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Showing posts from 2011

Wal-mart at Christmastime

Generally, there's no deeper pit of hell than Wal-mart. The awful fluorescent lighting, the cart that undoubtedly has one bad wheel, the inability to find what you're looking for ever since they changed things, the sure knowledge that you have sold your soul to Sam Walton because there's simply no way to meet the monthly budget without him. Not while the boy drinks three gallons of milk a week.

That said, when I see people laughing at "People of Wal-mart" or the current meme of "Wal-mart Bingo," I start to wonder what we find so amusing. Sure enough, the photos of "People of Wal-mart" are pretty awful. They're generally photos catching unattractive people unawares - oh my, this lady's buttcrack is showing? That guy's wearing shorts with a long-sleeved shirt! That woman is too fat for her outfit! This guy's got a really long beard!

The Wal-mart Bingo is so much worse. Among the mocked are "someone with an eyepatch," &q…

Geek Points

Setting: The Daily Show is on. Boy flops onto the couch.

ME: It's bedtime.
BOY: Just a few minutes? I love Daily Show.
ME: Hmmm. Look, you're still here and not in bed.
BOY: I'm not here.
ME: I see you. You are here.
BOY: *handwave* These are not the droids you're looking for.
ME: *bwahahaha* You get to stay up a few minutes more just for the geek points.

Communing With the Cosmos: A Conversation with Neil deGrasse Tyson

I had the good fortune to meet Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson yesterday at a ribbon-cutting for the new observatory in Edwardsville. In addition to the story I wrote for the News-Democrat, I had him cornered at the top of the stairwell next to the telescope, so I asked him a few more questions. Here is the long version of our interview, for those who are interested in such wonderfully nerdy things as planetary biota, the physics of interstellar space travel and the devolution of Pluto.

In case you're wondering, Dr. Tyson is just as emphatic, enthusiastic and personable in real life as he is jousting with Jon Stewart over the planethood - or not - of Pluto. It's easy to see how he has become the Elvis of astrophysicists. I was tempted to tell him that on this year's book tour, the button we sold out of most quickly and literally could not keep in stock was the one that read, "Pluto is still a planet, I don't care what you say."

Q: What do you think about the Ch…

A $16,000 Cup

We're in the middle of a battle right now. Not my partner against his illness - no, that battle is fought and nearly won. The real battle is Us vs. the Insurance Company.

A union man, J has never had to battle his insurance. I know a few other people who must have mega-insurance, because when I tell them about the incessant fights I've had on behalf of my son and (occasionally) myself, they said, "I've never had to do that." I envy them. I envy people who can go get an MRI when the doctor says they need one. Mine would have cost $930 - after insurance. So I didn't get it. Programs? Yes, there's programs. You can apply... after you get the bill. Don't qualify? Out of luck.

As most of my friends know, J was rushed to the hospital two months ago with symptoms of a heart attack. Fortunately there was no lasting damage to his heart - just a warning flare, they said. But while they were poking around in there, they discovered he has nine ulcers in his stoma…

Home on the Range

I am unreasonably excited about this. I'm getting a new stove! New as in new from the store, not new as in transferred from one of the vacant apartments! And only seven years after I first reported trouble with my stove!

Hey, this is the life of a renter. On the up side, someone else pays for your new appliance. On the down side, you're at the mercy of someone else's decisions about your appliances. For the most part, my landlord's okay. When something breaks, they get someone out to fix it. When we have a problem, they listen and they do what they can to help. It's not their fault that the building has almost no insulation and we freeze to death every winter, or that the college students treat the place like shit. It's just par for the course.

I moved into this apartment in May 2004. At that time, one of the burners didn't work. In addition, the front door of the oven didn't quite close completely, so baking time had to be adjusted, everything had to b…

Tradition!

I'm watching Fiddler on the Roof tonight as I do mindless tasks online and off. I love the music, the humor, the culture, the fiddling. And the serious undertones of the plight of the Jewish people give it a touch of gravitas often missing in the musicals of the '60s.

Watching Topol sing "If I Were a Rich Man" reminds me of my first Dragoncon. No, not because I'm so broke at Dragoncon every year that I end up eating Chef Boyardee cold out of a can.

My first Dragoncon was my quietest. My first book had not yet come out, and nobody had ever heard of me. I had exactly one panel and spent the rest of the time haunting my publisher's booth and stalking Harlan Ellison, who was at the show for the last time, as it turned out.

