as directed and laid the onion out in fine dice.


            The turkey:

            “Doesn’t that turkey,” said Lastain, “take like a thousand hours to bake?”

            “Don't you just stick it in the oven and wait forever?” said Haider.

            “No,” said A-R to Lastain. “Because we’re going to spatchcock it. And no,” he said to Haider, “because we're going to spatchcock it.”

            That’s a preparation, A-R explained, where you cut the bird from throat to ass along its backbone and then pull out the backbone completely, and then flatten the beast for roasting. “But I take it a step further,” he said, tearing through that backbone with a great crunching, once and then again. He cast the long chunk of bony carcass into a steel bowl next to his cutting board. “Because I am also going to completely detach the leg quarters from the breast section.”

            Haider gazed at the bird. Lastain refilled her wine glass.

            “That’s the dark meat,” A-R clarified. “The part that Americans have been conditioned to despise but which is actually the best part, as soon you will learn.” He flipped the breast chunk over, cavity up. “I am also going to knock off these wing tips—” more crunching—“and very carefully take out the rib cage and the entire keel bone.” Haider leaned in closer, more interested.

            “It's like busting down a zombie, isn’t it?”

            “Actually,” Haider said, “it kind of is!” He looked more closely, watching A-R carefully pare the breast meat loose from its bony superstructure. “Except I’d just take that knife and whack the fucker straight through the middle of that sternum or whatever it is.”

            “Perhaps, but in this case I am trying to keep the whole breast-slash-wing section in one piece, just minus most if its skeleton.”

            Lastain wondered why.

            “So that we can still have a brief Norman Rockwell moment,” said A-R, “with something that vaguely looks like a classic intact Thanksgiving turkey out of a vintage Good Housekeeping mag. Before we eat the fuck out of it.”

            This explanation struck everyone as very funny for some reason, and they paused in the food prep for a bout of laughing, followed by a cigarette break. After a few minutes, after Lastain had stubbed out her smoke, she grasped A-R’s shoulder and said, “Though I have been giving you a hard time ever since you suggested this, I think I actually get what you are doing. What you really mean with your cornball spirit of Thanksgiving nonsense.” She leaned forward and kissed him on the forehead. “So, really, thank you for doing this with us today. It is actually, somehow, fun.”

            Gently stunned, Arthur-Rimbaud stepped back. “But we have barely started cooking. And we have not eaten yet.”

            “But that’s not really the point, is it?” she said.

            A-R gazed at Lastain, not sure how to answer.

            Behind him, Haider examined the dissected turkey. “So what’s next?” he said.

Typically I don't like to do too much food prep in advance of Thanksgiving Day itself, preferring to save the fun of it for that day, my favorite holiday and the one day of the year that I can consistently rely upon for being free of day-jobbery. But this evening, Jeffy and I took care of a few things best done ahead, a couple of the more tedious projects that are less fun to do tomorrow. He made a pie this afternoon, a task we are both glad is done already.

Also, he made the doughs for the blue cheese-almond and parmesan-rosemary crackers that we will bake tomorrow. Over the last few years, we have had a habit of making these crackers to support crab dip--a snack for the early afternoon while the main bulk of cooking and socializing is going on. We have made the blue cheese item several times before, but the other one is new. Jeff used some of our fresh rosemary which is still flourishing out on the deck in the autumnal remains of our summer garden. The crackers now rest in the forms of logs of dough, chilling next to the chocolate black-bottom pie until tomorrow morning when we will slice and bake them.

And I went ahead did the bird butchery, spatchcocking the turkey to ready it for a preparation that I will detail tomorrow. Here it is whole:


And here it is again:


What I have done is removed the back bone, separated the leg quarters from the body, and completely boned the breast (but leaving the wings attached), by cutting out the ribs and wish bone and carefully removing the entire breast bone. In this way, the breast pieces will roast in an almost flat posture. And the leg quarters will get an entirely separate preparation, almost as if the two halves of the bird are different dishes entirely (which they really are, because the two colors of meat call for different sorts of attention to be at their best). That container on the counter behind the turkey contains the bones that I removed along with the neck and the giblets. Tomorrow morning all of this, along with some chunky pieces of onion, carrot and celery and some whole cloves of garlic, will be seasoned liberally with salt, pepper and thyme, glossed with olive oil and roasted in the oven until browned. Then it all gets moved to the stock pot where it will simmer for several hours. The resulting stock later is then used in several places: gravy, moisture for the dressing, and sometimes in the braising of vegetables if we are making something like Brussels sprouts.

Tomorrow I will, as usual, tweet and Facebook our progress, and return here with an assessment of the whole affair. HTG2012 all y'all.
relish-58af5b7e704393e874969428d994a6a2ce4b196e-s2Since the founding of NPR in the early 1970s, correspondent and occasional Weekend Edition host Susan Stamberg traditionally inserts somewhere into the programming just prior to Thanksgiving the recipe for her mother-in-law's cranberry relish, the one famous for its punch of horseradish, its bright pink color and the odd step of making it the day before and freezing it. As the holiday nears, listeners of Morning Edition can expect at any time this recipe to appear. This year, it was inserted into a little skit with Lynne Rosetto Kasper (The Splendid Table) based on her show's "Stump the Cook" segment. 

But just as surely as NPR listeners can expect the cranberry relish to appear annually somewhere during Morning Edition, so too can readers of the NPR website expect to see sour comments about it from crabby people who can't abide a long-running joke. Such as Bruce Boyd, who said: "Yeah, my wife made the cranberry recipe a few years ago and took it to work for their annual pre-Thanksgiving feast... nobody touched it and she had to throw it all out. Enough of this annual running gag already."  And Cesar Zalamero who said, "Ms. Stamberg never lists the most important ingredients of all: Ham and self-indulgence."

