Tuesday, June 14, 2005

feeding my brain

I bought two books today at lunchtime. There's a Borders three blocks away from my office, which cost me a great deal of paycheck, the first couple years I worked here. It's a great place to pass a lunch hour--especially in the summer, among the cool, quiet stacks that smell of bleached paper and soy-based inks.

I went in there semi-seriously looking for a tome on Catholicism in nineteenth-century America. I know such a work exists: I've seen some on Amazon, but today I just wanted to do some skimming, not buying.

Instead I got sidetracked by the African-American studies. I saw the endcap, with a new compilation of slave narratives, and figured I could pick up some anecdotes. I found a thin bound copy of Booker T. Washington's Up From Slavery, for the whopping price of $2. I knew who Booker T. was, but I never had heard of this book. Maybe I read an excerpt and forgot about it. We didn't even cover him in Minority Lit, in college. Still, for $2, every kid in America ought to be made to read this. It's not a man with an ax to grind or a scholar trying to build a reputation. He's just a guy telling it like it was.

The other book I got is way more fun: Lotions, Potions, and Deadly Elixirs: Frontier Medicine in America. It's a hoot. Beautifully bound and printed on glossy paper, with a number of proofreading errors that set my teeth on edge, it's both informative and entertaining. The first half is anecdotal and expository; the back half is an encyclopedia.
Applying vinegar mildly pickled the top layers of the skin. Regardless of the smell, and the desire to bite oneself, vinegar helped relieve sunburn and similar skin irritations. When applied to irritated skin, vinegar makes skin sting before it feels better. That is perhaps why it found little favor in treating minor hemorrhoid flare-ups or burning bottoms caused from improper wipings with pine straw or leaves.

I kid you not. The author also relates how his Grandma doctored everybody with coal tar and veterinary medicines, fried her chicken in lard, ate eggs and bacon for breakfast every day, dipped snuff and still lived to be ninety-four. My kind of woman. I figure with modern advances in medicine--and less chance of contracting parasites--I can make it to a hundred and four.

Monday, June 13, 2005

from a review of Batman Begins

The film works as a commentary on not only Osama Bin Laden's crusade against the West, but also Bush Jr.'s crusade against the Middle East. It's all about fear and loathing, this high profile, big-budget product of a post-millennial United States...

I give up. I absolutely freaking give up.

giving credit where due

Well, Eric Martin at Lone Star Stories rejected EOTL, too (talk about fast turnaround), but he recommended I send it to Jintsu, which publishes novellas as e-books. I dunno, I'm kinda like, if I wanted to go the electronic route, I'd just post it myself. I'm not sure if I'm gaining anything to e-publish something people have to pay for, because I'm of the opinion that they won't. I could be wrong.

Anyhoo, I watched two movies this weekend: Unforgiven, the Eastwood opus of 1992, and White Noise, with Michael Keaton. They were both decent and both flawed in different ways, I think. They did their jobs.

The first half of Unforgiven was... not boring, but rather stiff, in my opinion. I felt the dialogue was awkward and there was inadequate interaction between characters to really get a feel for who they were--especially with regard to Eastwood's retired-gun. Hackman was supposed to be the bad guy, but in my mind he was far more reasonable and sympathetic than anybody else (makes you worry about me, eh?), at least up until he started whupping Morgan Freeman. Freeman was his usual endearing and accessible self, and had some of the best dialogue in the movie. The ending was definitely memorable. Not quite what I had expected. Subtly done. Almost too subtle, really, but very much in keeping with the other "great" westerns I've seen. It occurs to me that the Western gunslinger, with his unexplored past, personal demons, and taciturn attitude, is really the original post-modern hero. Nothing really changed at the end of that story. Couple people died, the hero finished his job and went home a little richer. Our understanding of him was perhaps enhanced, but I'm not sure that was enough to deserve a Best Picture award.

White Noise was more engaging and accessible. The characters were rather shallow but endearing enough to do the job. It was, in my opinion, as sad as it was scary. There were plenty of spooky moments--enough that I kept flashing back to the movie all night--but ultimately the story didn't hold together. I'm a little ambivalent about what could have been changed to make it work--I don't think all the questions should be resolved in a ghost story; that robs it of its power. But several things just seemed inconsistent or random.

While I was searching for markets yesterday I ran across Whispering Spirits Ezine, which might be a good venue for the Trace séance story, if I can keep it under 8000 words. Of general interest, however, was an article in their current issue titled, "Why Ghosts Must Be Scary: A Writer's Lesson." Check it out.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

forget our ADD medication today, hmm?

Dear Ms. Messinger,

Thank you for submitting "End of the Line," but I'm going to pass on it. This tale didn't grab my interest, I'm afraid. Good luck to you with this short, and thanks again for sending it our way.

Assistant /fill-in-your-own-epithet-here/ Editor,
well-known SF magazine.

Record 10 day turnaround time. Freakin sons of motherless goats. Good thing I'm not a 6'6" man, or I'd have broken a few things in my apartment today.

Anybody know another market that will print stories around 20k words?

