Monday, September 24, 2012

yay, neighbors

I sewed like a fiend all morning then stood up around noon, winced, popped my back, and staggered into the kitchen for lunch. Everything needed cleaning before I could cook. So I rinsed, wiped, and went to take the recycling out on the porch.

My office had been chill all morning, thanks to the brick house and the northern exposure. So I was surprised to find the day warm and sunny. I ambled down the drive to collect the yard waste cans, and spotted a fresh pile of branches the Sparring Partner had cut down on Sunday. I began to break them up and stuff them in the freshly emptied cans.

Next thing I know, the old lady across the street is shuffling my way, hailing me. "Can I talk to yooou?" she yodels, and not like, "I got something to tell you," but more like "I've got nobody else, will you listen to me?" so I say, "Sure."

I had met the woman a few times after I first moved in. She smoked like a chimney and had a salty, rollicking way of talking. For our first married Christmas she gave us a box of fudge that smelled like low-tar. But over the past few years she'd fallen a couple of times, broken both hips and had them replaced, and her son had moved it with her.

It was obvious, now, that her mind had severely deteriorated. She was just as cheery and talkative as ever, but there was a fragile quality to her posture and her speech was rambling vagaries. I nodded and made listening noises and stomped on branches to break them up.

"Oh honey!" she said. "Let me help you with that!" She started toward me.

"No, I got it."

"Oh, you're just a little thing, you shouldn't--"

"Just stay right there!" I told her in no uncertain terms. The last thing I needed was her trying to pick up a tree branch and pitching over in my yard. She probably weighed less than ninety pounds but that was too much for me to carry and I didn't want to talk to her son, period. He's creepy, frankly.

She seemed wounded. "Well, I didn't mean to..."

"I know, I appreciate it, but you're on my property and if you get hurt I'll be in trouble."

"Oh, I guess that's so." She stood there a minute longer. "Well, I guess I'd better be going."

"Ok, you take care." I looked across the street to make sure no cars were coming, and she shuffled back to her driveway. I saw her son leaning in the open garage door, hands in pockets, watching, so that was good.

She got inside safely, and I went back to picking up branches.

I was vaguely aware of a car coming up the street behind me, not too fast. A wolf whistle smacked me in the backside as the breeze of the vehicle brushed by.

I turned around fast, startled, but the pickup truck was already past, guy in a ball cap leaning on the window, looking straight ahead.

I decided I'd had enough fresh air and went back inside.

Friday, September 21, 2012

suffering fools--er, fans

I've been re-reading Sharyn McCrumb's Bimbos of the Death Sunwhich is a murder mystery set at a science fiction convention, and a brilliant portrayal of the weirdness of fandom. I've read it several times, but here lately it jumped to the front of my brain, because I've been considering asking her for a jacket quote, and also because I may one day soon have to attend some cons and do some book promotion.

Now, I've done KC Planet Comicon five years straight, and I think I'm getting better at it. This year was especially satisfactory. I did well sales-wise, but more importantly, I kept myself on an even keel throughout the weekend. I was friendly and professional, I turned away the couple of creepies who might have gotten ugly, and I deflected the odd bits of ignorant criticism with firm, polite, factual responses.

This is an important exercise for me, because I have never been the most forbearing of persons. Earlier this week I managed to snap at just about everyone in my tai chi class, mostly because I was very very tired and not in good control of myself. Also because they were asking stupid questions, but mostly because I'd misplaced my velvet gloves that day.

You could say I've never been one to take criticism well. No one likes to have their mistakes pointed out, but the ones who really get my goat are the folks who insist I've got the facts wrong when I know perfectly well I haven't.

When I first ran "Sikeston" through, several reviewers took it upon themselves to tell me that soda pop wasn't invented until the 1890's, which is hogwash. IIRC, at the time I did my research, both Dr. Pepper and Coca-Cola were claiming to be the oldest surviving brand of soda pop in America, with a birth date of 1886 or so. And that was virtually the only hard data I could find in 2001. In the last decade the resurge of interest in Victoriana has spawned a wealth of new info about soda pop, and a quick Google search now shows that Vernor's Ginger Ale claims to be older than either--it was formulated in 1866. (mmm, ginger ale!)

But all of that is irrelevant, because carbonated beverages were sold by druggists from the late 1700's, and by the American Civil War "soft drinks" were widely bottled and distributed for sale outside of the pharmacy. It was not at all a stretch to have Trace buy a bottle of pop from a general store in 1880. The real question I struggled with was, what kind of a cap would it have? Cork, wax, wire, tin--some combination thereof?

But no so-called fan ever addresses that kind of question, because that would require actual knowledge of the subject matter. The average sci-fi fan tends to mistake their wealth of memorized trivia for actual knowledge, and they love to dredge up some half-remembered factoid, peripherally related to your work, and challenge you with it, only to prove their own intelligence.

I do not suffer this kind of fool lightly.

And that could be a problem, when I'm out trying to win fans and influence readers.

In Bimbos of the Death Sun, there's a scene in which the two guest authors--one famous, the other unknown--are doing signings at adjacent tables, and the so-called fans keep approaching with breathtakingly rude questions, criticisms, and outright insults.

"What's your agent's name and phone number?"

"Why did you end your book like that? I didn't think you should have done that."

"Is this a dirty book? The cover looks really raunchy."

"Will you sign this enormous stack of books so I can sell them off after you're dead?"

