Archive for November, 2017

TT: Cooking Disasters!

November 30, 2017

JANE: We’ve been cheerfully chattering about cooking for several weeks now.  Your mention last week of your friend Ian and his companion stew, Albert, reminded me that we haven’t discussed a very important aspect of cooking…

When It All Goes Bad!

That is those times when Things Go Wrong.  By this, I don’t mean the sort of routine problems every cook has to deal with – a kettle boiling over or something burning – but those mishaps that you remember long after they’re over.

ALAN: There used to be a TV cooking show called Floyd on Food which I enjoyed watching. One day the host, Keith Floyd, cooked some dish or other and the programme closed with him and his guests noshing away on the result. The next programme opened with him saying what a failure the dish had been and how horrible it tasted and weren’t his guests nice and polite to put on such a brave face as they ate it. He explained all the things he’d done wrong, and then he cooked it again, properly this time! I admired his bravery. We’ve all had dishes that failed, but very few of us have failed in front of a worldwide audience of umpteen million people…

JANE: That’s a great story!  Here’s one of mine.

Many years ago, my mom decided we were going to learn to make donuts.  This went very well.  We made cake donuts and fluffy yeast donuts and even filled donuts.  In fact, our excursion into making donuts went so well that, sometime later, my sister Ann and I decided we’d make donuts without Mom’s supervision.

Because we’d liked the filled donuts, we decided on these.  I’m not sure what we did wrong but instead of magically puffing out after being dunked in the hot oil, our jelly donuts sunk to the bottom and lurked there. We fished them out and set them to drain.  Then, because they smelled good, we dusted them with powdered sugar and tried them.

They weren’t bad, so we dubbed them “Strangelings,”because they certainly weren’t donuts. They were small, so we ate quite a few of them.  This then led to a sugar rush of cosmic proportions.  I still remember feeling slightly out-of-body.

Your turn!

ALAN: The choice of ingredients has a lot to do with the success or failure of a dish. After I left university and got my first job I was, to put it mildly, very poor. I chose the food I bought purely on the basis of price. One day the supermarket was selling something called pig melts and the price was so low that they were practically paying me to take it away! I had no idea what a melt was, but the price was right.

I had a melt for tea that evening. Never have I experienced anything quite so foul. My teeth rebounded off the rubbery meat and an indescribable nastiness filled the whole of my head. Pig melts failed both the taste and texture tests, and I threw the whole lot away.

After a lot of research, I finally tracked melts down in (I think) Larousse Gastronomique. A melt is a spleen… I have no idea what function a spleen performs in a body. But whatever it spends its day doing definitely leaves a nasty aftertaste.

JANE: Urrgh…

Not all cooking disasters come from ingredients or cooking techniques.  Sometimes familiarity breeds disaster.

A dish I make regularly is a version of nasi goreng.  The recipe came to me via Kathy, one of my college roommates,  who had it in turn via her best friend from high school whose family was, if I remember correctly, from India.  Over time, I discovered that not only does this version of nasi goreng make a good meal, it both freezes well and travels well.  That means it’s a natural both for making meals in advance, and for bringing to potluck dinners.

One time when I was going to take some to a potluck, I looked at my recipe and worried there wouldn’t be enough, so I decided to double it.  I set it to cook.  The rice absorbed broth and expanded, and I suddenly realized that my Dutch oven (which holds five quarts) wasn’t going to be large enough.

Happily, I have a truly enormous soup kettle that was Jim’s grandmother’s.  I managed to transfer the whole bubbling mass over.  I then added a note to my recipe saying “Do NOT double!  Already doubled.”

Later, after I made nasi goreng for a dinner party at my own home and it was a hit, someone asked if she could copy the recipe.  She started giggling madly when she saw my note.

What other sorts of cooking disasters have you had?

ALAN: Sometimes even when the dish is perfect, the social situation can deteriorate rapidly if you serve it thoughtlessly… I rather enjoy both rabbit meat and venison and, on the grounds that what people don’t know won’t hurt them, I have sometimes served these at dinner parties, usually with great success. But I learned the hard way that when someone asks you what the yummy meat is, it is counterproductive to say “Fluffy bunny” or “Bambi”. The atmosphere grows chill, people aren’t hungry anymore and they sometimes leave early. So these days I’m much more literal.

JANE: As in what?  Saying venison and rabbit?  Or more general “game.”

ALAN: Rabbit and venison, though I have been known to say cervena instead of venison when I’m feeling pompous. I like to be specific.

