TT: Food to Die For

September 21, 2017

ALAN: Last time you were telling me about your cat Gwydion’s food allergies. I sympathise with Gwydion because I have similar problems myself.

Alan’s Bane

My mother told me that when I was very young, just moving on to solid food, she had to stop feeding me eggs because every time she gave me a bit of egg I would throw it up.

Apparently, my not eating eggs worried my grandmother. “You must feed him eggs,” she would say. “They are good for him.”

“How can they be good for him?” asked my mother. “They don’t stay inside him long enough to do him any good.”

My grandmother was not convinced by this argument and she would occasionally try and sneak bits of egg into my diet when I wasn’t looking. I continued to throw them up, much to her displeasure. Apparently this was a terrible waste of eggs…

It’s been a lifelong affliction. To this day, if I eat an egg, I do a lot of vomiting.

JANE: How can you manage?  Eggs are an ingredient in so many things!

ALAN: It seems to be a concentration effect – the more dilute the egg, the more likely it is that I’ll be able to eat it safely. So I’m fine with pastry and cake and similar things. But feed me an egg au naturelle and I can’t stomach it. Even the smell of an egg being cooked makes me feel nauseous.

JANE: I bet you don’t eat breakfast out very often.  At least here in the U.S., the majority of breakfast offerings begin with some form of egg dish, with your choice of carbohydrates, heavily salted meats, and something sweet.

ALAN: It’s the same here in NZ, so you’d definitely win that bet! But Robin does like her eggs, so we do occasionally indulge ourselves. The restaurants always seem quite happy to feed me just toast and marmalade. But your comment reminds me of something I’ve always found very puzzling. In American books and movies characters order their eggs cooked “sunny side up” or “over easy”. I can guess what “sunny side up” means, but “over easy” remains very puzzling. Can you explain it for me?

JANE: That’s an egg that has been cooked in a skillet, then gently turned over.  There are refinements, but that’s the basic idea.

ALAN: Ah – I think I understand. But you used another unfamiliar word in your explanation. What’s a skillet?

JANE: A skillet is a shallow pan.  It’s also called a frying pan, but I didn’t want to use that term because some people say that an egg over easy should not be confused with a fried egg because, in a proper egg over easy, the whites remain white, not browned.  Partially browned whites are apparently the mark of a fried egg.

ALAN: OK – I’ve got it now. So let’s get back to my food allergies… I did eventually begin to wonder if my reaction to eggs might be more psychological than physical. But one day I had dramatic proof that it wasn’t psychological at all – it was quite real.

Rosemary, my first wife, cooked a meal of schnitzel which looked and smelled absolutely yummy. Unbeknown to me, she had bound the breadcrumbs to the meat with an egg/milk mixture. The food was delicious and I gobbled it up. I had no idea that it had ever been within a million miles of an egg. Nevertheless I spent the rest of the evening worshipping the porcelain god.

JANE: Oh, that’s rough.  So dilution isn’t always the answer, I guess.  I bet Rosemary felt horrible.

ALAN: She was terribly upset and apologetic, of course, but it wasn’t her fault. After all, there really was very little egg involved. But from that day on, whenever she cooked schnitzel, she bound the breadcrumbs with just milk. I think that her schnitzel recipe was probably right on the borderline of what my body could tolerate – the egg was diluted, but not quite diluted enough…

JANE: Are you allergic to any other foods?  I’ve noticed that people who are allergic to one food are often allergic to several.

ALAN: Yes – and again it first manifested itself in childhood. My parents were very fond of Cadbury’s Fruit and Nut chocolate. And on special occasions they liked to treat themselves to that curious triangular Swiss chocolate called Toblerone, which also has nuts in it. Naturally they encouraged me to eat it as well. But every time I ate a piece, my tongue and throat would start to itch madly…

JANE: Uh, oh…

ALAN: My father was quite unsympathetic. “Scratch your tongue on your teeth,” he said. I tried that, but it didn’t help.

The itching seemed to get worse every time I ate anything with nuts in it. (I later learned that this is quite common with food allergies – the effect often increases with each exposure to the allergen.)

