01
Aug
20

RECIPES NOT TO MAKE EVER

shutterstock_1047312595

Garum.

Trying to provide a cuisine for the invented world in my new novel, I thought I had invented a truly horrifying sauce made of rotting dead fish. (The main character is very fond of it.)

Late to the party, as usual.

The ancient Romans beat me to it with a disgusting concoction made out of fish parts left over from cleaning (heads, tails, guts) and allowed to ferment.

The yummy liquids resulting were skimmed off and used as a condiment called garum. The guts etc. left behind were pounded to a paste and eaten.

“The very best garum, according to the Geoponica, is called haimatum. It was made with solely the innards of the tuna, including blood and gills. These are put in a pot with salt, and after two months the liquid is garum.”—Coquinaria

You can, if you really want to, learn more about garum at the Coquinaria website, including recipes for making it yourself:

https://coquinaria.nl/en/roman-fish-sauce/

 

22
Jul
20

Lanoe Falconer: English Ghosts and Russian Assassins

Mary_Elizabeth_Hawker Lanoe Falconer, a.k.a. Mary Elizabeth Hawker

 

 

Lanoe Falconer, Mistress of Ghosts and Assassins

My latest Lockdown read-o-rama discovery: Lanoe Falconer.

Nom de plume of Mary Elizabeth Hawker (1848-1908), Lanoe Falconer was a novelist and short story writer active about 1890 to 1903; she died in 1908, of tuberculosis. I had never read her, even though I read a lot of 19th-century English ghost stories.

Her debut novel, Mademoiselle Ixe, was what we would call a high concept thriller today: a demure governess in an upper class English household turns out to be a secret Russian nihilist assassin (a sleeper asset in mod spyspeak), and kills a Romanov prince. There was some resistance from publishers at first, apparently because girls weren’t supposed to write about Russian nihilist assassins, but the book was a big hit when finally published in 1890 as one of the Pseudonym Library novels from Fisher Unwin.

I came across her next novel, Cecilia de Noel, in a collection titled Victorian Ghost Stories by Noted Women Writers, edited by Richard Dalby (Barnes & Noble Books, 1988).  The novella length story was included complete in this collection, and I found it extremely enjoyable. The set-up is typical Victorian ghost story: guests at an old English manor house are warned that the place is haunted. One by one, the guests encounter the ghost, and their reactions make up most of the narrative. Cecilia de Noel is offstage for most of the story, but she is frequently mentioned, and everyone seems to think she would have her own, unique way of dealing with the spirit.

The basic trope is familiar from other Victorian ghostly tales: a pure, loving heart resolves/frees/puts to rest a doomed spirit—as in Wilde’s “The Canterville Ghost,” or E.F. Benson’s “How Fear Departed from the Long Gallery.” The character of Cecilia de Noel is more interesting and complex than the usual innocents in this set-up, however. She is a mature woman who yet can access child-like wonder and compassion, and is quite conscious of the role she has to play. Her unique personality is frequently brought up by the other characters, so that when she finally puts in an appearance the reader is really ready to meet her.

Falconer was a deft satirist, gently mocking upper class English materialism and snobbery. Her characters are various and interesting. She is a poet of weather, and her descriptions of English scenery are evocative and entrancing. But perhaps the thing I liked most about the story is the way the characters discuss religion, spirituality, and the Larger Issues. Falconer has thought seriously about these issues, and the discussion ranges from rigid Puritan orthodoxy to various English Christian sects to atheism to spiritualism (the table-knocking kind) to something that sounds like theosophy, with hints of Hinduism and Buddhism, resolving in a universal spirituality of love and compassion. Not bad for a spook story, and the discussions flow quite naturally from the appearances of the ghost to various members of the household.

She reminded me at times of Jane Austen (when describing upper class foibles) and at times of E. M. Forster (when her characters discuss Big Life Issues).

Money quote: “. . . after some hours of her society . . . the universe appears to me only a gigantic apparatus especially designed to provide Lady Atherley and her class with cans of hot water at stated intervals, costly repasts elaborately served, and all other requisites of irreproachable civilisation.”

I am trying to track down her collection of short stories, Hotel Angleterre, and somewhere out there is a relatively recent biography.

Watch this space for more Lanoe.

 

 

17
Jul
20

How I spend my Lockdown hours

Life in lockdown. A found poem on my YouTube search engine:

 

Sarah Hale (irish flute)

welsh language

planting carrots

harvesting potatoes

concertina

juke

darby’s farewell to london (irish flute tune)

Little Walter Juke

baritone ukulele tuning

harvesting garlic

bunch of raw garlic on marble table

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com

04
Jul
20

Let’s Try That Again

zombiehand

 

So like Zombie Jesus this blog rises from the dead once again.