Harlan Ellison and Peter David are best friends. Apparently they had suggested doing a song-and-dance routine to the show, which became some kind of talent show. They were scheduled to do a boring panel on writing for TV, so they decided to sha…

Mr. Utterson was a man of a rugged countenance that was never lighted by a smile

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I love these things even though they make no sense at all. I fed this segment of the new book into the analyzer:


The flexglass slammed into place, right in front of Hawkins and Butler. A moment later, an older man struggling with a cane appeared with Anthony, a teenage sanitation worker that Hawkins had known since he was a midway scamp doing card tricks for the marks. His heart twisted as the old man banged on the flexglass with his cane.          Then Selena emerged from behind the old man. She slammed her fists against the flexglass, silent screams that Hawkins could feel inside his chest.          Butler shouted wordless curses at the flexglass, pressing his hands up against Selena's outstretched palms. Her lovely strawberry-blonde hair was tousled around her shoulders, her eyes filled with fear. I love you, her mouth seemed to say, though Hawkins could not hear it.
This is what I got:



I write like
Robert Louis Stevenson I Write Like by Mémoires, journal software. Analyze your writi…

Recipe: Cranberry Nut Bread

By request.... here's my mama's recipe. It turned out a little dry and crumbly for me, because my oven is extremely variable these days. Therefore I recommend you double-check with the toothpick beginning at 45 minutes. I also recommend using a food processor to chop the cranberries; you'll save an eternity.

PATRICE'S CRANBERRY NUT BREAD

1 c. cranberries, chopped
1/2 c. nuts, chopped
1 tbsp. grated orange peel
2 c. flour
1 c. sugar
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking soda
2 tbsp. Crisco
3/4 c. orange juice
1 egg, beaten

Combine dry ingredients. Cut in Crisco. Stir in orange juice, egg and orange peel - mix just to moisten. Fold in cranberries and nuts. Put in greased and floured bread pan - makes one standard loaf. Bake 1 hour at 350 degrees. Best on second day.

Big Bird

This year, the boys are going to Memphis for Thanksgiving. J will be spending the holiday with his family - something he hasn't had much chance to do because previous jobs did not allow the time off. The boy will ride down with him to spend Thanksgiving with his father.

Me? I'm a slave to the world of journalism. As in, I gotta work. The fam is out of town, so are 98 percent of my friends. J already warns me he's gonna get it from the family for not bringing me. *waves hi* Sorry, fam, I'll meet you eventually...

Since we aren't going to be together for the holiday, we're having a private family Thanksgiving this Saturday. It's really my excuse to cook a giant meal... and I can eat off it the whole week while they're gone. My evil plan is working.

Me: Okay, how big a turkey should I get? There's only three of us.
J: BIG!
Me: Cornish hen.
J: No!
Me: Itty bitty little turkey.
J: No. TURKEYZILLA!
Me: Sparrow.
J: Zilla! GIANT TURKEY!
Me: Hummingbird.
J: …

in which I offer no original content...

... because Brian Keene knocks it out of the fucking park in this speech. Read it all, friends and neighbors. Especially you beginning writers. Yeah, Nanoers, I'm talking to YOU. All of you. Stop the mad typing for ten minutes and read this speech.

A horror writer should know the genre’s history for several reasons. First and foremost, they should know it so as not to repeat the mistakes of its past. They should draw upon that history, letting the books and stories that have been written in the past inspire and inform and shape their own work. You know that novel you’re working on about Nazi ghosts haunting a tank? Graham Masterton beat you to it back in the Seventies. If you’re writing about vampires, you’ve probably read Dracula — but did you also read the works of Les Daniels, or Salem’s Lot, They Thirst, Vampyrrhic, or Lot Lizards? Maybe you saw Ramsey Campbell at a convention and were told he is one of the most important living authors, but you’re not sure why. This i…

Culinary Vacation, Day 5

Today's experiment is actually not an experiment, but I needed to make a cake I could rely on.

BASIC WHITE CAKE
1 package white cake mix
1 c. milk
1 stick butter, melted
3 eggs
2 tsp. vanilla.

Preheat oven to 320 degrees. Grease pan. Melt butter. Add ingredients together and blend about one minute. Scrape down the sides and blend two more minutes. Pour batter and smooth into the pan. Bake 20 minutes, then turn and back 25-30 more.


Notes: This makes a deliciously moist sheet cake (9x13) or a two-layer 9-inch round cake. I double the recipe for a half-sheet pan that is my standard. You'll notice it starts with a cake mix, but the add-to ingredients are decidedly different than the oil-and-egg nastiness that they put on the box. That makes a weak, flavorless cake that will crumble when you approach it with your storebought icing *shudder*.