My worst attack came when I was in my mid-twenties. I was spending Christmas Day with some friends and they served a trifle which, unbeknown to me, had a lot of nut fragments in it. The familiar itching started and then, frighteningly, my throat swelled up and closed. I couldn’t swallow and I was struggling to breathe. So I spent the rest of that Christmas Day in hospital being injected with epinephrine.

JANE: That sounds horrible. Do you carry an epipen with you now?

ALAN: No, I don’t. Perhaps I should, but I find it very easy to avoid food that has nuts in it. I’ve had no real problems since that long-ago Christmas attack.

JANE:  So you’re allergic to tree nuts.  Are you allergic to peanuts as well?  Peanut allergies are becoming a major problem here in the U.S.

ALAN: I have no problems at all with peanuts. Since you are a gardener, you probably know that despite their name, peanuts are not nuts. They are classified as legumes, and I think they are very yummy. I just have to avoid the things that you described as “tree nuts”.  I’m perfectly fine with peanuts and cashew nuts and similar things.

JANE: I see. So as long as I promise not to cook you a nut omelet when you come for dinner, everything should work out well?

ALAN: Yes, that’s right.

JANE: That’s a relief!  Allergies are becoming so prevalent that I’ve heard people claim to be “allergic” on the slimmest of evidence, as if it’s somehow fashionable.    As for me, I’d be just as happy to do without.

ALAN (sneezing and reaching for the tissue box): Me, too!


Jury Duty

September 20, 2017

This week’s Big Adventure is that I’m on jury duty, specifically for the State of New Mexico, Bernalillio County, which is where I live.  When my summons arrived, I was asked to fill out several forms, including one that asked if I would incur any hardship if I were asked to serve.  I requested that I not be required to serve because I’m self-employed.  If I don’t work, there’s no one who can cover for me.

Documents in My Case

The county was sympathetic to my request, and reduced my term of being on call (not service) from three weeks to one.  I was also given the option to postpone serving for six months.  However, since I had no idea what my schedule would look like in six months, whereas this week had a certain amount of wiggle room, I opted to select this as the week I would make myself available to serve.

As required, I checked the county court’s website to see if my group number (not my juror badge number) was on the list for service on Monday.  Imagine my astonishment when, upon checking the appropriate page, I saw that one hundred and fifteen group numbers were listed.  Mine was in the fifth row.

Over the weekend, since I don’t know downtown Albuquerque very well, I’d gone to scout the area, including locating the appropriate parking facility.  Now, with a clear visual of the area in my mind, I found myself wondering how much time I should allow to get downtown, parked, and over to the courthouse by 8:30 a.m.  Even if each group contained only five people, the number of people attempting to park would be five hundred and seventy-five.  That many cars going to one parking garage would make a line that would stretch for miles.  The garage probably didn’t have that many places.

Jim and I discussed this and decided that – despite each juror having been assigned a separate badge number as well – the group numbers must indicate only one person.  When I checked in, I asked, and this proved to be the case.

So, as Juror Group 622, I took my seat in the jury assembly room.  The courthouse courteously provided both coffee and water, and I spent a comfortable twenty minutes or so sipping coffee and reading Terry Pratchett’s A Thief of Time.  No.  I didn’t pick this novel on purpose, but the irony of the title – since my time was being “stolen” by the requirement that I do my civic duty – didn’t escape me.

Eventually, a man came and explained that we had appeared in the jury pool because either we were registered voters, had paid taxes, or had driver’s licenses.  Basically, as is so often the case, because we were responsible citizens, more was being asked of us.  Those who don’t bother to vote, dodge their taxes, or drive unlicensed get off.  Oh, I know the state has to have some system, but once again… irony.

The assembled juror pool to which I belonged was short something like four people, all of whom, we were assured, would be hunted down and informed that they had behaved badly.  With that, about half of us (including several of the absent numbers) were instructed to go up to Judge Briana Zamora’s courtroom for voir dire.  For those of you unfamiliar with the term, voir dire is the process by which the judge and attorneys select the jury.

We were handed numbers that corresponded to a seating chart, then escorted into the courtroom.  Now, to my identity as Group 622, I added Seat 36.  We were greeted, sworn in, and then Judge Zamora told us the charge.  She also told us that it was likely that the trial would run for three to four days.