JANE: My mother never hid what we were eating behind fancy names.  We didn’t eat “escargot,” we ate “snails.”  We didn’t eat “calamari,” we ate squid.  However, despite this, I’ll admit finding it off-putting when my great-uncle proudly declared we’d be eating “Moo-Cow” – the pet calf we’d met and patted earlier that summer.

ALAN: Shades of Alice Through the Looking Glass when the Red Queen refused to let Alice carve the leg of mutton she’d just been introduced to.

You know, our discussion about cooking has reminded me of something that happened to me at a party many years ago. How about I tell you about it next time?


Real and Imaginary Friends

November 29, 2017

This past week was crazy-busy, what with fitting in getting ready for Thanksgiving between writing (both fiction and non-fiction), and proofing.  I planned to give myself a full four-day weekend, but then a funny thing happened.

Constructing a Wizard’s Museum

Thursday I woke up in the night.  As I was drifting off again, I heard Blind Seer (a character from the “Firekeeper Saga”) talking in my head.  The only way I could keep him from repeating the same phrases over and over again was to promise him (or myself) that I would make time to write on Friday.

So I did.  This meant giving up doing yard work (which I like) on an absolutely lovely day, but… Well, as those of you who know the series are aware, Blind Seer is a very large wolf and can be very persistent if he chooses.

One of the tougher things I find about being a full-time, self-employed writer is balancing work time and play time.  Achieving this balance is more important than it may seem because, if I don’t take play time, my subconscious tends to fizzle up on me.  Making finding a balance a bit harder, at least some of this play time needs to be creative.  Watching television or even reading doesn’t always provide the necessary oomph.

The answer would seem obvious, right?  Schedule in play time.  Well, as with most obvious solutions, it’s not that easy.

As I explained to the prosecuting counsel when I was called for jury duty a few months back, if I don’t work, nothing gets done: business or writing.  I don’t have an assistant.  (Although my friend Julie Bartel, forever blessings on her head, helps me with my Facebook page.)  You’d be amazed at how many full-time, high profile writers have one or more assistants who handle not only routine business, but also more writerly jobs like proofing or reviewing copy edits.

Others have a non-employed spouse who handles the routine house running chores.  I don’t have that either.  Jim is an excellent partner who does his share, but he’s not at my disposal.

By the end of a typical day, even when I’ve anticipated having some time to listen to an audiobook and do some sort of craft project, I’m often too beat.  And when this happens too often, burnout starts wavering on the horizon.

Making matters worse, if I don’t make time to write as well as doing proofing and such, I become a person that I don’t like living with…  So clearing my desk of routine matters first to give myself “time to write” is also a strategy that doesn’t work.

So this weekend, I made sure to replenish my creative batteries by not writing (except on Friday).  I did manage a little craft time.  In addition to having folks over for Thanksgiving, we made time to see friends other days.

On Friday, our friend Michael Wester came over.  In addition to introducing him to the joy of throwing atlatl darts, we viewed some of Jim’s slides from a long-ago archeological project. Then we played a round of a very amusing tabletop game called The Wizard’s Museum.  I lost, but I had fun.

On Saturday, we went to Page One Books to help with their Indies First promotion.  In addition to doing my gig as a Guest Bookseller, I had a chance to visit with several of the local SF/F fans: Dawn, Mike, Erika, and Daisy.  I also enjoyed chatting with some of the other writers who shared my shift.

Sunday we hosted our usual role-playing game.  I’ve had people ask me if running a really complicated RPG drains my creative juices.  Actually, I’ve discovered that it does the opposite.  I find it invigorating to adapt my story around the dual random factors of what the dice indicate and my gamers’ whims.

But the work remains.  I have a list on my desk that I use to remind myself what needs to be done.  At least right now, a little bit here, a little bit there, seems to be the way to go.

Now, off to pull out a notebook and get back to scribbling.  Blind Seer is delightful in many ways, but I really don’t want him keeping me from getting my sleep!

FF: Short But Sweet

November 24, 2017

I don’t do “Black Friday” shopping.  Instead, I’ll be enjoying time at home, with reading near the top of my list of things to do.

Kwahe’e Reads!

For those of you just discovering this part of my blog, 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:

Gambit by Rex Stout.  Audiobook.

Rock of Ages by Walter Jon Williams.  Book Three of the “Divirtimenti.”  I enjoyed, so I’m going back to Book One.

Double Sin by Agatha Christie.  Audiobook.  A short story sampler: a few Poirot, a few Miss Marple, a couple of supernatural tales.