If I were not planning to decorate this cake, I'd have gone for the snickerdoodle version: add 4 tsp. cinnamon to the batter and make cin…

Culinary Vacation, Day 4

Oops, I forgot to post here. Today's experiment will be foisted on an unsuspecting group of miscreants - er, my friends - when we attend a potluck dinner tonight. It's a recipe courtesy of a little country orchard in ... some Midwestern state through which we passed on the fall tour. *shrug*

APPLE BROWN BETTY
6 tbsp. butter
2 lbs. apples
1 tsp. cinnamon
2 tbsp. lemon juice
2 c. breadcrumbs
1/2 c. brown sugar
1 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
1 tbsp. lemon zest
1 tsp. vanilla
(opt.) whipped cream

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Peel, quarter and core the apples. Slice them and put them in a bowl. Add brown sugar, cinnamon, pumpkin pie spice, lemon zest, lemon juice and vanilla. Mix well.

Melt butter in frying pan or microwave. Add breadcrumbs and mix well. Spread half the apples in a baking dish. Cover with half the breadcrumb mixture. Repeat with remaining apples and breadcrumbs.

Bake 35-45 minutes until topping is golden brown and apples are tender. If the topping browns too quickly, red…

Culinary Vacation, Day One

So I don't have the money to go anywhere or, y'know, do anything. But I do have a week off work. I have an apartment full of two adults' crap to consolidate. And I have a larder full of food.

I'm going to do three things this week: Sort and organize the apartment. Work on the book. And try new recipes all week. You know how you always have a pile of recipes you never got around to doing? The menfolk will be eating well this week.

Today's Experiment: Herb-Basted Chicken

Assessment: This is a very simple recipe that is also very economical if you are a spice freak like me and have all these things hanging around in your cabinet. Lemongrass and herbes de provence, baby, I have it all. Therefore the actual cost of this was somewhere around a buck eighty for the chicken, as long as you don't have to run out and buy marjoram.

Ingredients:
4 bone-in chicken breast halves with skin
3 tbsp. olive oil
1 tbsp. minced onion
1 clove crushed garlic
1 tsp. thyme
1/2 tsp. rosem…

VHS Bonanza!

Blasts from the past in brightly-colored boxes...

Here is a list of VHS tapes we plan to dispose of by any means necessary. Many are for young children, so if you've got a youngster (or know someone who does) and you still have a working VHS player, these would be good for you. You know the one advantage VHS has over DVD? They're a hell of a lot harder for kids to gnaw on. (But not impossible.)

These are all commercial VHS, no pirates. All played just fine the last time we played them, which was a looooong time ago. I've starred the ones that don't have boxes. They're $1 each plus shipping, unless you're in the St. Louis area, in which case I'm happy to meet up with you. Post here if you want them.

Ordinarily I'd be giving them away, but we're trying to raise money for the Hospital Fund and it's sloooow going on eBay, let me tell you. Any that don't sell will be donated to libraries or other good causes (if you know of a local shelter that n…

November

I have an odd dilemma.

Next week, I'm on vacation.

No cons. No travel. No signings or readings or meetings of any kind.

Of course, it's not actually a vacation. It's not like I'm hopping a plane to go lie on a beach somewhere, sip margaritas and bathe in the sun. Or even to a bed-and-breakfast on a lake where I can work on my laptop in peace and quiet. Too broke for such nonsense.

And I'll still have to haul my ass out of bed at 6:30 in the freaking morning every day. I may be on vacation but the Spawn is not. There is still breakfast to be made, a bus to be caught. There is still homework to be done and errands to be run. 

Still, I'm not sure what to do with myself. It's use-it-or-lose-it vacation days, and I'll still have three to burn once this little exercise in self-indulgence is over.

What in heaven's name am I going to do with myself?

Well, it's Nanowrimo. And I do have two freaking manuscripts vying for my attention. J's idea is t…

Yosemite Memories

A few years ago, I took my son to visit my grandfather.

It was the first time my boy had met my mother's father. He was a fascinating man, a naturalist who had a real affinity for growing things. He owned a nursery and created a new kind of tree, the fruitless mulberry. He took me on my first camping trip in the place he loved the most in all the world: Yosemite National Park.

He loved Yosemite. It was the place he led countless troops of Boy Scouts in his decades as a Scoutmaster. An Eagle Scout himself, he lived to walk among the trees, and he married my stepgrandmother in their shadow in a small chapel within the park.