This is why I need to remember to never read comments on stuff. But I could hardly help myself because I could feel it in my bones that there must, of trollish necessity, be someone who just can't refrain from bagging on a harmless, amusing thing. Well I got some news for you, dudes: the cranberry relish is actually totally delicious (though I don't think the freezing step is necessary) and if no one was willing to taste it at your house, then you got a houseful of childishly picky people with no manners who haven't heard that it is customary to graciously sample what has been prepared by your host for dinner. This custom generally causes people to discover--even against their will--that they actually like more kinds of food that they thought they did. 

But if you just don't like Mama Stamberg's recipe, how about you just ignore it next year? Because it will re-appear and it will be, for me, the annual reminder that my favorite holiday is just a few days away and it's time to plan the menu.

[I will be posting here later in the week our Thanksgiving dishes, and live-Tweeting and Facebooking our preparations on Thursday morning.]
cairnimThough November 12 is a hopelessly late date to start this year's participation in National Novel Writing Month, I've decided to do it anyway. I am going to give myself a whopping 22,000-word head start by incorporating an already-written novella into the plan...but I won't count that toward my 50K to "win." So what's the point of this massive cheat, then, you may wonder? It's to motivate me to finish a much larger story, which I will take to 75K before declaring NaNo victory, assuming I make it to that threshold by end of the month. But if I do not log 50K in new words before the end of the month, then I will not claim my winner badge (but I still did the obligatory fake cover!).

This is the plan: I will put together a triptych of inter-related novellas involving the same characters. The first part of it will be the already-written "Love Me, He Said, and Turned Away Forever," most of which I posted on this journal in 2011. The second section will be titled "Taste the Blood of Lastain" and will focus on the character Arthur-Rimbaud who was only seen in Skype calls during the first section, and it will cover what he was up to while his counterpart in the other section was having bizarre misadventures. And then the third segment, titled "The Cairn and the Curve",  will involve the reunion of the protags from parts one and two and their confrontation with GREAT DRAMA! And HORROR!

This mostly-new work involves a group of characters that I have been tormenting since my 2009 (winner!) NaNo project The Days of the Dust and the Diane Rehm Show, and which I revisited in an alternate universe kind of way in the short story "The Cairn" (published in Library of the Living Dead's 2010 anthology Zombiality: A Queer Bent on the Undead). But in this new tale of their lives, they struggle in yet another vaguely Lovecraftian alternate universe where Cthulhu cultists are as ordinary as Mormon missionaries and climate change isn't any longer a subject of politics because it's become the giant freaky-deaky regular fact of everyday life.

And there will be zeppelins again, because airplanes can't navigate the Dust.

I've been off from work for a week, and that's the first time that's happened in years. Everyone seemed surprised/disappointed that Jeff and I didn't have any kind of trip somewhere planned and that I just stayed home all week. But let me tell ya: it is really nice just getting to stay home and not have to do much in particular. On the other hand, I am fairly twitchy by nature and seem to always harbor a feeling that I need to be getting something constructive done all the time (which has been a useful trait in my job). For my days off this week, I'd imagined that I was going to complete a lot of writing. I didn't do anywhere near as much as I'd have liked, but I still did get a lot of it done, and I know where I am going with a couple unfinished projects. Some random features of the week off:

--I took the Cube in for an oil change. It wasn't as painful as I thought it would be, and I while I waited in the car place's rather comfy waiting room, I re-read a story called "Tattooed Love Boys," which I think is my favorite entry in Alex Jeffers' collection You Will Meet a Stranger Far From Home. That book also contains two stories of which I was the original publisher in issues of M-Brane SF.

--We received from Ikea two new couches. They arrived in eight boxes and took much of the afternoon for us to assemble them (and get rid of our old furniture--thanks, Craigslist hoarders!). This was a tough project, but we are very happy with the result. We have never had comfortable living room furniture, and the new couches--two identical items by the name "Karlstad"--are way comfie. We love them. 

--J and I went shopping for throw pillows for the new couches. On the same trip, I bought a case of cheap but very palatable wine at Trader Joe's and have been imbibing liberally of it since.

--Earlier in the week, J and I stocked up some staples at Viviano's, the Italian grocery in the adjacent neighborhood. There I found a new San Pellegrino drink, Pompelmo (grapefruit). It is wonderful! I have drunk three of them so far just as they are, but I suspect it would be a fine mixer with vodka or tequila. 

--At our regular grocery store, I saw in the same visit two attractive lads who have worked there for a while, but never seem to be there at the same time. One is a bagger and the other a stocker in the produce department. Seeing them at once made me wish that they were well-known characters about whom I could write some "slash" fiction. I could still do it, but no one would know who they are. Such a shame. Maybe I can imbue them with supernatural powers, turn them into characters, and then cause them to have their ways with one another. 

--Last night I spent a few minutes on Twitter attacking Congressman Todd Akin (Assbag-MO) who is now our state's rightwing candidate for the US Senate. There are douchebags, and political pieces of shit, and rightwing toads...and then there is Todd Akin. This guy is a card-carrying disaster. He believes that student loans shouldn't exist. He wants the minimum wage abolished. Ditto Social Security and Medicare. No more Federal investments in energy or education. Resignation from the United Nations. The kind of troll that wouldn't have been taken seriously in Senate-level politics even 15 years ago, he is also one of the most homophobic members of Congress, in the same league as Bachmann and King. So unhappy was he with the repeal of DADT, he came up with a new bill to make it legal for service members who don't like fags to bully and abuse their gay comrades. That's how stupid and mean this creep is. Akin's Twitter handle is @ToddAkin, and I encourage tweeps to use it to attack him savagely, with great scorn and bile, from now until Election Day. 