I can’t remember the exact wording of the charge, so rather than risk misrepresenting, I’m going to paraphrase.  The defendant (who was there) was accused of rape.  Complicating matters was that the alleged act had occurred in a correctional facility.

I’m going to jump ahead here and note something fascinating.  Voir dire had been going on for well over an hour – first the judge, then the prosecution had asked their questions – before it became evident that the fifty or so of us in the jury pool were confused as to what we thought the crime was for which we might be asked to sit on a jury.

The more literal-minded (I raise my hand here) thought that the incident in question had occurred between two inmates since all we were told was that it had occurred in a correctional facility.  Others had interpreted what was said to mean that if the incidence was “criminal,” it must be between someone associated in some form of non-inmate role and an inmate.  This latter turned out to be the case.

So, those of us who literally adhered to what was presented to us were incorrect.  Those who added (for whatever reason) information that was actually not presented were correct.  Given that over and over again we were told that we would be asked to view the matter in the light of the evidence presented, not in light of our preconceptions…

Well, let’s just say this misunderstanding did not give me a lot of faith in the system.

Since I wasn’t taking notes, I can’t take you through the long process of questions, rephrasing of the same questions, new questions, misunderstandings, and circumlocutions.  However, I will say that the number of times one or the other of the attorneys requested to approach the bench (or were called to the bench by the judge) was remarkable.

I mean that literally…  At one point, the gentleman seated to my left remarked “I wonder if we’re all going to get sent home.”

But, in the end, the questioning ended.  We retired to the juror room.  I enjoyed a nice chat about SF/F with several of my fellow potential jurors, then the names of those selected to serve were announced.

I wasn’t chosen.  On the one hand, given that I can ill afford most of a week away from my work, I am relieved.  On the other hand, I do feel I learned a great deal from my four or so hours in court, so this wasn’t a waste of time

I was reminded once again that words don’t mean the same thing to people, even when those people are all native speakers of the same language.  I was impressed by the thoughtful intensity which the members of my juror pool brought to their responses to the questions they were asked.  I learned that consent in sexual relationships is really, really important to many people – men and women, young and old.  And that people understand that “consent” does not apply in situations of unequal power.

I’m on call for the rest of this week.  My group may or may not be summoned again.   But if it is, Juror Group 622 will drive to the courthouse for her new adventure!

FF: Preconceptions

September 15, 2017

I think I’m finally “all better.”  Well, except for autumn allergies, and those are simply to be taken in stride.

Kel Loves to Model

For those of you just discovering this feature, the Friday Fragments lists what I’ve read over the past week.  Most of the time I don’t include details of either short fiction (unless part of a book-length collection) or magazines.

The Fragments are not meant to be a recommendation list.  If you’re interested in a not-at-all-inclusive recommendation list, you can look on my website under Neat Stuff.

Once again, this is not a book review column.  It’s just a list with, maybe, a bit of description or a few opinions tossed in.

Recently Completed:

Clouds of Witnesses by Dorothy L. Sayers.  Audiobook.  Re-read.  A book about how preconceptions are, perhaps, the greatest cloud of all.

Jingo by Terry Pratchett.  Now that I think about it, another book about preconceptions.

Wolf’s Rain, volume 2, by BONES, Keiko Nobumoto.  Art by Toshitsugu Iida.  Manga.  Completes the tale.  I’ve heard the anime also has a less than full ending, but I’ll admit disappointment that the manga (which came later) didn’t fill it in more.  However, some of the best manga wolves I’ve seen.

Fairytale, volumes 6 and 7, by Hiro Mashima.  Manga.

In Progress:

Thief of Time by Terry Pratchett.  Read this soon after it came out in 2001, and maybe once since.  Time (heh-heh) for another read.

Before Midnight by Rex Stout.  Audiobook.  A Nero Wolfe tale.  Oddly enough, time is a major element in this tale.  Synchronicity?


Finished my review of Through Wolf’s Eyes and will be padding along.

TT: Scratch, Scratch

September 14, 2017

ALAN: Now Jane, you were going to tell me about the course of injections (or “shots” as you called them) that you were offered to combat your allergies.

JANE: Don’t Brits use the term “shots”?  Interesting…  But too much of a tangent.  I’ll stick to the point.  Get it?  Point???