I'm reading it like one of those books that tell you how to prepare for an interview. Rehearsing diplomatic responses in my head:

"Amy Boggs--you can look her up on the Internet."

"Seemed like the thing to do at the time."

"It's as dirty as you want it to be..." (With a wink and a coy look.)


Still hoping I can get my husband to attend conventions with me. He's much more gracious than I am. Also funnier.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

some Harley Quinn dresses I have made

I was looking at my web traffic and noticed some friendly souls came by searching for a "Harley Quinn dress." Then I looked at Google and noticed only two of the dresses I've done showed up in the images search, and none of those recently! And I've done a few. So here they are:

Harley Quinn 50's cocktail/prom dress
Elise Archer a/k/a The Princess Bee in one of my original designs,
a 1950's style cocktail or prom dress.

Harley Quinn Mad Love red nightie negligee
Does this count as a dress? The infamous red nightie from "Mad Love."

Harley Quinn white formal dress gown
Harley Quinn's white formal gown, as designed by
the great Adam Hughes in his "Women of DC" Poster.

circus acrobat victorian steampunk harley quinn dress corset
The latest and greatest of my original Harley Quinn dress designs:
I call this one Steampunk Harley Quinn, or Circus Acrobat Harley Quinn Dress.

You can order custom-sized items like these through my Etsy shop. Thanks for stopping by!

Please do not repost pictures without proper attribution: "Costume by Holly Messinger."

Friday, September 14, 2012

a bird in the....

Last month my agent, Amy, called to say we'd had an offer on The Curse of Jacob Tracy. Two-book contract from one of the so-called Big Six publishers, average first-novel advance, etc. etc. I said, ok, cool, that's the first one, now what?

However, she still had submissions out with other editors, and as per industry etiquette she called them up to say, Hey, I need your answer on this. A couple editors asked for more time to review. I said, eh, sure, I'm not in a hurry--it was still possible we'd get a better offer, and frankly, I wasn't convinced that Offering Editor was the best person for me to work with on CJT, although I DID like the publisher. The Sparring Partner and I were fantasizing about getting cover quotes from Charlaine Harris.

But yesterday Amy called to tell me that Offering Editor had abruptly and unexpectedly "left publishing," (to be a belly dancer? raise kumquats? I didn't ask) and because we had not signed any contract, the offer with Big Publisher was now null.

And of course, the other editors who wanted more time shrugged their shoulders and said, "Eh... pass."

So we are back to square one, with slightly diminished prospects. Amy's still submitting to editors in the Flatiron building, although I think we've already cleared the biggest publishers. I personally suspect I need a British publisher on this project.

I also suspect--I have for the last couple of years--that I missed the optimal window in which to sell this bastard. Ten years ago, before the Steampunk explosion, my contact at Tor said she loved the book but wouldn't know how to market it. This year, another editor at the same house said she loved the book but she already had "too many Victorian series." And you gotta admit, once "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter" has come and gone from a theater near you, the bloom is off the rose.

Le sigh. I spent yesterday afternoon lethargically drinking tea and feeling unloved. And understanding all the resentment for traditional publishing out there in the Interwebs.

I love you Amy! May the publishing gods rain down fiery vengeance on those who betrayed us!

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

chocolate custard pudding

Modern food has suffered in the name of convenience. Ease of preparation and a demand for longer shelf-life has rendered our foods bland, textureless and devoid of nutrients.

One simple but sterling example is the simple custard. What we Americans call "pudding"--which generally comes packaged in single-serve plastic cups, full of corn syrup and starches--is the bastard cousin of what the Victorians called custard: a simple, elegant food of milk, dairy fat, and eggs, with a little sugar and flavoring; simple food for children and invalids, a mild dessert or nourishing, easy-to-eat meal. 

Creme brulée is the nearest thing most Americans have tasted to a classic custard, but even in fancy restaurants those desserts tend to be grainy and full of cornstarch, because real cream is perishable, expensive, and delicate to cook.

I have a basic chocolate pudding recipe, in a reprint of a vintage Hershey's cookbook from the 40's. It, too, uses cornstarch as thickener, but I've been playing with it, and I came up with something much yummier.

This custard tastes like gourmet ice cream. The egg and the use of half & half, rather than milk, make the difference. It is not very sweet; I like my chocolate desserts on the bitter side.

2 cups half-and-half, divided
1 large or jumbo egg
1/4 cup unsweeted cocoa powder
1/3-1/2 cup granulated sugar, to taste
2 Tbs cornstarch
pinch salt
2 Tbs butter
1 tbs vanilla
Optional: 2-3 Tbs of chopped bittersweet chocolate melted along with the cream will add extra richness and silky texture.

Whisk the egg with the cornstarch and about 1/2 cup of the half-and-half in a small bowl.

Place the remainder of the half-and-half in a medium saucepan, with the cocoa, sugar, and salt. Heat the mixture over medium heat, whisking constantly, until very warm. Spoon out a 1/4 cup or so of the warm liquid into the egg mixture and whisk it together to temper the egg.

Whisk the egg mixture into the saucepan; keep stirring and cooking until it begins to boil. It will thicken very quickly after that. Pour off into a bowl; stir in the butter and vanilla.

Let cool slightly, press plastic over the top, and refrigerate. It will thicken further as it chills, but I like it while still slightly warm, especially on a cold night.