FairyTail by Hiro Mashima.  Manga.  Issues 13 and 14.

In Progress:

The Crown Jewels by Walter Jon Williams.  Book one of the “Divirtimenti.”

And Four to Go by Rex Stout.  Audiobook.  Four short stories.

FairyTail by Hiro Mashima.  Manga Issue 15.


Catching up on some magazines and catalogs.

TT: Favouring Curry

November 23, 2017

Alan and I would both like to wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving…  Now, a discussion that may inspire you (as it already has Jim) as to a way to deal with your leftover turkey!

A Few Curries

JANE: Last time you promised to tell me about Terry Pratchett’s Jingo curries which were described as “Containing yellow curry powder, big lumps of swede, green peas, and soggy sultanas the… size of eggs.”

ALAN: So I did… But in order to do so, I’m going to need to give you some history about curry.

JANE: That’s great!  I know nothing about curry, except that I like it.

ALAN: Curry powder was invented by an anonymous employee of the East India Company sometime around 1747 (that’s when it was first advertised for sale). I imagine that it was designed to make the cooking of curries less complex for the average English cook who often found the idea of selecting a range of spices for adding different flavours to their dishes to be rather frightening. Many of the cheaper curry powders contained an over-abundance of turmeric and were therefore very yellow in appearance. If you didn’t like the taste of final dish that you cooked with it, you could use the meal to dye your underpants and socks a fetching shade of yellow instead. Very economical.

JANE: Indeed!  And now that turmeric is being touted as a health food, you could add medicinal value to your list of reasons for using yellow curry powder.

As a small aside, I’d say most American cooks also start with pre-blended yellow curry powder which is what you’d find in most grocery stores.  Specialty stores will carry other types.  Jim and I bought a book that contains recipes for various curry powders, and sometimes we blend our own.

But back to your discussion of British curry.   I can sense something ominous building.  Go on…

ALAN: The British took to curry powder with great enthusiasm and invented kedgeree and mulligatawny soup, both of which can actually be quite nice when properly prepared (though I make my kedgeree without eggs, for obvious reasons). But they also invented the dreaded British curry…

JANE: Oops…  I don’t know what kedgeree or mulligatawny soup are.  Remind me to ask you.

ALAN: There’s no time like the present – kedgeree consists of boiled rice cooked with curry powder. Flakes of fish (generally haddock and often smoked) which has been cooked in milk and hard boiled eggs are stirred in to the cooked rice. If you are feeling adventurous, you might sprinkle it with parsley. Kedgeree is only ever eaten at breakfast time.

JANE: Urrgh…  I’ve never been a fan of sweet breakfast foods, but maybe this tastes better than it sounds.  Do you like it?

ALAN: Yes I do – as long as it doesn’t have eggs, of course. Kedgeree is really a sort of risotto or biryani, so it’s quite a respectable dish with an impeccable pedigree. I have no idea why the British restrict its consumption to breakfast. I’d happily eat it at any meal.

JANE: Very well!  If I’m given the opportunity, I will try it!  Now, how about the soup with the long name?

ALAN: Mulligatawny soup is made by frying onions, garlic, carrot and celery in butter. When the vegetables are softened, add pieces of apple and a couple of teaspoons of curry powder. Stir, add stock, tomato puree and mango chutney. Simmer until the veges are cooked. Stir in a cup of cup cooked rice. Serve with a dollop of yoghurt or cream. If you aren’t a purist, you might want to add some cooked chicken.

JANE: This sounds better.  I might look up a recipe, and try it sometime.

ALAN: Now, getting back to curry… I don’t know how it happened, but generations of British housewives, none of whom had ever seen or tasted an authentic curry, somehow got it into their heads that all you had to do to make a curry was toss some curry powder into a stew and then boil it to bits.

And the stew had to have sultanas in it. The more the merrier. Presumably that made the dish more exotic (it certainly made the thing sweeter). Such a “curry” was a staple of school lunches and suburban dinner tables, probably until the late 1950s when Indian restaurants started to flourish and the British finally found out what a real curry tasted like and realised that they’d been doing it wrong for two hundred years.

JANE: Ah-hah!  Now I understand what sort of curry Pratchett was alluding to in Jingo.  I must ask, although I fear I will find the answer unsettling…  When you say “stew,” what do you mean?  To me (and I’d hazard to most Americans) a stew is usually built around chunks of beef, potatoes, carrots, onions.  This is slowly cooked until there’s a nice brown gravy, the meat is tender but has not cooked to shreds, nor have the vegetables become mush.