Prompt and Response

ALAN: Ouch! Nice bit of blunt speaking there…

JANE: Very punny…  Right!  Now to the topic.

After the test I mentioned last week, the doctor suggested I try shots.  Since I was hoping to avoid taking daily medication and I’m not at all worried about shots, I agreed.

I went in for my first shot the day before leaving for World Fantasy Con.  I mention this because this was late October, considered an “off” season for allergies.  I was astonished how little material was in the syringe, and therefore dismissed the fact that I felt a little “off” as trip-related stress.

When we came back, I went in for my second shot.  That evening, my arm started itching, deep down, almost as if under the skin.  I ran my fingers over the surface and felt a bump forming.  I was breaking out in hives.

ALAN: Oh, that sounds ominous. Were the hives particularly bad?

JANE: Oh, they were very bad.  I ended up with hives everywhere on the exterior of my body except for the insides of my mouth, my eyes, and my privates.  They lasted for five and a half months, during which time I also ran a constant low-grade fever.  Except when going out – which I did as infrequently as possible – I wore loose baggy clothing.

Probably the only good thing to come out of this was that I learned which allergy drugs worked best for me, because I could count how many new hives formed if I changed to a less effective drug.

ALAN: That sounds like a very severe reaction, though I do know from personal experience that very small amounts of allergens can cause reactions out of all proportion to their size, so perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised.

JANE: No one knows for sure why I reacted so intensely.  The best conclusion I was offered is that, unlike most people, I basically don’t have an “off season,” so the level of allergens in my system is always high, and the shots – minute as they were – were enough to kick my system over into a severe reaction.

ALAN: Since I get allergy attacks all year round, I suspect I don’t have an “off-season” either.

JANE: Needless to say, this reaction meant no more shots for Jane.  I manage my allergies with a careful routine of pills, drops, and inhaler.  (I have allergy-related asthma.)  Most of the time I’m fine, and very, very grateful to live in the twenty-first century.

ALAN: I do pretty much the same. When I get the first symptoms of an allergy attack, I take anti-histamine pills and use a nasal spray. They don’t have much effect on the first day, which is often quite severe. But eventually the drugs kick in and the second day is generally quite mild by comparison and by the third day I’m usually back to normal. But that first day is always a killer. I quickly get dehydrated because I never stop blowing my nose (you wouldn’t believe how much tea I drink) and I stagger through my day like a zombie.

JANE: Your dog, Jake, has allergies, doesn’t he?  How is his treatment going?  He gets shots, right?

ALAN: That’s right. I noticed that he was getting lots of rashes on his tummy and between his toes and, of course, he was constantly licking them (because they itched) which just made things worse. Generally the rashes ended up infected and he had to have antibiotics for the infection and steroid tablets for the rash. Very unpleasant for both of us.

Eventually, at a cost of nearly $500, I got him allergy tested. It’s a similar procedure to what you and I went through except that it involves taking a blood sample which is then screened against a range of allergens. Apparently it’s quite a complex procedure. There aren’t any places in New Zealand that can do it – his blood sample had to be shipped to a lab in America, one of the very few in the world that actually offers the service.

Just like you and me, Jake turned out to be very allergic to pollen, mainly from grasses and daisies and also something called Mugwort, whatever that might be.

JANE: Mugwort?  Aren’t those people who can’t use magic?  No, sorry.  That’s “muggles.”  How are you treating Jake’s allergies?

ALAN: For an extra $300 the lab formulated a vaccine specifically tailored to his allergens and he is currently in the middle of a course of injections which will go on for another four months or so. There is no guarantee that this will work – the success rate is only about 65%. But since the alternative is a lifetime of antibiotics and steroids, we decided the risk was worth taking.

JANE: I think you made a well-reasoned choice.   I hope Jake is in the group for whom the shots – I mean, “injections” – work.

I’ve only had one pet with allergies, my very first cat, Gwydion.  I acquired him as an amiable nine-month or so old stray cat.  After I got him to my apartment, I realized why he didn’t have a home.  Anything he ate came out liquid, including what should be solid.  At that point, my former roommate, Kathy, was working for a kind vet, who sent a device to take a stool sample.