I went ahead and sent EOTL to Lone Star Stories on Sunday when I got home from kung fu. Don't expect them to take it, really; they're of a more literary bent, but I have seen a couple of western-themed spec-fic stories there. Some of them are rather good. Check 'em out.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Klingon chili

(Pork chile stew)
  • about 3 pounds of pork shoulder roast or stew meat, trimmed and cut into small chunks
  • Flour or masa harina or combination
  • olive oil
  • 1/2 large yellow onion, chopped
  • 2 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 sm (6 oz?) cans minced marinated green chilis
  • 3 Tbs chili powder: hot, mild or combo
  • 1 tablespoon each or to taste: cumin, basil, thyme, oregano; and a bay leaf
  • salt and pepper, or seasoned S&P (I like Lowry's)
  • 2- 15 oz cans low sodium chicken broth
  • small jar of roasted red peppers, drained and chopped small
  • dash of white wine, lemon juice, OJ or vinegar, for acid

Cut up meat small: salt and pepper. Saute in very large skillet in olive oil until seared all over. Dump in pot with chicken broth and acid juice, simmer. Whisk some of the broth into a little corn or wheat flour to make a paste and stir into pot. Add canned peppers.

Put chopped onion and garlic in skillet w/oil, saute til clear and maybe a little burnt. Add to pot and throw in seasonings. Reduce heat and let stew for a couple hours, uncovered. Stir occasionally so it doesn't scorch on the bottom. Taste and correct seasonings after 30-40 minutes. Add more water or masa harina if needed to adjust thickness. It will thicken quite a lot when it's done.

Scott ate it over rice with sharp cheddar cheese. I ate it with cheese and sweetened rice on the side. The meat would also be very good in a soft tortilla, with refried beans, sour cream and salsa. Don't eat the bay leaf.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

don't you hate it when...?

A week later, it happened again.

Trace was literally shaken out of a sound sleep--came to in a spasm of disorientation, in the dark, not knowing which way was up, whether it was an earthquake or the Second Coming. The iron bedstead was shaking, and there was a dead man at the foot of it, gripping the rails.

“Oh, Lord, not again,” Trace groaned, pulling his pillow over his head.

The shaking came again, insistent, the heavy feet of the bed thumping on the floor like thunder. No living man could have rocked the weight of that bed, with its two straw mattresses and Trace’s considerable bulk on top, but spirits were funny that way; they could be powerful strong when they were determined.

In another minute the whole boardinghouse would be woke. Across the room, Boz was already groggy and grousing. “Dammit, Trace—“

“I can’t help it,” Trace snapped, and threw the pillow aside, sitting up only to come face-to-blackened-face with the dead man.

He had been hanged, that was obvious. His face was swollen and dark, the eyes shiny and bulging. The tail end of a rotted noose dangled around his neck, and his tongue protruded, dripping froth and obscuring his words.

“I didna do it,” he was saying, a frantic mixture of indignation and panic. “Ye gotta tell ‘em, I didna touch that gel—“

“All right, all right, I’ll tell ‘em,” Trace muttered, flinging back the covers. He reached for his pants, hung over the bedpost, got into them and his boots, pulled the suspenders over his undershirt.

“Please, you gotta tell em. They’re gonna put me to the gallows for sure—“

“I’ll tell ‘em,” Trace yawned, taking the top blanket from the bed. Boz had pulled his own pillow over his head; he couldn’t hear the spirit’s pleas, but the bed rattling and Trace’s mumbling and bumbling around the room were disturbance enough. Boz had told him he often talked in his sleep, and thrashed around as if he were fighting someone--and that was on nights without his accustomed round of bad dreams.

“No--you gotta listen to me,” the dead man said.

“I’m listenin.” Trace opened the door to the hall, shuffled through and closed it behind him as gently as he could. On nights like this, the only kind thing to do was go sleep in the stables, let Boz get what rest he could.

Listen to me!” the hanged man insisted, and suddenly Trace felt his wind cut off, an invisible noose tightening around his own throat. He was jerked back against the door of their boarding-room, clawing at his neck, scrabbling for purchase with his bootheels on the floor. Then sickeningly, the floor was no longer there, he was dangling above it, heels kicking the door, red flowers blooming in his vision, blotting out the faces of the watching crowd--

The door was yanked open behind him. Trace’s feet struck the floor and the rest of him collapsed to it, wheezing, while Boz knelt over him and all down the hall, disheveled heads stuck out to see what the ruckus was.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

and now we venture into strange new territory

I have an idea for a story in which Trace has to either pose as or debunk a parlor medium/spiritualist. Not sure how or whether it will play out yet, so don't start second-guessing me, hear? But in preparation for said topic, I've been doing a little reading. The Internet, for all its faults, is the ideal place to read up on stuff like this.

Voila: The International Survivalist Society and their impressive collection of archives. The biographies are of particular interest to me.

In the mere half-hour that I've been surfing, I've already seen several implications--if not outright assertions--that the learned men of the nineteen century were more open-minded than we are today: that most scientists were quick to accept the truth of spiritualism, mesmerism, and other para-sciences.


Anyway, this guy particularly interests me, because of the religious angle. I must also do some reading about Catholicism and the general state of faith in the late 1900's, and I must say I'm not looking forward to exploring either of these topics. Religion and psychic phenomenae fall into the category of things that seem to be discussed only by those with an axe to grind.

You know, on a total aside note: I'm the only writer I know who's so chatty about her ideas. Even among my writing colleagues who are actually producing, I never know a thing about what they're working on until there's a copy in my hands. In fact, I've heard writers say that a story will die on them if they talk about it too much beforehand. Am I just weird, or what? Desperate for approval, in love with the sound of my own voice, thinking aloud? Careless or naive about somebody stealing my ideas? Don't know. Don't care.