Did they add curry powder and sultanas to this?

ALAN: In a word, yes. In two words, yes but…

The stew you describe is an ideal stew and, properly prepared, is a gastronomic delight. British versions are often less than ideal and, particularly when prepared by indifferent cooks, are thin and watery. The mystery meat in them is generally tough and gristly, particularly when mass produced for serving to institutional hordes such as schoolchildren or prisoners. Curry powder and sultanas can only be an improvement to such a dish.

JANE: I agree!

ALAN: But not all British stews are necessarily bad. My friend Ian lived with a stew called Albert. Albert sat in a large pot on the back of the stove and grumbled away to himself day and night on a very low heat. When Ian was hungry he’d eat a bowl of Albert. When Albert started to get a bit low in the pot, Ian would throw in whatever was selling cheaply in the market and Albert would slowly assimilate it. He was one of the tastiest stews I’ve ever eaten. Adding curry powder to Albert would have been an insult.

JANE: Ian clearly knew what to feed Albert to maintain his health.

ALAN: Indeed he did.

Ian too was a curry fan and in 1976 he gave me The Complete Book of Curries by Harvey Day as a housewarming present. At the time, it was the definitive curry book, and had been since the mid-1960s. It has now been somewhat superseded by Madhur Jaffrey’s books and unfortunately it appears to have gone out of print. I think that’s a shame.

JANE: Thanks for the titles!

There’s an ominous aspect to cooking we haven’t addressed, but I’ll save asking you about it for next time.


November 22, 2017

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, one of my favorite holidays.  We’ll be having a few friends over for dinner.  Jim and I will provide the main course (including stuffing and potatoes and cranberries) and pies.  Our friends are bringing the side dishes.

Turkey Pot by Mary Weahkee

I love Thanksgiving because I celebrate it as an outgrowth of the traditional harvest festival, a time to pause and appreciate.  Thanksgiving is about being grateful for what I have – and I have a lot: a great husband, a home, and the chance to spend a lot of my time doing things I love, like writing.  I could keep listing, but I think you get the idea.

This time of year, I also try to look the things that I often view as stressful and negative from the “thankful” side.  Just one example…

We have two geriatric cats with kidney failure.  Taking care of them involves giving them subcutaneous fluids three times a week.  We’ve been doing this for well over a year for both of them.  Neither of them really likes getting fluids, so the sweatshirt I wear as my “armor” is beginning to be more holes than shirt.

But I’m grateful that Kwahe’e and Ogapgoe are responding well to treatment, that their kidney levels are more are less stable, and so they are enjoying their lives.  (As I write this, Ogapoge is bouncing back and forth between the kitchen table and the top of the microwave, apparently just for the fun of it.)

I’m grateful that I can afford the treatment – which in addition to the fluids involves regular bloodwork.  I’m grateful that I have Jim’s strong and steady participation in the process, because it’s definitely a job I couldn’t do solo.  Really, it’s worth the stress.

Being thankful is why I’ll be participating in “Indies First,” a sub-section of Small Business Saturday that focuses on independent bookstores.  Between 2:00 and 3:30 (maybe a bit later, depending), I’ll be at Page One Books here in Albuquerque acting as a Guest Bookseller.

Since this time I’ll not be focused on doing a reading or talking about a specific book, I’ll have time to chat with people, which will be really nice.  Page One will also be offering door prizes, a chance to sign up for drawings for free books, and lots of available staff to help you get a start on your Christmas shopping.

If you can’t make it, Page One now provides mail orders for signed books, both those in stock and special orders related to their many author events, so you may be able to find somethings special for the readers on your list, as well as supporting a small business.

I hope to see some of you there.  Now, off to make a pecan pie!

FF: Better Late Than…

November 17, 2017

Sorry this is late!  Yesterday I was immersed in writing and forgot what day of the week it was.

A Howling Good Read

For those of you just discovering this part of my blog, 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 Spell for Chameleon by Piers Anthony.  Continuing my ventures into humorous fantasy re-reads.

Not Quite Dead Enough by Rex Stout.  Audiobook.  (Actually two novellas, linked by time.  The other is Booby Trap.

In Progress:

Gambit by Rex Stout.  Audiobook.

Rock of Ages by Walter Jon Williams.


Not much.  When I can take time from anything else, I’ve been writing.

TT: Jane Bakes, Roasts, and…

November 16, 2017

ALAN: So tell me about the things you like to cook.