--I remembered once again that spending random time, with no particular point or purpose, with Jeffy is more satisfying than anything "constructive" I could have been doing during my days off, and I am glad that I found a lot of that time this week. 

I go back to work tomorrow, but only for a half-day at most. Most everyone else will be off, so I can get some work done in the early hours and be gone by noon. It's all pretty nice lately.

I found some evidence of my teenage activities (which pre-dated a bit my use of the internet) on a wiki site called Fanlore, a neat repository of info that I'd never seen before.

For a couple of years when I was in high school, I published a monthly Star Trek fanzine called The Alternative Warp, (which has entry here at Fanlore.) In some ways, it's a bit of an embarrassment because there wasn't much to recommend it as far as the quality of its content, but for me and my co-editor and our handful of other contributors (all of us being 14 and 15 years old at the time), it was still a pretty solid effort: monthly publication schedule for almost two years, full-size pages, typical issue-length of 32 or more pages, serious effort at making it look decent (in the pre-computer age, yo), cover artwork of no worse quality than the writing inside. It was a mix of fiction, non-fiction, letters, news items, opinion pieces and other random stuff. It fit well with my general interest in writing and my student journalism activities, and it was good fun for those last couple years of teen-hood right before having a driver license and a car opened up a world of other stuff to do at night.

Much of the article about it on the Fanlore site is text copied from a post that I made on the M-Brane SF site on the occasion of Trek's 44th anniversary when I was feeling old and remembering The Alternative Warp #4, our big 20th anniversary extravaganza (kudos to whomever found that post, it being nearly as obscure as its ancient subject matter!). It's kind of exciting in a dorky way to see it referenced anywhere at all. None of its content ever existed in an electronic form, and whatever extant print copies of it may remain on Earth are surely brittle and warped with age, pages probably stuck one to the other by toner decay, so it's kind of cool to know that something I did way back then is noted in the big online record of Stuff That Happened even if the work itself doesn't survive.

But evidently a couple issues are still to be found in "Box 120" of something called the Ming Wathne Fanzine Archives Collection at the University of Iowa. Evidently Ms. Wathne amassed a vast collection of fanzines in numerous media properties and bequeathed the entire collection to the University. According to the catalog, in Box 120 are issues #13 and #14 of my zine and according to the image credit on the Fanlore page, it is from those copies that the images of those covers were grabbed. #13's cover is copied here. Until today, I had not seen it in over 20 years! I can still interpret the headlines: "New Trek cast" refers to the announcement of the actors cast for Star Trek: The Next Generation, which would start its first season a couple months later; "Awards progress" has to do with a (largely fraudulent) poll that we were running to designate best-ofs in fiction etc. from the zine's first year; "Stamp drive" refers to a rather extensive piece that I researched on an effort by some über-fans (but we didn't say über back than) to get the post office to issue a Star Trek commemorative stamp (which effort also scored me the awesome prize of a handwritten note from Isaac Asimov stating that he didn't know anything about the stamp campaign); and "Brazil review" is there because I'd recently seen the Gilliam film, was obsessed with it, was obsessed with making other people see it, and I wrote a little article about it.

This cover art itself was source of mild controversy at the time, but I assume it won't cramp anyone's style all these years later. It was drawn by an artist named C. Kyle (am about 99% sure that C. stands for Christine). We ran this Kirk cover, and also a Spock cover and a McCoy cover, all drawn by Kyle, in three consecutive months (the McCoy image can be seen on the Fanlore page). After we had done so, we received a gently scolding letter from the late Bill Hupe, who was a huge publisher and re-publisher of fanzines. Hupe was a big deal. We called him a "fanzine mogul" and we dreamed that he would for some reason "buy us out." But he was a subscriber to my zine, and even purchased from us random, stupid merch that we sold to raise extra money (homemade tribbles, for example--which got us another cease-and-desist, by the way, from David Gerrold's assistant). Evidently these Kyle covers had previously appeared in some of Hupe's publications and we ran them without proper attribution. Which was really more the artist's fault than ours for not mentioning that they were not previously unpublished. We just published pretty much anything anybody sent us. But I didn't want Hupe angry with me, so I replied with an apology and ran a statement in a subsequent issue properly crediting the items. And here it is again!
I haven't been maintaining my pointless journal lately, and it's been driving me crazy. My work life the past few months has been so intense that I have had no time for much of anything. But that's settling a bit--we're entering a mid-season mitigation of insanity--and I am done with regular M-Brane tasks for a while, and I have been carving out a bit of normalcy. Which should really include babbling in this journal and then advertising that I have done so. Just like in the old days. For tonight's post, I have no particular topic other than recapping what's been on my mind outside of work lately.