Never having had a cat before, I had no idea how solid a cat’s stool should be, and tried to take a sample of the stinky, liquid goo.  Eventually, we got enough for a test which confirmed no worms or other parasites.  After other tests, the conclusion was food allergies.  Eventually, we found that Gwydion could eat only two foods without bad reactions.  And so that’s what he ate until his death at nineteen.

Have you had any experience with food allergies?  Human or otherwise?

ALAN: Yes – I am strongly allergic to a common food group and highly intolerant of a very common staple food item. I’ll tell you about them next time, unless an allergy attack gets in the way.

WW: The Short of It

September 13, 2017

Back in January, as I celebrated the seventh anniversary of the Wednesday Wanderings, I mentioned that with my transforming schedule, there might be times when my Wednesday Wandering post would be less ambitious.

Happy Hollyhock

Guess what?  This week is one of those times.

Probably as a result of being sick for close on two weeks, I’ve fallen behind on a bunch of routine jobs.  The one thing that I haven’t let slide is my writing.  However, even that has taken up a greater percentage of my reduced pool of energy, and I’m not writing as much.  It’s frustrating, but when the writing goes well the high is well worth the effort.

As I begin to feel better, I’m adding back into my life many neglected tasks, none of which make for fascinating Wanderings, unless you want to discuss whether or not you balance your checkbooks.

The long and short of it is, I’m very busy but rather boring right now.

In fact, I’d welcome any questions that I might use as seeds for future Wanderings, because I envision this happening again as a few self-imposed deadlines take up more of my creativity.

On other fronts, despite almost no rain, the garden is doing well.  The wildlife is okay, although the toads are less visible now that they need to dig in to stay damp.

On that note, have a hollyhock and envision me busily typing away!

Catch you next week…

FF: Healing Words

September 8, 2017

As I slowly get over the con crud from hell, ’ve been doing a lot of reading in folklore and mythology.  Short articles are a good fit with a foggy brain.

Kel Says “Cat Reign!”

For those of you just discovering this feature, the Friday Fragments lists what I’ve read over the past week.  Most of the time I don’t include details of either short fiction (unless part of a book-length collection) or magazines.

The Fragments are not meant to be a recommendation list.  If you’re interested in a not-at-all-inclusive recommendation list, you can look on my website under Neat Stuff.

Once again, this is not a book review column.  It’s just a list with, maybe, a bit of description or a few opinions tossed in.

Recently Completed:

Castle Hangnail by Ursula Vernon.  Middle-grade,  lightly humorous, fantasy.  I very much enjoyed.  I’ll be reading more of this author’s work.

Ordeal by Innocence by Agatha Christie.  Audiobook.  One of her best non-Poroit, non-Marple tales.

Fairytale, volume 4, by Hiro Mashima.  Manga

Wolf’s Rain, volume 1, by BONES, Keiko Nobumoto; art by Toshisugu Tida.  Manga.  In an twist on the usual story development, this is adapted from an anime, and the artist and writer are not the same person.

In Progress:

Clouds of Witnesses by Dorothy L. Sayers.  Audiobook.


Have returned to my re-read of Through Wolf’s Eyes.  It’s been so long, I can almost read it as a stranger might.

TT: Ah-Choo!

September 7, 2017

JANE: So, Alan. We’ve been very literary of late. What high-brow topic shall we discuss next?

A Little Hoarse

ALAN: I have no idea. I’m currently having a massive sneezing fit from an allergy attack and my brain has turned to tomato soup

JANE:  Wow, to tomato soup?  That’s amazing.  I have allergies, too, but I’ve missed the bonus tomato soup element.

It just occurred to me that I’m dealing with autumn allergies, and you’re dealing with spring allergies.  Mine include tumbleweed, amaranth, and the omnipresent juniper.  What’s getting you?

ALAN: I don’t really know. My doctor calls it Non-Specific Rhinitis, which means that I sneeze a lot, nobody knows why, and every so often I turn into a rhinoceros. Now that he has given it a name, he feels that his job is done.

You seem to know exactly what causes your allergies to flare up. How did you find out?