But disease and age robbed him first of his active life, and then of his mind. By the time I led my small boy into his nursing-home room, he was barely conscious of us. I don't think he recognized me, or the significance of meeting his only great-grandson, all of age six.

Or so I thought.

Papa Ivan died not long after, finally escaping the prison his body had…

Eternal Flame

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I feel oddly like I did when Gene Roddenberry died. An imperfect genius gave us something that transformed our culture in ways we barely understand, from the mouse to the iPod.

Those who continue to cling to Mac vs. PC nonsense are already making jokes, but business leaders recognize that Jobs' innovations helped user in the computer age, and the culture he helped form will continue to evolve in ways as yet unknown.

Rest in peace, Mr. Jobs.

P.S. My 1989 Mac SE is still operating just fine, thanks. I consider that a miracle of modern engineering.

The Cutting Edge of Humor

J's workplace had a serious discussion on boxcutter safety today. He made the grave error of telling me about it. He should know better than to serve up such a rich source of puns to a master such as myself.

ME: I think you should run around the warehouse waving your boxcutter.
J: I think I'd get arrested.
ME: Yeah, but it'd be funny. At least then management would get the point.
J: ... I'll talk to you later, hon.
ME: Hey, I thought that one was pretty sharp.
J: *groan*

By text later...

J: Your puns are a cut above the rest.
ME: Hey, I think this boxcutter issue cuts both ways. Take a stab at it, and I think you'll find it's better to be naughty than knife.
J: Yuck!
ME: Have a knife day, dear.
J: ...
ME: Don't be so dull, or they'll think you can't hack it.

After work...

ME: Silence? Hey, this is better than playing with slice cubes.*
J: Ouch! enough!
ME: Oh, you cut me the quick, and when you've always congratulated me on my sharp wit. Well, sha…

Farandole

Pandora is an amazing thing. Yes, I'm the last person in the world to know this. It's radio that doesn't suck. It's randomly wonderful. I keep finding new songs I really love, I can torment my son with '80s hair metal, and he makes me listen to "top hits" that make my teeth hurt.

I had it set on the classical station for a while today as I did other things. What came out was a piece of my youth.

Once upon a time I played the cello. Badly. I played for seven years and never got any better, but that was okay, because I loved it so much. I played in the Springfield Youth Symphony Orchestra in Springfield, Mass. and my favorite piece was the farandole.

I didn't know WHICH farandole, mind you. Only that it was an astounding piece of music and I barely could keep up with the cello part. I found it once on an audiocassette and played it incessantly - something about its soaring melodies and remarkable harmonies spoke to me. Then I lost the audiocassette, and…

HeatFest 2011

Everyone else has already blogged about the sweatfest that was Fandom Fest. At this point, complaining about the heat seems like kicking a dead dog. I think it's clear the Fern Valley Hotel of Louisville, Ky. has significant problems, and any convention considering it as a venue should reconsider.

That said, on Sunday I told the beleaguered Stephen Zimmer that I thought the literary track could have been spun off into a small convention of its own, preferably at a hotel with air conditioning. This is the second ZimmerCon I've attended this year, and that man knows how to do a panel schedule. We authors privately said that Zimmer's involvement makes us more likely to do a show; some shows we'd ordinarily pass by, unless someone says, "No, Zimmer's doing it." Then we're there, because we know the panels will have smart topics and there will be good people doing them.

Everyone shouted about it being a divided con. Maybe it's just being an eight-year …

Blackfire review!

My Google-fu is failing me. There are reviews for Blackfire and I didn't catch them.

Try this one on, from Wolfen Moondaughter at Sequential Tart:

There is a lot of story, both action and strong character development, packed into this 179-page trade paperback!... I like that there are basically three villains in this, one of which will obviously be ongoing for the series, and another being of more obscure folklore than is typically tapped. I also like that the book explores how not all monsters are supernatural... While I wouldn’t say it’s necessary to read (The Cold Ones) first, I do believe reading both increases the enjoyment of each, which on their own are both quite enjoyable. 

There's also a few people starting to talk about it on Amazon. Remember: Amazon is probably the only place in the world where readers' reviews actually sell a book. If you read Blackfire and liked it, please feel free to share your opinion with the world (and with me). Of course, if you re…

a boy and his dragon

We're spending the weekend at the lake, at the tail end of my folks' annual Grandkids Week. I was only able to come out for the weekend due to work, but Spawn has been here the whole week.

There was a Harry Potter marathon on today, so peeling him away from the damn TV and out into the sunshine was a bit of a chore. At bed time, I insisted the box go off so he could sleep. Instead, we opened the draperies to his little balcony (it's an awesome beach house) and watched the moonlight on the lake water.

