It’s going to be a weird day.

Last night my dreams were all about talking to dream friends about how weird the previous night’s dream was. Also I got calligraphy tattoos on my right shoulder blade that were designed so I can read them in my reflection.

True story. I feel a bit discombobulated.

What was on the tattoos? Signatures. Several of people I used to work with and some from famous authors. Mark Twain was one of them. It’s an idea so odd I might have to use it someday in a story.

What was the previous night’s dream? I’m glad you asked. Me and my questing buddies ( a collection of friends who bear no resemblance to anyone in real life) were carrying around cans of vegetables to throw at the invading aliens.

Tuna cans and cat food did not work. Only vegetables. Yes, even in dreams I run experiments and test hypotheses.

The aliens never chased anyone, they were more of a a random encounter threat. So mostly the dream was us going about our daily business.  We kept getting lost in the dream city (a combination of NYC, Chicago & LA that seems to stand for Urban Environment in my subconscious)

And there was an interlude where we critiqued a porn flick on a huge TV in the bar where we went to escape the aliens.

It was a supremely weird experience, but I didn’t expect I would spend another night analyzing it in my sleep. I spend a lot of dreams talking and reading, but this was a new one.

My brain. It’s a fun place.

My Eccentric Holiday Viewing

Because I know you are all dying to know, here’s the Chez Herkes list of preferred holiday movies. It is not an “Advent Calendar of Movies.”  Blizzard binge-watching, maybe. Overall Spouseman & I usually watch at least one from each category per year. Tradition is important.
Action:
  • Die Hard(s)
  • Lethal Weapon
  • Deadpool (new addition!)
  • Batman Returns
  • Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang
  • Long Kiss Goodnight
  • Iron Man 3
  • Go
  • Assault on Precinct 13

**Shane Black is to blame for several of these. He has a weird THING about Christmas.

Classics:
  • The Shop Around The Corner
  • The Bishop’s Wife
  • Bells of St. Mary’s
  • We’re No Angels
  • It’s A Wonderful Life
  • Christmas Carol in B&W w/Alistair Sims
  • ”  with Reginald Owen
  • all the Bing Crosby musical holiday movies: it’s a sub-genre on its own
  Offbeat/comedy:
  • The Ref
  • Bad Santa
  • About A Boy
  • Love Actually
  • Better Off Dead
  • Coming to America
  • Ice Harvest
 SF/fantasy/Animated:
  • Nightmare Before Christmas
  • Muppet Christmas Carol
  • Rise of the Guardians
  • Elf
  • Strange Days (New Year’s Eve. 🙂 )
  • Gremlins
  • Rare Exports
  • HogFather
  • Emmet Otter’s Jugband Christmas
There are  holiday movies others love (or love/hate) that we will not watch:
A Christmas Story: worth special mention because I loathe it.  I could write a whole post on all the many reasons I find this movie repulsive for reasons both personal & political, but others have done such a good job I will leave that to the reader & the reader’s favorite search engine.
Reindeer Games. Singled out because I usually adore bad movies and dislike this one. It commits the one unforgivable sin for a bad movie: it’s DULL.
All the assorted Holiday Horror Flicks: I’m not against horror movies. They just don’t ring my bell, so to speak. Slapping some holly and tinsel on the genre adds nothing to its appeal.

Late-night baking & other adventures

I decided to bake things at 22:40 Wednesday. Why? Because it was the end of a long day with little word progress, I craved sweets, and the dessert cupboards were bare. Yes, my first and last instinct facing that crisis was to make something from scratch, not to hop in the car and drive 5 minutes to a store. Draw what conclusions you will.

Problem was, I had neither eggs nor butter in the house. Thanksgiving hibernation emptied the pantry, and I’ve been procrastinating the shopping hellsperience. So I nosed around the available ingredients and did some improvising.

Result:  night nibbles. That’s what I have dubbed them. I could call them fruit shortcakes or sweet drop biscuits or come up with some other fancy name, but whatever the label, IMG_3418they’re chewy-caky-sweet-tangy bursty deliciousness. And since they’re low on fat as-is, I can pair them with ice cream or butter or whipped cream if I’m feeling particularly decadent. And have butter. Or ice cream. (I did have whipping cream, oh, yes.)