JANE: I had a test – or perhaps what should be termed several tests, since what they did was draw a grid on my back and then poke me with tiny bits of various allergens to see where I reacted.  I still remember the nurse coming in, examining my back, and saying “Well, your pets are safe.  No reaction to any animal allergens.”

I was actually a little angry, since merely being allergic would not be reason for me to get rid of my animals – not if I could find a way (short of death) to manage the allergies, at least.

I’m also very attached to where I live.  Much of what I’m allergic to is common west of the Mississippi, uncommon “back East,” so I suppose I could try moving.  However, I really love living in New Mexico.  So, as long as I can manage my allergies, I’ll stay in the land of tumbleweed, amaranth, and much, much juniper.

Have you ever been tested for your allergies?

ALAN: Yes, I have. The test was similar to yours but on my arm rather than on my back. The nurse was very nervous. I was her first ever allergy test patient and she was worried in case she made a mistake. She carefully painted my arm with various common allergens and then scratched each stripe with a needle. After about five minutes, various of the scratches came up in itchy red lumps. The nurse was ecstatic. “I’m doing it right!” she yelled, her face wreathed in smiles. I was very pleased for her, but much less pleased to have an itchy right arm. The nurse measured the size of my lumps, smothered me with soothing cream, and wrote a report for my doctor.

JANE: That sounds as if you should have received definite results.  Why was the diagnosis “Non-Specific”?

ALAN: The tests were actually a little inconclusive because the allergens were spread across such a broad spectrum that it was hard to be precise about exactly what was affecting me. The pollen stripe, for example, was a mixture of common pollens, so goodness knows exactly what it was that I was reacting to. The only positive thing that came out of it was that I definitely wasn’t allergic to the cats.

Springtime pollen is the worst culprit, as you might expect, but I get attacks all year round, so obviously there is something else going on though nobody is quite sure what.

When I get a bad reaction, Robin is always very sympathetic, but she herself does not suffer from allergies at all, so while she realises that an attack is very debilitating, she doesn’t really understand just how it feels.

What about Jim? Does he have allergies?

JANE: Yes, he does, both plant and animal.  When we started dating, several of our mutual friends informed me that Jim was allergic to cats.  At that point, I had six cats.  I decided that, no matter how appealing I found Jim, I wasn’t going to give up my cats – and he’d better know that.  So, one day when he was visiting, we had the following exchange:

Jane: “I’ve heard from several people that you’re allergic to cats.  I feel it’s only fair to make clear that my cats are a non-negotiable element.”

Jim: “I was allergic but, maybe because so many of my friends have cats, I seem to have gotten better over the years.  Still, if I start having problems, well – I hate needles, but I’d get shots.”

ALAN: I’d certainly do the same as Jim. Fortunately I’ve never had to. Whatever it is that sets me off, it isn’t connected with the balls of fur that I wait on hand and foot.

JANE: I will admit, that exchange was when I started thinking Jim might be more than another pretty face.  And Bast, Goddess of Cats, was kind to him.  In the twenty-some years we’ve been together, he’s never had a bad reaction (even though a couple of our cats have decided that they must sleep on his pillow) and so he’s been able to avoid shots.

ALAN: It has been suggested to me that I might save myself a lot of misery by embarking on a course of injections to de-sensitise me to whatever it is that sets me off, but I’ve never bothered. My allergy attacks aren’t very frequent – perhaps once every month or so if I’m going through a bad period. So even though they do tend to knock me out and dehydrate me (I once used up six boxes of tissues in a single day; at least I think I did. My tomato soup brain was losing the ability to count…), I’ve never taken the suggestion any further.

Have you ever considered a course of de-sensitising injections?

JANE: Oh, that’s a complicated answer.  Can I save the response for next time?

ALAN: That’s probably a good idea – I’ve just come to the end of a box of tissues, and I need a cup of tea…

Enough Time

September 6, 2017

I caught something vicious and determined at Bubonicon, and have been in the world of sore throat, headache, wobbly, sniffly, exhausted, definitely-not-the-best for over a week.

Enough Time

As I struggled to drag myself through my obligations, the one thing I wanted to do more than anything else was write.  If I could slip into that other place for a while I would feel – if not precisely “better” – not so bad.