Reading Books!: Anyone who knows me very well might be stunned to learn that in the year 2012, which is nearly half-over-with, I have read exactly ONE book plus 206 pages of second one (whilst in 2009, for example, I think I tore through about 100 titles). But what a wonderful, huge, weird and totally crazy long-ass book that one was: Haruki Murakami's 1Q84. Clocking in at nearly a thousand pages, this giant hardback city of weirdness, given to me by Jeff for X-mas, engrossed me for months. In usually very short installments. I actually read most of its bulk on laundry mornings at the laundromat. And then I'd struggle to return to it at night on the couch after work. But inevitably doze off from exhaustion, sometimes after having read as little as a single new sentence. At this pace of reading such a long book, in sessions of as little as 30 seconds at a time, it's not too hard to figure out why it took me so long to get done with it. Weird fact: just a few days after I finally finished it, it developed that Jeff's mom had heard about the book from one of her friends (who had listened to an audio book of it, which must have taken about six months to listen to) and so she wanted to read it herself. Wouldn't think it would be her thing. But she borrowed my copy. Haven't heard back yet on how it's going.

Now I am 206 pages into another thick read, Samuel Delany's long-awaited Through the Valley of the Nest of Spiders, and I have somehow managed that number of pages in just a few days. Yesterday I glanced over at Jo Walton's review of it on and I felt that I share some of the  reviewer's sentiments: it's really hard to enjoy it at first (Christopher is not at all into the lead character's obsession with nose-picking and snot-eating!), but then it sets its hooks in. I think I am going to love it, even though I occasionally have to avert my eyes a bit at an especially squicky passage. Before I glance back it at it and really read it anyway. Delany's a favorite author for me and I love having this thick new volume. For someone who hasn't read Delany before, however, and wants a sense of his whole body of work, this may not be the book to start with. It revisits a lot of the sex aesthetic of a much earlier work, Hogg, and like that earlier work, fuses "Literature" with some of the dirtiest (literally) hardcore pornography that I can recall ever having read. But this new book is not the gruesome and nearly altogether hopeless horror story that Hogg is. It seems like it's coming from a much brighter place. And it's got a character that I am falling in bookworld-love with, its young protagonist Eric who gets more awesome chapter-by-chapter, even when he is making boneheaded decisions (please finish high school, honey!). But then I consider his rationale, and I wonder who I am to say he's not making a good choice. He's going to be another Delany character that lingers with me for a long time after I have finished reading the book. As the story opens, he seems to be in a role somewhat analogous to that of silent Cocksucker in Hogg but with much more free will, and not nearly so much the receptacle and void of corruption that Hogg's lead was. But as the story has gone on, Eric has turned into something else entirely. He is going to stay with me like the fractured Kid and  the sweet Denny from Dhalgren, and the other very scary Denny from Hogg, and Rat Korga from Stars in My Pocket Like Grain of Sand, and Comet Jo from Empire Star. I'll report back on this book later.

Other Junk!:

1) I was greatly victorious at the June installment of the monthly wine dinner that I chef at the Botanical Garden. It was themed to go along with the Chinese Lanterns Festival in progress there now (San Francisco-accented Chinese food with Napa wines). Everything about it--the specific venue within the Garden, my menu, the makeshift kitchen, etc.--conspired against success, but we totally dominated. It was hard as hell, but when it's that difficult and it all goes perfectly, then that's what constitutes triumph.

2) I am looking ahead with some dread at Jeff's impending vacation to New Mexico to visit a friend. I can't go with him due to work this summer, and I just realized that I have never once spent more than a couple hours at a time alone in our current home and have a hard time imagining its emptiness when he is not here for days. It's gonna freak the cats.

3) Of late, I find it difficult to get out of my head Justin Bieber's "Boyfriend" song. Once any portion of it is heard, it replays in the background of my mind for a long time. What's annoying about this is that I probably would never have been aware of this tune were it not for the fact that the staff in my production kitchen at work constantly listens to a top-hits pop station on radio (later in the morning after they rebel against my selection of the local NPR affiliate) that only has eight or ten songs in its rotation, and one of them lately is this insidious Justin Bieber song. But what's really kind of fucked-up about the whole situation is that I don't really mind! I actually totally love this song! I think I am going to spread the contagion even further now:

4) An upside to having come down with the above-described affliction: I recently had a dream that Bieber was cast as Feyd-Rautha in a new Dune film, and in the dream context this seemed like a totally awesome idea. It still kinda does. Maybe I am still dreaming.

5) Got some new writing done yesterday, about 2000 words of it. This is best one-day achievement in many months. 
It's become something of a pet peeve with me when I hear people--usually ones who don't seem that familiar with how searching the web for info using Google actually works or assume that Google "knows" everything--discuss "Googling" either themselves or other regular everyday people that they know and suggesting that this is a surefire, easy way to instantly turn up a heaping treasure trove of data on literally anyone. I was reminded of it again yesterday when I was listening to a segment of The Moth radio show where someone was talking about the all-powerfulness of the Google search and how she was obsessively digging dirt on a personal enemy and on herself in a really successful way. Her story was amusing, but it just didn't ring true. Because if you are not publicly very well known, and unless you have a really uncommon name, just entering a name into a Google search and easily finding much about the actual person you are searching for is a real hit-or-miss proposition. You are not going to learn everything on Earth about your upcoming blind date (to invoke a cliche) by doing this unless your date is quite well known and has left a big online presence, or you just get lucky. 

