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Posts from the ‘COOKING’ Category

It’s the little things

When asked how the economy is doing, an ivory tower sort might tell you in abstract numbers. Me? I’ll tell you that this Saturday’s farmer’s market had twice as many vendors as the tentative re-start last week, and lots more customers. The lady who makes the colour-changing pasta and the quail egg pasta was feeling confident enough that she baked perishables this week, and had focaccia and keto “cloud bread” out for sale, instead of just dry pasta. (The focaccia is a work of edible art!) And the rosemary & garlic infused olive oil lady was back, with a whole bunch of backyard chicken raised eggs. The lamb herders, sadly, sold their flock and have moved away.

And therein lies the difference in perspective between abstract worldbuilding and your characters.

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I’ve just had my version of a hot curry. Now, every single Indian friend of mine just fell off their chair laughing. My Bangladeshi friend I am sure is rolling on the floor. Because honestly, their reaction to it would probably be something like: “Be quite tasty if it had any chili in it.” Or “Bit mild.”

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Some sausage is made with –as Sir Terry Pratchett put it ‘named meat’. Um. I’d take that with a pinch of salt. And ketchup or the sauce-of-disguise of your choice. Like meat pies (especially the infamous floater (as in surrounded by pea-gravy) either eaten with gusto (another kind of sauce) at 2 AM… or approached with some caution, because even the names of the named bits can be… dodgy. The effects of the dodgier ones — as I can testify — can be catastrophic.

Which is why the fact that I always think of writing a novel and making sausage as remarkably alike should alarm you. I make sausages (mostly with ‘named meat’, I promise. Mostly.) The whole process is pretty gross – but at least mine are good eating. And here is the important part – they’re better eating than the various raw ingredients cooked separately. And they’re different (to the barely recognizable extent in some cases) from the original materials. Read more

Brussel sprouts


I really don’t like Brussel sprouts.

I don’t like the taste.

I don’t like the effect on my gastro-intestinal tract.

And nobody – including me — likes the devastating farts I produce after eating them. There are worse things, of course. As a child I had the most wonderful black Labrador, who — besides being in my opinion at the time, the best dog in the entire universe –- was very good at lying quietly at my feet under the dining-room table. I spent a fair amount of time sitting at that table with things I had decided I didn’t like on my plate. I sat there until I decided I did like them. I was a very obstinate child, of very obstinate parents, which proves four things: 1) Some things are heritable. My kids are my parents’ revenge. 2) I didn’t like cold Brussel sprouts any more than I liked hot Brussel sprouts. Less, in fact. 3) A loving dog, especially a Labrador that will eat anything that comes from your hand, is a treasure to a small, obstinate boy. 4) Eventually, that too will come out, and when you smuggle your dog onto your bed every night, (through the window. My mother knew, but wasn’t telling my father. My father knew but wasn’t telling my mother. Family dynamics… a book in itself) you’re going to have to live with the consequences, or at least the stink.

Now, because Brussel sprouts are full of vitamin K which assists in blood-clotting… if you’re on blood thinners to keep you alive, they could just kill you too. This is very rare, but a lot less rare than being killed by carrots. I am sure if you try hard you can come up with several great forms of carrot-ssassination, but frequent carrots are really, really good for you. You know it is mandatory that when you puke, there must be at least at least seven pieces of carrot, and four peas, undigested, or the universe itself will fall down the singularity created by violating this basic law of physics. It is much healthier to eat them regularly than to force your body to store them for years against this evil chance.

Yes, I like carrots, and peas more than Brussel sprouts. I don’t love carrots, or peas. They range from good to Okay.

But no-one (or no-one with two working brain cells) could say I was Brussel sprouts-phobic. I don’t have an exaggerated and irrational fear of them (that is what a ‘phobia’ is). I certainly don’t hate them, or want you not to eat them. You’re welcome to as many as you please, my share too. Just, if they have the same effect on you, please don’t stand downwind or share my bed. I can even eat them if I have to. This too will pass. But I don’t like them, for good logical reasons.

And no, I have no interest in trying them over and over again just in case I get to like the taste of them. It’s pretty unlikely I will die from them, but if that’ll do for an excuse, I’ll take it. The truth is, I am not that interested in eating them, and if I never saw another one on my plate… I probably wouldn’t notice. I don’t care much, and most of the time now I can actually say ‘no thank you’ or leave them on my plate and still get dessert.

Yes, this does relate to books –as well as many things from taking in ‘migrants’ or refugees to eating undesired veggies.

I hear ‘transphobic’, and ‘homophobic’, and ‘Islamophobic’ a lot (I daresay we’ll have melanophobic and gynophobic any moment now). There may be some genuine exaggerated and irrational fear of any of these things. There can also be disinterest or plain dislike. It can even be quite logical for that individual. Honestly, telling me – or any reader – they are xyz-phobic not to want to read your book which is all about xyz… is only going to work, if I care what you think.