On Tuesday, as I downed hot drink after hot drink (fresh limeade was best), I found myself thinking, “But I don’t think I’ll have the energy to sit at the computer for very long.  I guess this is going to be a wasted day for writing.”

Then I found myself thinking about the SnackWrites panel I’d been on at Bubonicon and, how much I was able to write in just five minutes.

(You can find two of the exercises we did here.)

I realized that having a prompt had helped, so I designed a prompt for myself by re-reading what I’d done the day before, then turning the material over and over in my cloudy brain until I knew where I needed to start.

This worked surprisingly well.  I didn’t write a lot on Tuesday, but I did write.  I tried the same tactic on Wednesday, then on Thursday, and each day I managed to write a little.

The most memorable day was Friday.   After struggling and struggling to write, I stretched out on the sofa and thought myself through all of that day’s false starts.  I nearly drifted off to sleep a couple of times, but eventually I realized my “prompt” was wrong.  After about a half hour, I hauled myself upright, turned on the computer, and wrote a thousand words in about a half hour.

So, why not just take “sick leave”?  After all, I don’t have a deadline for this piece.

Well, as I mentioned above, writing was a great way to escape feeling horrible.  Another advantage was that I never “lost touch” with my piece.  I’ve talked to many writers about how, when you’re away from a project more than a couple of days, it often takes as many days to get back into the mindset in which you’d been writing.

I’m accustomed to taking weekends “off,” so two days wouldn’t have mattered much, but if I’d taken a week, it’s likely I would have needed another week to get back into the flow.  Since even as I write this, I’m still battling the bug, I’d be feeling pretty discouraged.  Instead, I’m already designing today’s prompt, part of which is going to involve some research reading.

“Not enough time” is one of the most common excuses I hear for people never starting a beloved project – whether writing or drawing or singing or whatever.  I’m learning that five minutes can be enough, and that that thirty can be a good day’s work.

Now…  Off to down another mug of hot limeade and then to write!

FF: Reading as Medicine

September 1, 2017

I caught some sort of con-crud this past weekend at Bubonicon (sore throat, fever, aches, congestion) and have turned to stories as part of my treatment.

Ogapoge Wonders He Could Be a Minion

For those of you just discovering this feature, the Friday Fragments lists what I’ve read over the past week.  Most of the time I don’t include details of either short fiction (unless part of a book-length collection) or magazines.

The Fragments are not meant to be a recommendation list.  If you’re interested in a not-at-all-inclusive recommendation list, you can look on my website under Neat Stuff.

Once again, this is not a book review column.  It’s just a list with, maybe, a bit of description or a few opinions tossed in.

Recently Completed:

A Dangerous Place by Jaqueline Winspear.  Audiobook.  Masie Dobbs and the Spanish Civil War.

Fairytale by Hiro Mashima.  Manga.  Volumes 1-3.  So far this is good enough I’ll try more, but it may not hold me.

They Came to Bagdad by Agatha Christie.  Audiobook.  Spy thriller with an ironical awareness of some of the conventions of the genre.

In Progress:

 Castle Hangnail by Ursula Vernon.  Middle-grade,  lightly humorous fantasy.  So far, I’m enjoying.

Ordeal by Innocence by Agatha Christie.  Audiobook.  One of her best non-Poroit, non-Marple tales.  Built around Christie’s thesis that catching criminals is not about punishing the wicked, but rather about protecting the innocent.


Beginning of the month has brought in some new magazines.

TT: The Thin Line Between Fact and Fiction

August 31, 2017

JANE: All right, Alan.  Last time you tantalized me with the promise of creative non-fiction that works – and when it crosses the line into pure fiction.  Even better, you promised that your examples would come from the works of the same writer.

Fact or Fiction?

Go for it!

ALAN: Here I go…

I think Hunter S. Thompson was particularly good at creative non-fiction. Hells Angels is a brilliant piece of non-fiction about the eponymous gangs, and I am also rather fond of Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72 which is a superb analysis of the political environment in America during the 1972 Presidential campaign. Both books contain elements that might be regarded as fictional by a purist, but they are never intrusive and Thompson never loses sight of what he is trying to achieve.

JANE: Could you give me an example?