My little, non-scientific example: For a regular civilian of no particular note or importance, I have left quite a lot of detritus by and about myself on the web, associated with my real name, as a result of my publishing activities, my frequent blogging here and elsewhere, my thousands of Twitter updates, etc. So I decided I would perform a search for myself on Google using only one parameter, my name, Christopher Fletcher. My name is extremely common, and as expected, a whole boatload of other Christophers Fletcher are referenced in the first ten pages of search results (I decided arbitrarily that ten pages is as deep as anyone wants to go unless they have a lot of time to waste). So, probably because of the size of my online presence, I do manage to appear near the bottom of page one of this search, a hit on my M-Brane SF profile page. Page 2 contains a link to my M-Brane Press page. Pages 3 and 4 don't hit on me at all. Page 5 picks up my book The Aether Age on Amazon. Page 6, nothing; page 7 nothing. Page 8 has another hit on Aether Age, this time on Goodreads. Page 9, nothing; and Page 10, another Amazon hit, this time for Cesar Torres' book The 12 Burning Wheels that I published. And that's it, and notice that every one of these has to do with M-Brane and my books, nothing at all personally about me.

I flipped it over to image search, still with only my name as the search term. In images, I don't show up until page 2, and both are book covers from things I was involved in. Other page 2 images include a cute, groovy-looking 17-year-old kid who shares my name, and a gay porn dude whose image takes one to some kind of slash fiction site (so we're getting closer, yo!). An actual pic of me appears on page 3 from one of my M-Brane sites. After that, I don't actually show up again in images except for a few more book and mag covers. There's a couple more porny dudes, a Chris Fletcher who looks a lot like Mark Zuckerberg, and another one who looks a bit like an unhappy Justin Bieber. But none of me.

So you might rightly say that this doesn't prove much since if someone wanted to dig dirt on me, they would put more into their search other than my name. True, but I was having a hard time doing that myself without biasing it too much the other way: getting more specific than someone who doesn't know me well probably could. So I re-ran the search adding one term to my name: "gay." This gets a bit closer. Page one's web results feature me 4 times...but, again, they all have to do with my mag and book publishing activities. And then over the next nine pages, there a few more similar hits. But again, nothing about me, the person. If I had never become a small press publisher, I suspect that it would be well nigh impossible to find any sign of me anywhere by way of a Google search. (By the way, the image search adding the "gay" parameter, isn't hugely different than without it other than my M-Brane profile pic moves up from page 3 to page 2, and all the porn boys move higher as well). (Another "by the way": if one subs "queer" for "gay," then the results change a lot: page one of web results is all about my book Things We Are Not, and the first couple pages of image results are all me and Things We Are Not). 

I will occasionally recheck these results because it has come to my attention that a scurrilous and wholly vicious falsehood about me--concocted by a villain!--has appeared online! I will not point anyone to it. I am convinced that no one can find it without inside information. We'll see if the mighty Google ever trowels it up!
1. My boyfriend and I passed the 10-year point in our relationship a few months ago. The one and only time we ever commemorated Valentine's Day in the way that our straight counterparts are expected to do was on our first V-Day together, and that only happened because I was being a dick about things, letting work get in the way of personal considerations, and so on. So the bf made a big point out of it, made me feel bad that I was late getting to his house to make dinner, acted like he wanted to call the whole thing off, and so on. It all turned out well by the end of that night, and we have never since "celebrated" this date and have generally considered that to be one of the few benefits of our status, that we are exempt from such commercially-mandated behaviors as buying cards, candies, flowers and other such nonsense on February 14. This morning on NPR's Morning Edition, I heard a short segment anticipating how possibly very soon even Hallmark, the staid greeting card creator of the entire holiday (in alliance with chocolate-industrial sexist complex), might one year soon start having a line LGBT Valentine's Day cards. While I believe that my people deserve to be able to do all the same things our str8 counterparts get to do--even give each other sappy Hallmark cards--I sure don't plan to ever buy any of them myself, and J would probably puke if I ever gave him one. 

2. It strikes me as criminally stupid that grade school-age children are made to participate in V-Day activities. Does this still go on? Or is that a thing of the past, dead with my generation? I hope so. I was reminded of this by one of my Twitter pals who recalled how mortifying and miserable it was to receive Valentine cards from girls who clearly wanted nothing to do with him. I had this same experience. I specifically remember this ordeal from third grade, in Mrs. Martin's classroom, because a couple of the kids specifically refused to give certain classmates cards (it was required that every kid give every other kid a card). And it was a big fucking ugly scene with shouting and tears. Here's the thing: Valentine's Day is supposedly a day about "romance"--by which they might mean "fucking"--and therefore is probably not age-appropriate for 8-year-olds. Mrs. Martin, though, laid down the Valentine's Day Law on us 8-year-olds, and soon enough the hold-outs handed over cards to the reject kids, me included. [An aside, this same Mrs. Martin--her real name, she's dead, she won't care--also made my perceived queerness a focus of lengthy class discussion one day and decreed that henceforth I was to play kickball at recess like a proper boy, and then subjected me to further sanctions when that did not pan you might imagine that I harbor a bit of resentment from that year.]

3. If you are in love, newly in love, or oldly in love, or just plain comfortable in love, and if it makes you happy to celebrate this heart day with all its trappings, then do please enjoy it (I'm not that big a jerk!).

I said in a recent post that I was getting through even this especially snow-heavy winter without too much in the way of my usual seasonal depressive symptoms, but...y'all, this is getting frakking stupid! We have had a serious winter weather event weekly since Thanksgiving and now they say that we will experience here in St. Louis, over the next three days, a compound of winter shit that will rival the infamous Big Snow of 1982. It will begin tomorrow with as much as an inch of ice being laid over the city by freezing rain, to be followed by up to a foot of snow, and then high winds and severe cold. Oh yeah, and outré weather conditions like "thunder snow" and "thunder sleet" as well. Now they're just making shit up!