The last time I put up some entries I was writing or trying to write a crime novel. I don’t do that anymore—a long story as to why—but I can’t promise I won’t try to write crime again some day. However, for now I’m trying to write something different.

Lately I’ve become really interested in what is called ‘fantasy,” specifically fantasy intended for middle school and young adult audiences. I taught creative writing classes to middle-schoolers and high school students for several years, and came to think that they are the best audience for wonder tales and imaginative writing of all kinds. I wanted to write something that my students would read and enjoy and think was cool. I’m still trying; turned out to be much harder than I thought it would be.

I’ve written a lot of ghost stories, which I suppose come under the general heading of “horror,” not fantasy. I tend to think of all such stories as ‘wonder tales,’ a medieval category I am comfortable with. Leave the rest to Marketing.

But as I struggle to teach myself to write these stories, I’m reading more fantasy, trying to eavesdrop on the discourse and learn something.

But two things irk and irritate in this realm: food and music.

Food and music are serious interests of mine, so I do not like to see them glossed over. If you’re going to mention food at all, use the same degree of creative imagination you would use in the rest of your world building.

Many fantasy writers seem to gloss over cooking and dining. What do questors eat on the quest?

The answer, apparently, is stew. Why is it always stew? Everything stew. It usually sounds both disgusting and vague. What’s in the stew? How is it spiced? Meat or fish or what? Insects? Rocks?

(The simple minded attempts of second-rate 1950s science fiction to provide an alien cuisine—“fried ysxxlt, with a brx sauce” —are usually pretty lame. I don’t imagine anyone is going there anymore–but then I don’t read a lot of contemporary science fiction. They better not, that’s all. Most often eating is just avoided entirely, everyone if they eat at all eat something that sounds like military k rations, or else “food pills.”)

Who among fantasy writers gets it right? Tolkien, for one, though he goes easy on the details. Maybe that’s the way to do it. Still, waybread is both practical and imaginative. I can almost taste it.  I want some. The depression among the fellowship when the waybread runs out is better than a minutely detailed description of it.

Elvish wine, with its shifting opalescent colors, is attractive, and you wonder how that iridescence would translate into taste.

And, or course, a Fish Dinner in Memison, tho’ I’m not sure I would want to sit down to dinner with those guys.

But overall I think I would starve in most fantasy worlds. On purpose.

Another area where many fantasy writers come up short is music. Think of all the visual imagination lavished on fantasy and sci-fi films, and some pretty cool soundtracks as well. But music in the story itself is either avoided or superficial.

What I mean: think of the famous bar scene in Star Wars, how cool and weird and convincingly alien it is. Funny, but also unsettling. Now compare the lame tootling music of the [little furry guys—ewoks?] in another Star Wars movie. Neither believable as the national music of a tree-dwelling race of extraterrestrials, nor interesting in itself. Obviously no real thought or musical imagination was expended here.

I’m sorry, but this kind of thing really bothers me. It reminds me of those old Hollywood movies which made no attempt at all to be authentic musically, where sailors at a capstan, lumberjacks in a forest, or cowboys at the corral suddenly begin singing like the effing Mormon Tabernacle Choir, with a full orchestra hidden somewhere nearby. How hard could it have been to have researched this stuff? (It’s done much better now, I admit.)

Science fiction writers will sometimes reference a Terran musical style that has unexpectedly persisted or evolved: “death polka,” “Venusian mazurkas.” This is not bad and at least gives your imagination something to work with. And Frank Herbert in Dune hinted at musical styles and instruments that fit in with Atreides culture.

Maybe suggestive but glancing references are the way to go, leaving the heavy lifting to the reader’s imagination.

But I can’t think of a contemporary fantasy writer who has addressed this head on. Where should I be looking? Am I missing something?

It is also quite possible that I haven’t been reading the right books. I welcome correction. If any reader has examples of food or music in fantasy that are well done, please, let me know.

 

22
Jun
16

New ghost story in Disturbed Digest.

Scan 1June 2016 is the fourth anniversary of Disturbed Digest, a quarterly of strange, twisted and horrific fiction, and I am proud to say that the issue contains my ghost story, “A Face at Every Window.” Copies of Disturbed may be ordered on the Alban Lake website: http://www.albanlake.com. While you’re there be sure to look around at all the strange and terrifying literature on offer.

28
Dec
15

RANDOM NOTES ON WATER STREET

RANDOM NOTES WALKING WATER STREET COMMONS

(Wandering over Water Street, a big chunk of vacant land along the river, just over the bridge from downtown Ypsilanti. Once the site of flour mills, sawmills, chair factories, auto parts manufacturing, later covered by auto dealerships. Now a weed-grown rubblefield, surrounded by chain link and bufferzone trees. Long controversy over use of this land, now owned by the city. The usual strife: private development vs. public use. Public users, reclaiming the commons, have moved ahead and built a sculpture garden at the heart of the vacancy, creating beauty and strangeness.)