ALAN: Some of the dialogue in the Hells Angels book flows so smoothly and illustrates the points that Thompson wants to make so well that I can’t help thinking that he’s made it up (at least a little bit). But I may be doing him a disservice here – the whole thing may well be accurate reportage; it’s very hard to tell. Certainly it reads well, it presents itself as journalism, and it tells you everything that you need to know (and probably a bit more than you wanted to know) about the Angels.

JANE: Okay…  I can see why you’d consider this a good use of creative non-fiction techniques.  What about the other one?

ALAN: The campaign book is a bit easier to analyse. Thompson’s style had relaxed a lot by then. “When a man gives up drugs he wants big fires in his life—all night long, every night…”

At one point, worried about the possibility of being mugged, Thompson notes that “I immediately called Colorado and had another Doberman shipped in”. This I seriously doubt. How many spare Dobermans does a man keep on the off chance that he might need to ship one across country at a moment’s notice and at vast expense? Nevertheless it’s a very effective image that perfectly conveys the paranoia of the time and place.

JANE: But he’s not putting words or thoughts in anyone else’s mind, so I don’t think he’s straying beyond the borders of non-fiction.  In fact, I’d guess he probably meant this as a metaphor.

ALAN: It’s definitely not a metaphor – earlier in the book he has a section about his Dobermans. They are very real and fully equipped with teeth.

JANE: I cheerfully surrender to your superior knowledge!

ALAN: On the other hand, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is almost pure fiction masquerading as fact and should be taken with the last pinch of salt that you didn’t put in your stew for fear of spoiling it…

JANE: Ah! I wonder how many people knew to draw the line or if, because they were conditioned by the previous books, they took Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas as factual as well.

ALAN: Anyone who believes that a man can ingest that quantity of drugs without killing himself probably isn’t living in the real world anyway. The book does contain real people and real incidents, but they are buried so deeply in the tissue of lies that he surrounds them with that they may as well not be there at all – for example, Hunter’s Samoan attorney, though not mentioned by name in the book, was actually the Spanish-American lawyer Oscar Zacosta and Hunter’s characterisation of him was not quite as exaggerated as you might at first suppose… If you are curious, you can look him up on Wikipedia.

But really it’s best to just relax and read the book as a novel – it’s certainly one of the funniest stories I’ve ever read.

JANE: It’s interesting that your examples are from what, at the time they were written, would be considered contemporary material.  By the purest coincidence, there is an article in the Summer 2017 Author’s Guild Bulletin titled “What Every Writer Needs to Know About Defamation.”  In this, two lawyers and author Susan Cheever (who has made her mark writing biographies and memoirs, as well as novels) talked about what can happen when you put words in other people’s mouths.

It’s a long article, full of legal detail, so I won’t attempt to summarize it.  What I will say is that, if I were tempted to write creative non-fiction, especially about people who are still alive or still have immediate family alive, I would be extremely cautious about putting words in their mouths or thoughts in their heads.

ALAN: Probably that’s good advice – though America is notoriously litigious. In the UK (and here in New Zealand as well), you can get away with a lot of things that might cause problems in the US.

JANE: Actually…  but no.  I won’t go into it.  That would involve too much summarizing of the article.  Let’s just say, you’d be surprised at the stringency of the legal code outside of the U.S.  Many European nations protect the rights of the dead as well as of the living.

That’s why I’d be careful about putting words into the mouth of someone – even if that person is no longer alive and therefore could be thought to be beyond defamation of character.

ALAN: The British author Michael Dobbs has written a trilogy of novels about Winston Churchill set just before, and during, WWII. I recommend them highly. They don’t always paint a flattering portrait of Churchill, and they are stuffed full of imaginary dialogue between real people. Clearly the books don’t step over the line into defamation (the novels are well thought of, and there has never been even a whisper of legal proceedings) but nevertheless, in light of what you say, I imagine that they must sail very close to it. So clearly there is a lot of leeway to play with…

JANE: Churchill didn’t always paint a flattering picture of Churchill – and I’m sure his family was aware of this, and knew what might come up if a lawsuit for defamation was raised.

As I said, I’d be careful.  I didn’t say no one should ever try it!

ALAN: I wonder if any of the comments will take the form of an imaginary dialogue between you and me?

JANE: That would be amusing!