Anyway, an ice storm of such cinematic proportions means massive, widespread power outages. In 2006, a similar storm left people without electricity for over a week. J and I were spared the loss of power in our home, though our restaurant was knocked out for about 36 hours (we saved perishable food in our powerless refrigerators and freezers by simply opening the doors to the outside and chilling the entire interior of the place to 30F degrees). So, will we luck out this time and keep our home lighted and warm? And even if we do, will the cable (internet and TV) be working? If I do not post here or on Twitter or Facebook sometime during the evening hours Tuesday US Central Time, it probably means that we are blacked out and that I am really cranky.

One last thing, to any local area peeps and tweeps who live to bitch about the heat in the summer: suck it hard.

[Note to self: Top priority Monday morning--stock more booze!]

Home again

Jan. 10th, 2011 05:41 pm
mbranesf: (Default)
I've returned from my trip to Wisconsin to visit family. I don't like road trips that much, I like them in winter even less, and I love being back home now. That being said, I am glad I made the trip up there, but these infrequent visits to the place of my birth always have a uncomfortable sense of obligation about them, and an emotional unease that should not still persist at this point in my life. The major features of the trip:

Driving for seven hours: Not a fan. I don't mind it so much if I can listen to an NPR affiliate on the radio the whole day (I lack things like XM radio or the ability to play podcasts on the car stereo), but this was thwarted during a long stretch of central Illinois (the state that lies between St. Louis and Wisconsin) where the affiliate station plays nothing but classical music in between the hourly news updates. Not to knock classical music or its listeners...but damn. 

Winter: Totally frakking sick of it. It came on brutally this year and does not improve, and it's only January 10. In Wisconsin, it's generally about twenty degrees colder than it is here. The temperature was 2 degrees Fahrenheit when I left this morning. 2! I was told years ago that I have seasonal affective disorder, though this was not properly diagnosed and I doubt. It is true, however, that each year I never really reconcile with the cold season, but my level of unhappiness with it seems tied more to my level of happiness over other things. This year it's actually not bothering me as much as it might if I weren't as happy as I am with most non-weather-related things. 

Family: It was good to see my dad, and that was the main point of the trip. It remains, however, a somewhat awkward exercise with long stretches where it feels like we really don't know what to say to each other. This has always been the case. I wish it were not. I promised myself that I would actively try to make this visit different and better in that regard. I didn't. I spent some percentage of the time there wishing I was back home, which makes me feel bad because I know he really liked having me there and would have been happy if I'd stayed longer. But still, the awkwardness, the poor communication. I saw my mom and her husband as well, which was also nice for the fairly short period of the meeting. She's a great and well-meaning person in many ways, but she is getting to be a real crackpot politically. She has long been a conservative with whom I disagree on many things (I wrote about this in a dream journal post a few months ago after I dreamt that she was running for governor and I decided to publicly oppose her candidacy). But it used to be possible to talk over most things in a reasonable way. But now she is becoming addled by conspiracy talk on TV and Tea Party-ism. She states things as facts that are just factually untrue and very easy to debunk with almost no effort. It worries me a bit. A lot of her current world view is couched in bigotry, too. It's a bigotry of a very particular and insidious kind displayed by white midwesterners who don't live near any non-whites. While she'd never use a harsh racial epithet or state directly a prejudice, she will ascribe characteristics to whole groups of people based on actions of one of them. If a black person or a Hispanic person or a gay person does something she doesn't like, then their bad behavior is somehow related to that person being black or Hispanic or gay. So when a white str8 person does something bad? Nothing to do with race at all, of course. I wonder what this will be like when she gets really old. Speaking of getting really old, I paid three visits to my grandmother who has lived in a nursing home for about three years after grandpa died. I was very close to her during my childhood, having spent a great deal of time at her house. She's 93 years old, and is in reasonably decent health. She lives in a room and passes her time much as she used to with reading and knitting and half-watching TV, and says she is quite content with it all. But it's not easy for me to see her now because it's obvious that her memory has severely declined. She does not have strong symptoms (nor a diagnosis of) of Alzheimer's or other dementia. I know these conditions well from my couple of years in working in an assisted living facility for people with these diseases, and she is not yet in that kind of state. But her short-term recollection is very degraded. It's best to bring up topics and thereby direct the conversation a bit because if she is left to do that herself, then she tends to return to the same anecdotes again and again or ask questions that I just answered a couple minutes earlier. Her older memories are still very good, but she will rehash stories from as long ago as eighty years as if they are new to whomever is listening, and occasionally I get the feeling that she thinks the events she is recounting are a lot more recent than they are. She remembered my ex-wife, from whom I've been split for over a decade, and thought that I was still with her last time she saw me. She twice told the story of how she once had to collect her mother from a train station in a distant town when her mom came back from a long trip to Canada. Dad pointed out to her that this event was over 60 years ago and she seemed to doubt that. It seems like a real rip-off to make it such an old age but then lose so much as far as one's mental functioning. But she seems happy and is being well cared for both by the facility in which she lives and my dad who visits her every single day.

Home: I'm so happy to be back with J and my kitties.
End of the year is a logical time to review one's status, either to identify things that point toward a decent next year or suggest that much improvement is needed. In no particular order, these were the major features of my year 2010:

Professional: In May of this year, I returned to a proper day-job as a working culinarian after years spent in the Exile. This has made all the difference as far as the management of the household economy and my general attitude on the ongoing, intractable need to work for a living. I owe this turn of good fortune to a very dear friend. Since I don't talk specifically about the day job here, and because I do not want to embarrass anyone, I will not mention him by name here. But good friends are things to be thankful for even more so this year than most. 