"Look how beautiful it is," I told him. "See the way the light moves on the water? It's kind of like rippled silk, the way it keeps changing."

"Stare at it a while without blinking," Spawn told me. "See?"

Sure enough, if you stare at the patterns of moonlight on lake water without blinking, soon you will see the most marvelous patterns, shifting scattered magic on dark water.

I was killing time with my boy in part because I was hopel…

Anniversary.

Saturday was my anniversary.

No, not that one. Ten years ago Saturday, I sat down at my husband's beat-up old IBM notebook and signed up for what was then called Stories.com.

People often ask me how long I've been a writer. I reply that it's like asking how long I've had brown eyes. That much is true: I was writing tragic Smurf fanfic at the age of seven, ludicrously overwrought poetry through my tweens, an awful science-fiction novella at seventeen and plays filled with angst through college.

But I wasn't a writer. It was just something I did for fun. Writers were people who had clout, who knew something special, who had agents that got their books printed up and put in bookstores. I just cobbled about some words for fun. In college I printed up a half-dozen copies of that terrible novella and gave it to friends for their amusement, and that was as close as I expected to come for publication.

To borrow a metaphor from Stephen King's On Writing, I thought that …

Ethical Toolbox

It's my first national trade article. This month's edition of Quill Magazine is the all-ethics edition. Quill, of course, is the trade mag for the Society of Professional Journalists. I was asked to write the Toolbox article, in which I distilled my one-hour lecture on developing a personal ethics code for journalists down to 600 words.

Here it is.

I was honored to be asked, considering my relative youth and slight credentials compared to the rest of the ethics commission. I was especially honored since I have publicly disagreed with some of the national organization's decisions this year, authoring two position papers on behalf of the St. Louis chapter, and still they let me hang around and talk. I am always proud to be part of this organization.

Oh, and speaking of which: I gave that same speech at the regional conference this past weekend in Kansas City, and got a better reception than I ever have. They listened, they took notes, they laughed at my lame jokes, and at the…

101 ways to lose a customer

You know, I don't mind when businesses screw up. I understand more than most how things can go kablooey.

For us at the Literary Underworld, it's the peril of doing business with the U.S. Postal Service. Yes, they do the best they can. But I stopped using book rate after roughly one half of our orders went missing over the course of three months. Now I use Priority Mail only, and still sometimes I hear from a customer that a shipment never arrived.

It doesn't matter how long it's been since the order was placed. It doesn't matter whether the customer has proof or paid for delivery confirmation. I replace the order at our expense. Why? Because that customer will buy from us again someday, and if I stomp my foot and whine about the replacement cost, that customer will never come back.

For example, once I ordered take-out, and it arrived without the salad. We didn't notice until after the delivery man was gone, so I called. All I wanted was for them to remove the c…

Six Sentence Sunday

As demonstrated by my good friend Angelia Sparrow, here's six sentence from the upcoming King of Swords. (I cheated. It's slightly over six sentences.)

Gently Coleen turned the yoke, caressing the handles between her fingers. The ship danced under her touch, nimbly ducking beneath the docking ring and soaring away from the station. She loved this part, the way the ship responded to her touch, a natural symbiosis as she flew around the border patrols and between the satellites toward open space. The lightness of the yoke in her hands made it an extension of herself, and she could feel the energy vibrating through the ship up from its pumping engines to the very lights in the ceiling above her.
She realized that Hancock was watching her.
“I love to watch you fly,” Hancock said.
Coleen grinned. “Better than sex.” She reconsidered. “Almost.”

Midsouthcon: Dark & Stormy Virgin

Oh, Midsouthcon. I love you even though you gave me confluenza. I love you even though the most horrific panel of my life happened this weekend. I loved you when we were at the Airport Hotel, and I loved you when we were in the Escher Hotel, and now that we're in a giant beer can I love you even more. (It helps that you buy my books.) FRIDAY We can never just go to con. There’s always something we forgot, or some last brilliant idea. In this case it was both: I forgot contact lens solution and I realized I needed a shiny laminated sign for the Blackfire package deal. So we left the Tylers, thanking them mightily for hosting us when Extended Stay America left us sad by the side of the road. On to Walgreens and Kinkos, and only twice was asked by a random stranger if I had accepted Jesus in my heart. Really, Memphis? I’ve missed you, but I thought my years in the choir got me off the hook. On to the con, where the Spawn helped me unload and set up the booth. This goes much more smoothl…