Now the recipe, so I don’t forget it, because I am hella-sure I’ll be making these again since I’ve already made a second batch with frozen blueberries:

  • Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees
  • Put parchment or baking mats on 2 cookie sheets
  • Sift together:
    • 2 1/2 c. flour
    • 2 1/2 tsp baking powder
    • 1 tsp salt (or less)
    • 1/2 c. sugar
  • add 1 c.+ small fruit, dried or fresh.  I used dried cranberries, but dried cherries or apricots would do too (diced, in that case) or frozen blueberries, cherries, or raspberries…etc.  Note: when I was using wet fruit, I would add it after the cheese/yogurt.
  • Work in with fork or hands until completely mixed & crumbled with the flour:
    • 4 oz Neufchatel cheese or cream cheese (half a block)
    • 2 heaping spoonfuls plain Greek yogurt (about 1/3 c?)
  • add 3/4 c milk and stir until mixture forms a gooey dough

Scoop by spoonfuls onto cookie sheets & bake 15-20 minutes/until tops brown & toothpick comes out clean. Ones made with wet fruit may require longer bake than dried ones.  Makes 12 big rounds or 24 nibble sized ones.

There. That was my big adventure.

In other Other Things:

Reading: I have embarked on a Elizabeth Boyle reading spree. Solid mystery-lite Regency fantasies with some tropes I don’t like (True Love excuses all bad acts, saving the damaged man, bad guys are wimps or cowards…) but also some I love, plus lots of snappy dialogue and humor. Non-fictionwise I’m reading dog training material because the protagonist in my new WIP has a dog. Because dog.

Viewing: Thor 3 was a hoot. Finally I got a movie with the Thor I met & fell in love with in the comics.  Also Valkyrie. Whee! Punisher was punishing but well-done. Stranger Things. I have complicated feels about Season 2. It was mega-problematic in ways ST1 was not. but hey, I  know how to be a fan of problematic things. I’m still loving Madame Secretary & Supernatural, much to my surprise. NCIS & Lucifer are on the chopping block.

And I finished writing Heartwood! (get used to me mentioning that every post for a month or three.) I discovered Word statistics and learned I wrote 60k words of it in the last 12 months. Since the whole year was a struggle to get back in creative shape after the Year-Plus Of Caregiving Focus, I’m declaring it a victory.  Some scenes/themes prolly need expanding and I might need to add an action first chapter to hook readers, but maybe not. That will wait until feedback.  Cleaning up the text for beta readers now.

And that is that for this installment of my life.

 

 

Thanksgiving and other awkward things


So, I wrote this on my new tablet, which is to say I thought I posted this around 1800 hours local and now it’s midnight. Oops…

Turkey has been in the oven a couple of hours with an hour to go. A pan of sage dressing & one of sweet potatoes w/onion & garlic just joined it. Apples are stewing with spices. A big ol’ bowl of green beans is making friends with chopped garlic to prep for steaming, diced golden potatoes are in their stock pot of water, passively soaking up heat from the oven to expedite boiling them for mash while the turkey rests. Scarborough Fair bread is rising ahead of schedule, so we’ll have extra starch to go with the other carbs. Cream is whipped & ready to go atop the pumpkin pie I always buy because a) I like store-bought pumpkin filling better than (almost) any home recipe I’ve tasted and b) it’s easy.

In short I have time on my hands. So I go online and read the news, I watch TV, and I do a lot of thinking. Dangerous thing, that.

I hear & see all the usual Thanksgiving cliche jokes about men watching football while women slave away in the kitchen over a meal that will be eaten in 20 minutes and take four hours to clean up, and it irks me as it always does. First, it’s wrong, if that’s what happens. Second, I don’t know why it should be so much work. I do NOT work hard on Thanksgiving. There’s a lots of things in the oven for hours, yes. But work time? Not really. I do all the shop & chop prep in the prior couple of days — and slicing things while watching my favorite recorded TV shows is just keeping my hands busy. Turkey day is mix, set to cook, clean as I go, and do a lot of relaxing. Movies & TV rather than sports, but I definitely get in my recliner time, so to speak. And the cleanup? Anything still dirty after supper is Spouseman’s job. Period.

No, we don’t go out & about. We keep quiet holidays, Spouseman & me. Our families are scattered wide across the count

ry and we are nesters. Thanksgiving is about contemplation, gratitude for the bounty we collect and consume, and lately, a lot of bemusement at the weirdness of the holiday itself.

I worked retail for 23 Christmas seasons. (True confession, I loved the challenge of Christmas season in retail. It was FUN. But then I worked in a bookstore, so it was a wee bit different than most retail. ANYway. ) Thanksgiving Day often marked my last real day off until the new year. It was the calm before an exciting storm, a breather before the home stretch, the last chance to marshal up physical reserves and buckle up the emotional armor. For all those reasons I have long loved the third Thursday in November.

Also a bunch of staple foods I love go on steep sale, so I can stock up like a squirrel preparing for cold winter. This day is a tasty “once-a-month cooking” occasion that once saved me hours on exhausted work days and now just saves me hours.