Homelife: We returned from the Exile this year. Our long, dark, insanely self-imposed sojourn in OKC was finally brought to its blessed bloody end by my partner's clear thinking. Well, Jeff had some help in the form of inheriting enough money to finance a move, but he talked me out of delaying the move until the end of the lease on our OKC home and instead saying "fuck that" and moving months early like we did. This wisdom on his part not only brought the Exile to an end months earlier but made the timing perfect as far as getting my new day job.

Writing: I wrote a lot, but didn't finish very much. On the other hand, I submitted two short stories for publication, which is far more than the zero that I had submitted during the previous three years. Of the two stories that I submitted, both were for specifically-themed publications and both were accepted. That puts my acceptance rate for the year at 100%, bitches! (Only two, I know...but still!) But tempering that success was my epic fail at NaNoWriMo in November. While I did clock about 30,000 words, they were quite a mess. Also, they were 30K words of a thing that needs to be more like 100K to actually be done rather than NaNo's 50K winner threshold. Projects that had fallen more or less into hiatus, like my military sf novel Shame and my non-fiction restaurant memoir/cookbook Stackin' Hogs, did not advance much during 2010, though both did have some words added and neither have been given up upon.

Publishing: If the actual work that I perform to make a living is my "day job," then my other job is as the editor of M-Brane SF and the publisher of the recently retooled M-Brane Press. 2010 was really only my second full year in this role, but it was a big one. Other than edit and publish the monthly issues of M-Brane, I also brought out a couple of single-author collections: Cesar Torres' The 12 Burning Wheels and Derek J. Goodman's Machina. I co-edited with Jaym Gates a one-off (maybe) erotic spec fic zine for Crossed Genres called The Little Death. I also published 2020 Visions, a really remarkable collection of near-future spec fic, edited by Rick Novy. We also started a second zine. Brandon Bell's Fantastique Unfettered published its first issue just a few days ago in a beautiful print edition. But perhaps the greatest accomplishment of the year was the publication of The Aether Age, co-edited by Brandon and me and published by Hadley Rille Books. This one was a long time in process and is absolutely the coolest book of the year, period. There's nothing quite like it. Anyone who thinks they know what it is but hasn't seen it yet is wrong. It may take a few months for the word to spread, but begun the Aether Age has!

Political: My undying disgust for teabaggers, Republicans, and other assorted morons reached new heights in 2010. If anyone had any doubt that American "conservatives" are wholly invested in promoting plutocracy, theocracy, know-nothing-ness and bugfuck dumbassedness, then no one need look any further than than the news of 2010.  I actually don't much care at the moment that these people have taken control of the House of Representatives. In fact, I look forward to how they will have to explain to the public why they want to destroy everything. The public needs a fucking refresher anyway: these are some of the same jackasses (Boehner) who ran the Congress just a few years ago, and now they are joined by some even crazier ones. On the upside: the health care law was passed and so was the REPEAL OF DADT!! In your face, McCain!

Personal: Ten years into the relationship with my significant other, I have never been more in love. This is why I do and care about all the rest of it.

I think that's everything from 2010.
I'm disappointed that I didn't finish NaNoWriMo this year, both because I hate not doing things that I say that I will do, and also because I now fear for the future of my story that I have grown quite fond of. I worry that I will let it sit idle and that any momentum I may have had on it will evaporate. On the other hand, I am still into the story and have added words to it since the NaNo period ended. So if I want to tell this story, I don't really need the NaNo pressure to do it, right? But what went wrong in November?

1) I was just too damned busy to do it all. "Not enough time" is a totally lame excuse. It's the absolute number one lame excuse of lames excuses for people say they'd like to write something and then never do it. Writing just plain takes a whole ton of time, and if you want to do it at any length, then there is nothing else you can do other than just make the time by carving it out of other time-using activities that you value less than writing. But I don't feel like a total slacker on this count, because here are some of the things that occupied my November time other than writing: I published two books, released an issue of my magazine, read for and edited another issue of it, tended to the day-to-day chores of my home, lived lovingly with my partner, watched some of the Halloween DVR cache from TCM, tweeted and blogged and Facebooked, drank a bunch of wine, ate dinner nightly, drank a bunch of beer, cooked dinner almost nightly, took periodic showers, ate ice cream, jerked off, hosted a Thanksgiving gathering, cuddled with kitties, and--oh yeah!--worked about 225 hours at my day job and slept about 190 more. And I still did get about 30K done on the story, so I don't think I was a total slouch during that month. But I did over-extend myself, and the way I keep being late on all my M-Brane deadlines is a result of that. 

2) My story was pretty complex. If I had come up with something that could have taken the form of a straightforward linear narrative with just a couple of important characters and a plot that was either fully outlined or reasonably laid out in my mind before November 1, I might have been able to have just banged out the words at full speed and made it to the finish line. But, no,

instead, I came up with Boy, Converged (Mixed Media on Canvas, 2111), which is intended to be a small-scale science-fantasy epic...if that makes sense. What I mean by small-scale "epic" is that the scope of the action and the number of people involved in it is fairly small, but the space in which it plays out and the final outcome of it is possibly quite large and dramatic. So it's not a vast space opera or a sprawling adventure. It's quite narrowly focused on a single character and his strange circumstances which may or may not have wider implications for his world. But it ranges over four different worlds, which can be considered alternate timelines, and the protagonist exists in all of them and is, at some level, aware of his strange existence in four universes. These worlds are a romantic inhabited Mars (plenty of homage to ER Burroughs' Barsoom as well Kim Robinson's realistic Mars), a contemporary 21st century "real" world, a post-Apocalyptic city isolated from the rest of the world (some homage there to Delany and Dhalgren there), and a steampunkish alternate-future London. A series of parallel circumstances in each of this milieus leads the four incarnations of the protagonist into contact with the other main character, with whom he falls in love each time. And in each of these scenarios he encounters the titular piece of artwork which seems to mean something...but what? The answer to that question remains unknown and might be a big part of why I had a lot of trouble progressing on this story through the month. Also, I spent a ton of time on Mars and in the post-apocalypse city, but very little in Steam Age London and very little in the contemporary timeline. So the more I wrote, the bigger the holes that needed backfilling became. I knew it wasn't going to be a truly complete novel at 50K words even if I had made it to that, but now I think it might need something well above 100K to finish it.