3_arthut1

Deliberately random.

Consciously accidental.

Unmeant intent.

Art energy expressed as sudden outgrowth of connected ruin.

Instant ruins.

Archaeology of the present moment.

Materials generated by the site.

The site ground by time to small fragments.

8_vase.JPG

Found objects.

Ground objects.

The Department of Missing Perceptions.

Structures of memory and dream.

Grown from seeds of stone and rust.

4_barrelspider.JPG

The absence, the hole in the continuity, sinkholes of intention, lost parts found and repurposed, rust as patina as memory suggestive of use, invention, dreams of rust and decay, overgrown lot with a crop of weeds hides outgrowth of creative energies that deny decay, reinvent the local and useful as something to be remembered in subtle pieces, reassembled in the minds of as many as will. As they said in the old dance manuals. This is the oldest dance, the archaic manifesting as the most thoroughly contemporary resistance to being changed out of existence. We still have a use for these things.

1_armature.JPG

Everyone adds his or her stone to the pile, cairn of community, sign that human beings passed this way once and left this here for others to find. Ur sculpture, first art. Before cities: the cairn.

Water Street Commons is a cairn, each artwork a stone brought to the pile until a cairn is achieved. The cairn is instantly achieved in the intention to make one.

12_streetsidecairn.jpg

Yes, Merzbau, yes, Schwitters, his spirit and example. Yes, many others who have left their car on the tracks, poured sugar in the tank, grit in the gears. But cultural sabotage is harder to effect in the present moment. No, not an instantly consumable commodifiable good carefully positioned in a burgeoning market. Not a proffer, and aware of not being for sale. Don’t say who would buy it anyway, because any manifestation even in outright opposition and harshest most devastating critique can be subsumed in the art narrative, cooked and eaten by elite diners at the ongoing banquet where every human product is reduced to a dollar value.

11_skeletal.JPG

Not so much critique as a rebeginning to grow, a new way to make something where you are not supposed to be able to make anything. So: a permission, self-granted.

And joy. And pleasure. Pure pleasure of putting just that thing there, next to others similarly placed, constructing an intention after the fact.

6_glovetree.JPG

Breathing the atmosphere of the commons your way of seeing the world is changed. As art can effect. The two boards, laid in the mud: deliberate? Yes, whether art or accident, because everything here is deliberate. There is no accident. The death of chance. All intention all the time.

10_spirehanging2.JPG

This is one way of connecting the world.

That changes, and is replaced.

Because everything changes and is replaced.

Deliberation the same as accident.

Intention the same as chance.

Wandering a cold field in winter.

Warm fire of human intention.

A made thing at hand.

Rocks and gravel, stones.

Tree and river.

Factory ghosts, human plans erased by time.

Archaeology of collapse.

Fragments of use.

Rusted and broken.

Pieces of meaning

Rearranged.

2_wooden2.jpg

 

 

 

 

02
Jul
15

They’re Back!

KillerYrcover

Paperback, I mean. A day  late and a dollar short  as usual, let me nevertheless announce the appearance on June 30 of the Killer Year gang in mass market paperback. (In addition to many short fiction masterpieces by my Killer Year colleagues, it contains the only Johnny LoDuco short story in existence.)

From the blog of the estimable JT Ellison:

Such great new from our friends at St. Martin’s Press — KILLER YEAR, the ultimate anthology of debut authors from the crime fiction class of 2007, has been reissued today in mass market, with a snazzy new cover and some updates inside. And for the first time ever, there is an audio edition! It is so cool to see this little project back in print and better than ever. Grab yours today!

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-A-Million | iBooks | Indiebound | Kobo | Powell’s Books

 

A collection of killer stories from some of today’s hottest crime fiction writers, edited by grandmaster and #1 New York Times bestselling author Lee Child. Killer Year is a group of thirteen authors whose first novels were published in the year 2007. Now, each member of this widely-praised organization has written a story with his or her own unique twist on the world of crime. Each entry in this one-of-a-kind collection is introduced by the author’s Killer Year mentor, including bestselling authors James Rollins, Tess Gerritsen, and Jeffery Deaver. Other contributors—of original stories, essays, and commentary—include acclaimed veterans Ken Bruen, Allison Brennan, Duane Swierczynski, Laura Lippman, and M.J. Rose. This is an book/audiobook that no fan of the genre can do without.