Notice I didn’t mention loving any of the theoretical reasons for Thanksgiving? That’s because those reasons, as have been pointed out by people far more eloquent and knowledgable than me, are purely dangerous bullshit. I loved the Pilgrim story when I was 6 and 7 years old (who wouldn’t? Spunky underdog rebels being embraced by their new neighbors?) but I am a history teacher’s daughter. As soon as I could read she began to inoculate me against the comfortable mythology of colonial heroism. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t a detailed survey course, but a foundation of “white Europeans were NOT good neighbors” was well-laid. Any lingering nostalgia was rubbed out over the years as the holiday’s “ideals” became fetishized even as its dirty, bloody roots were dragged further into the open.

So anyway. I love this day off, but not because it’s Thanksgiving. All the Thanksgiving lies are pretty awful, really. But this day can be a time-away-from-work festive gathering day AND an educational springboard to raise awareness of poisonous lies. Events can be more than one thing.

True confession 2. I also love Christmas, but in the same way I love Thanksgiving–not the materialistic consumerism, not even the Christian holiday itself, but as a storyteller, all the layered mythologies that swirl around midwinter appeal to the deepest parts of my psyche.

Also I was raised in Advent traditions, and they hold a special spot in my heart. What’s not to love about elevating the quiet work of preparation to a place of honor, and appreciating the importance of anticipation as a facet of celebration?

But that’s a post for another time.

Not tired of my words yet? My published works are available on Amazon and all the other usual online retailers, or you can take free peeks at them on this page here. Science-fiction thrillers, science-fiction romance, and science fantasy, full length novels and shorter works. So many choices!

What Publishers Do (a grumpy rant)

Time to revisit a topic that irks me hard: indie authors dissing useless “publishers.”  I use scare quotes because publishing options have  grown right along with self-publishing.  Back in the day author choices were limited to three–the Big Publishers,  a predatory vanity publisher, or self-publishing–but today complaining about “publishers” is a lot like complaining about “food.” It’s so broad a category it’s meaningless.

And yet people do it. Four times in the last week I’ve seen posts  that were all variations on this: “Why would I bother working with a publisher when they don’t promote/market/support me or my book?”

YAARRRGGHHHH  <I would insert hair-pulling-out graphic here but I am too lazy>

Pull up an orange crate to the cider barrel, and Old Curmudgeon Karen will tell you a tale about publishing. First off, the word publish refers to making a book, not about what happens afterwards. The majority of what a publisher does is NOT marketing.

PUBLISHERS DO A LOT OF BORING HARD EXPENSIVE THINGS FOR YOU SO YOU CAN FOCUS MORE ON WRITING. If I was being published by someone else I would not have to:

  • locate all the right developmental, copy & proof editors for each of my works, negotiate with said editors on fees and schedules, or chase after them about deadlines. Plus I wouldn’t have to PAY them.
  • all the same issues for interior ebook formatting & for print
  • same-same for cover design

That’s a lot of time, money, and trouble avoided right there. I ALSO would be leaving to someone else the following tedious, expensive hassles:

  • the PITA of getting books logged into the ISBN & copyright databases
  • ditto the actual production of print books & posting to various sales
  • ditto-ditto double-checking the results in same for errors

Yes, I would lose some creative control. But I would gain lots and lots and lots of time. And reduce stress.  That is a trade-off.  One I would gladly make, TBH.

Even in the old days, the big publishing houses were never big into promoting books or authors outside NYC/the literary community. Until the late 80’s, major book promotions really were not a thing period. The book industry kind of backed into major marketing efforts way later than most entertainment businesses.

Publishers used to release most books the way mama turtles have babies. They made ’em, laid em out there, and the babies either swam or got eaten by seagulls.  If an author was already a big name–or impressed the heck out of Everyone at the Company–their book would get ads in the industry mags or the New York Review of Books or some targeted professional publication and they might even get a book tour. BUT.  BUTBUTBUT.  This was rarely an expectation for debut or midlist authors, at least not in the “all expenses paid” way. Unicorn rare.

Most books got entries in the “new release” section of industry mags, were listed in the indexes, and might get promoted word-of-mouth by sales reps to librarians & booksellers. Those people would read and pass on recommendations of their own to book groups and local newspapers, and so on and so on.

Do major publishers now give authors less marketing support after publication  than ever before? Absolutely. Is this a bad thing? YES. They also take on fewer authors, pay them lower royalties and engage in a slew of other practices that beggar the book world. That’s kinda beside the point.

The point is, marketing never has been the fundamental core of publishing. Ignoring that reality is petty and shortsighted. And pettiness irks me.

Okay. Rant over.