Now I wonder if I will continue in earnest and get it done or if it will languish in its spot on the hard drive. I think I will continue with it, but at my own pace. It's fucking December after all. December!
I really enjoyed spending the day with Jeff cooking a Thanksgiving dinner. It's been a few years since I've been able to be home all day on the holiday. With this particular tradition, I see basically two kinds of people: ones who look forward to eating the feast, and ones who thrive on preparing it. I am of the latter. Inevitably I find with these larger scaler special occasion dinners that the actual eating of the food doesn't offer anywhere near the satisfaction that I get from making it. When we actually sit down and eat, as we did this evening, it seems a bit of an anti-climax; not because the food was not wonderful but just because the fun of its preparation is at an end. But there is still the gratification of seeing one's dinner guests enjoy the product of that labor, and we had plenty of that tonight.

The menu was...

Hors d'oeuvre
"Creole" crab dip served with homemade blue cheese-rosemary crackers and cheddar-cornmeal crackers

Herb-roasted whole turkey stuffed with vegetables
Gravy made from the turkey broth and drippings
J's family-traditional mushroom-water chestnut sage dressing
Roasted garlic smashed potatoes and parsnips
Creamed spinach with shallots and white wine reduction

Bourbon-flavored chocolate-pecan pie with vanilla ice cream

Below are a few pics of the preparation of these items. Personally, I think the triumph of the whole thing was Jeff's pie. He made the crust last night and then filled and baked it this morning. Generally neither of us are huge dessert-lovers but the process of making it was a lot of fun and the result was spectacularly delicious.

The pie right out of the oven.

The cheddar crackers just baked.

Behind me is bread and chopped onions, celery, mushrooms and garlic for the dressing. The foil packets contain roasted garlic for the smashed potatoes.

Floating atop the water is chunks of parsnip. Beneath are chunks of red potatoes. They eventually met.

The roasted turkey.

Spinach wilting into a pan of sauteed shallots. Later much more spinach was added, as well as wine and cream.

We had fun with it and are well-stuffed now.

We'll be having a very small gathering Thursday for Thanksgiving--just J and his mom and me--but I am excited about it because it will be the first time in  four years that I have not been at work on the holiday. The last couple years, J cooked totally awesome dinners for us by himself that I was able to enjoy when I got home, but I really missed being able to participate in the cooking. Generally I am rather Scroogey about the holidays, but as a professional cook and an avid home cook, Thanksgiving offers a lot of fun. And I'm all about the food with it. I don't care one whit about any other aspect of the tradition. I don't put up seasonal decor for it. I don't issue greeting cards. I pay no attention to that sport that they show on TV. I ignore the cornball half-myth of the Pilgrim forefathers. Indeed, if I had been in England in the early seventeenth century and had happened to have been on hand as the Mayflower was leaving dock, I probably would have shouted, "Don't let the door slam you in the arse on your way out!" [Note to self: add "insult departing Pilgrims" to "Fun Things to Do With Time Machine" list]. But I love it because it is the one truly food-oriented holiday that most Americans observe.

We've been going back and forth on what to make for the obligatory bird item. Since the gathering is so small, I had ruled out doing a whole turkey, though I knew that would be the most traditional and probably most appealing to J's mom. On the other hand, she is interested only in the lean breast meat. In 2006, we did prepare a turkey breast sans the rest of the bird. But I want those leg and thigh portions, if a bird is on the menu, and I have been pretty determined for weeks that we are going to have some kind of whole bird. Maybe not a turkey, but certainly a whole bird. But options dwindled. A duck or a goose would not have appealed to mom, nor would a pile of miniature winged beasties like quail. While I would have been totally fine with an awesome, perfectly roasted chicken, tradition may not have been sufficiently honored. I considered getting a capon (also essentially a chicken, but actually a castrated rooster that has grown plump and tender from a life of not having all its boy parts). A bit bigger than a normal roasting chicken, a capon can totally pass as a smallish turkey. In fact, nine years ago J and I used a partially de-boned capon as the outer "turkey" layer of a small tur-duck-en that we made for Christmas dinner. Capons are expensive, though. And so are turkey breasts, actually. So we considered it a real coup yesterday at the store when we found a 13-pound whole turkey for about fourteen bucks. At that weight, it's not a totally ridiculous size, and it will afford abundant leftovers to send home with mom. So the turkey tradition is satisfied and I get the whole bird that I desire for both culinary and gustatory pleasure. Thanks to the fact that we still have not had a real freeze here yet, we still have harvestable herbs on the deck outside our kitchen, very lucky for the end of November. While I have not decided on the whole plan for the turkey yet, I know that these herbs and a lot of butter and that turkey's skin are going to meet in glory in the oven.

I may take pictures while we cook on Thursday and post them here.