And if you’re going to know that I, specifically, think it.

That, I think, is where the disconnect between sales expectations and reality of many of those in NY Traditional Publishing – or those pushing for more Syrian migrants – becomes apparent.

Firstly, people may well not have the desire to open themselves up to the shrieking and attacks of the left-wing SJW’s by publically stating that no, they really have no interest in a book about xyz victim, that they don’t like them (and rationality doesn’t matter) and they’re not going to spend their money on it. They don’t have to say anything. They vote, in a kind of secret ballot. Money is a very sincere form of voting.

And secondly, people increasingly just don’t care. The ones pointing, shrieking, threatening, accusing them of being SCARED of xyz… are not people they respect, or whose opinion matters to them in least. Often they’ve managed to make themselves disliked by those who don’t care’s peer group. Often they have amply demonstrated they don’t have any credibility to criticize. Take John Scalzi telling folk that don’t want an influx of Muslim Syrian refugees that being frightened, ignorant and cowardly is no way to go through life… Hang on… is this the guy who worries about ‘microagression’ (or are we at nano-aggressions, or maybe even pico-aggressions), supports ‘safe spaces’ and needs a fainting couch for the terribly offensive word ‘pussy’ (my cat is not impressed), bans any dissent, and has no experience whatsoever of working or fighting with the people he’s talking about? A lot of the folk who do object have combat experience (or actually know people with that experience) some in the in the ME or Afghanistan. I know if I was looking for someone I could be sure wasn’t frightened, ignorant and cowardly, I’d bet on the latter group.

It’s not a ‘phobia’ we’re talking about. They might be wrong. That is possible. But you need credibility, you need to SHOW people, not tell them, or try to shame them, or bully them. If you can show them that your Trans hero is entertaining and likeable, if you can show them your ‘refugee’ is going to be a good citizen and integrate into their society… you can sell your book, get your refugee asylum. If you’re going to appeal to your authority, well, you need to be credible, be someone the reader can trust and respect.

If not… learn to disguise your Brussel sprout. One chopped up fine and mixed into a pot of molten lava conflagration Chili works pretty well.

And, yes, that’s good book advice too.

Fine Dining

Fine Dining

The aroma hooks you first.

You hear the sizzle as you approach the kitchen.

You look through the door . . . Gleaming pans, flashing knives, the quick flash of a spatula flipping that simmering delicious . . .

Of course you know I’m writing about writing. Yeah, that cover, the color scheme made you step nearer, look more closely. You could tell from the picture it was going to be a delicious space opera. You check the title, the author, hear the sizzle and you just have to look! That’s where the blurb kicks in. Whatever’s cooking needs to promise a really good meal, and the blurb is that promise.

Then you get the reader to sit down for the feast.

The appetizer, the start of the story. The hook needs to be dangled. You introduce the characters, and throw in a hint toward the story problem. The reader reads on.

The salad, or are you a soup sort of person? It’s metaphorical, so you can have both. But they must be tasty. And not too much, you want to set up for the main course, not sate the appetite. If it’s an action sort of book, a smallish fight or a minor explosion will do nicely. A Romance? The first glimpse? Or the first kiss?

Perhaps a delicate little ice to clear the palate? Clean your weapons, by all means brag about how easy it was. Your readers _need_ a little gleeful anticipation. A slap for that stolen kiss? Or perhaps a lovers’ quarrel?

The entre. The meat and vegetables of the story. The writer dives into the problem. Savor the flavor of that steak! Woo! A little hot! Back off and toy with the potatoes, try the peas. But the steak was _so_ good, what are a few singed taste buds, right? Ouch. Right. Cut it up a bit, think this over while checking the potatoes again. Grid your loins and go for the meat. This time, you win!

Desert? Coffee? After dinner drink? No rush, take you time. Savor the rewards of heroic battle, show the rewards of character growth. Or loosen your belt. Sit back with a sigh of repletion.

That’s how it’s supposed to work, for the reader.

Few readers see what’s going on in the kitchen. The entrée done before the salad is chopped, the soup is getting cold, the cake is all frosted and decorated but it doesn’t seem like a suitable finish for the new sauce you suddenly found yourself throwing together . . .

I mean, you have the steak dinner all planned out, but by the time the first plate hits the table it’s likely to be Cajun Blackened Catfish. On the bad days, you wonder why you didn’t just call for pizza delivery.

I blame it on the peculiar pseudo-split personality of the writer. The imaginary characters just click into place and get to work—and they don’t care about the writer’s plans. They all think they are Master Chefs. They know exactly how dinner is going to go. And it ain’t pretty.

They tsk over the soup and pour it back into the pan. Reach for the spice rack . . . Salad? Salad is for vegetarians . . . fine, fine, if you’re going to whine, toss it with some dressing, and put it on the table. Chances are it’ll get cut in the editing.

And what the heck are you doing to that beautiful chunk of meat? Forget your usual dry rub, and hand me that bottle of burgundy . . .