This one-of-a-kind anthology features stories from members of Killer Year, who were all fresh-faced debut authors in 2007:

Brett Battles
 J.T. Ellison
 Jason Pinter
 Bill Cameron
 Dave White
 Derek Nikitas
 Gregg Olsen 
Marcus Sakey 
Robert Gregory Browne 
Patry Francis
 Toni McGee Causey 
Marc Lecard 
Sean Chercover

And words from some seasoned vets:

Lee Child
 Laura Lippman
 MJ Rose
 Duane SweirczynskiKen Bruen
 Allison Brennan

The reviews are super, too:

“The disturbingly good new talent showcased in this volume bodes well for the future of the genre.”
— Publishers Weekly

“The mentors’ introductions to these stories, plus brief biographies at the end, should entice readers to longer works by these promising new authors. Even amid a recent rash of anthologies in the genre, this one is well worth a look.”                                                                                                                               — Library Journal

Gems come from the 13 Killer Year members…. Remarkably for a collection this ample, there’s no sign of a clinker.”                   
 — Kirkus Reviews

Killer Year is a group of 13 debut crime/mystery/suspense authors whose books were first published in 2007. The graduating class included such rising stars as Robert Gregory Browne, Toni McGee Causey, Marcus Sakey, Derek Nikitas, Marc Lecard, JT Ellison, Brett Battles, Jason Pinter, Bill Cameron, Sean Chercover, Patry Francis, Gregg Olsen, and David White. Each of the short stories displaying their talents are introduced by their Killer Year mentors, some of which include bestselling authors Lee Child, Tess Gerritsen and Jeffrey Deaver, with additional stories by Ken Bruen, Allison Brennan and Duane Swierczynski. Bestselling authors Laura Lippman and MJ Rose contribute insightful essays. Inside you’ll read about a small-time crook in over his head, a story told backwards with a heroine not to be messed with, a tale of boys and the trouble they will get into over a girl, and many more stories of the highest caliber in murder, mayhem, and sheer entertainment. This amazing anthology, edited by the grandmaster Lee Child, is sure to garner lots of attention and keep readers coming back for more.

 

25
Apr
15

Pickling Papaya

PICKLING PAPAYA

The onion parts where the knife greets it,

Falling away in rings that pile

On the board and sting your eyes. Then

Take up the greens in a bundle,

Hold them ready for the cut,

Keeping them all together so that

They may be sliced at once

With no falling away, no defections.

Cut them fine, so that everywhere

There will be a trace of their presence.

Garlic next, the thinnest lengthwise slice

To make available the subtle tang and savor

That trumps all other flavors and makes them sing.

Then the hot peppers, their fire banked

When the seeds that contain it are removed,

Are cut in strips.

Last take the flayed papaya, undressed, revealed

In its bare flesh, running with juice

Begging to be bitten, cut into, eaten

But now merely made ready in small sections

To better absorb the flavor of its companions

Swimming in the liquor then added

Alive and changing everything to itself

Teaching the merely perishable how to last,

To become more than it might have been,

Nourishing, savory,

Persistent.

03
Apr
15

Vinnie Lives!

vinnie's head

My first novel, Vinnie’s Head, has been optioned for film by Blake West of United Film House.

I’m aware of the long and tortuous path to making a movie, heard all the horror stories of production hell, how few projects make it to film, etc., etc. But I’m excited to think of Johnny and Vinnie walking around on a silver screen somewhere, and am glad the book is in good hands. I can’t wait to see what they make of it.

21
Jan
15

George MacDonald

Cover illustration by Helen Stratton

Cover illustration by Helen Stratton

Lately I’ve been giving in to the urge to acquire old children’s books. I’ve always loved books for children, love to read them, and have randomly acquired a few over the years. But now that I’ve been writing stories with kids in mind, these books take on a new salience. Or so I tell myself. (At least, it’s another excuse to buy more books.)

George MacDonald was an incredibly prolific writer of novels and children’s stories, and is, along with William Morris, one of the most important ancestors of modern fantasy. His novels Phantastes and Lilith are inflection points in the history of fantasy.

His children’s books are true wonders. The title alone of At the Back of the North Wind is worth a stack of most modern paperback fantasy.

The Brit paperback of The Princess and the Curdie I found last week in an Ann Arbor thrift shop is not really “collectable,” but nevertheless a great pleasure to me. It’s in good shape, with color covers front and back by illustrator Helen Stratton .

Here’s a sample of MacDonald, from the first page of the book:

“A mountain is a strange and awful thing. In old time, without knowing so much of their strangeness and awfulness as we do, people were yet more afraid of mountains. But then somehow they had not come to see how beautiful they are as well as awful, and they hated them—and what people hate they must fear. Now that we have learned to look at them with admiration, perhaps we do not feel quite awe enough of them. To me they are beautiful terrors.

I will try to tell you what they are. They are portions of the heart of the earth that have escaped from the dungeon down below, and rushed up and out. For the heart of the earth is a great wallowing mass, not of blood, as in the hearts of men and animals, but of glowing hot, melted metals and stones. And as our hearts keep us alive, so that great lump of heat keeps the earth alive: it is a huge power of buried sunlight—that is what it is.”

curdiecover2_0001

Back cover art by Helen Stratton




Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 123 other followers