JANE: Oh, heavens!  As I said last week, I’ve been cooking since I was a small child.  Listing what sort of things I don’t cook would be easier than what I do.  Let’s see.  I don’t really like sweet entrees.  So if I cook yams, they won’t be doused in marshmallows.  If I make a ham, no pineapple rings and brown sugar glaze.  You get the picture…

Home Baked Apple Cake

ALAN: But, wait.  From other discussions, I’ve gathered you like to make baked goods.  How does that fit in with your distaste for sweets?

JANE: Easily.  Even though I’m not excited by sweet entrees, I do like a well-made cookie, pie, or cake.  The emphasis is on “well-made.”  I can easily pass by most cakes, for example, although if my sister, Ann, is doing the baking, all bets are off.  She is pure magic with cakes.  I’m more likely to make cookies, brownies, or pies.

When I make fruit pies, I incline toward slightly tart fillings.  I bought some quinces when Jim and I visited Silver City some weeks ago and combined them with Granny Smith apples for the best apple pie I’ve ever made.

ALAN: I prefer the tart tastes as well. There’s a pun in there somewhere since the word tart has at least three quite different meanings, one of which is slightly rude. But let’s not go there…

JANE: Hmm…  The tart tasted a tart tart?  Sounds like a piece of flash fiction.  But lest I tangent from our tangent…

Encouraging my liking for baking is that I seem to get into relationships with men who like sweets.  Roger was known to order more than one dessert – and this after having a milkshake with his meal.  Jim definitely has a sweet tooth, but over the years he has moderated his consumption.  Therefore, if I’m in the mood to bake, I usually do so when we’re expecting guests.

Oh!  And when I have a local book signing, if the venue will permit me to do so, I’ll often bring home-baked cookies or brownies.

ALAN: A friend of mine has a very sweet tooth. Once, as a special treat for his birthday, his wife took him to a restaurant where she bought him sticky chocolate pudding for starters, then he had a normal main course followed by sticky chocolate pudding again for dessert. He remembers that birthday very fondly, but he’s never been allowed to repeat the experience.

I must confess that I quite fail to understand why he enjoyed it so much – I seldom order desserts in restaurants. So because I’m really not very interested in eating the end result, I don’t do baking. It all seems a little pointless to me.

JANE: That’s a pity, really, because your kitchen chemistry would get a workout when baking.  When my mom taught us to bake, she cautioned us to be very careful with measuring the leavening agent (baking soda or baking powder or sometimes both) because that had to be precise in relation to the other ingredients.  To this day, when I alter a recipe that involves leavening, I’m very careful to keep that in mind.

Is there anything else you don’t make?

ALAN: Well, because of my egg intolerance I have absolutely no idea how to boil, poach, fry or scramble an egg. And I’ve never made an omelet in my life.

JANE: Well, that still leaves a lot.  What’s your favorite type of dish to build a menu around?

ALAN: My meals generally consist of stews of one sort or another – or at least, dishes that depend on gravies or sauces of some kind. I also use a lot of herbs and spices to vary the flavours.

My chronic hay fever has almost destroyed my sense of smell and as a result of that my sense of taste is now much duller than it used to be. Foods which I remember as having an overwhelming taste in my childhood now barely register at all on my taste buds. Celery is a particularly good example. I simply couldn’t eat it when I was young because the taste was so powerful, but now I find the taste quite mild…

So I tend to cook a lot of curries.

JANE: What sort of curries?  Green?  Yellow?  Red?  Chinese style?  Thai?  Indian?

ALAN: Oh, Indian, of course. In my opinion, other types of curry are just a pale imitation of the real thing. After all, Indian curries are the British national dish. The recipe for Chicken Tikka Masala was developed in Glasgow, and many people claim that the Balti style of cooking curries was actually invented in Birmingham! The movie Victoria & Abdul suggests that Queen Victoria’s friendship with the young Indian Abdul Karim was what made curry fashionable in the first place…

JANE: What’s a Balti style curry?

ALAN: Most Indian curries are rather stew-like, and the long, slow simmering contributes greatly to the flavour. Balti curries are cooked quickly, rather like a stir fry, with the minimum of simmering, just enough to ensure that the meat (generally chicken) is cooked all the way through.

JANE:  Both sound great.  Are the curries you cook anything like the ones described in Terry Pratchett’s Jingo?

Let’s see, they’re described as “Containing yellow curry powder, big lumps of swede, green peas, and soggy sultanas the… size of eggs.”

I believe a sultana is what we’d call a golden raisin, but what’s a swede?

ALAN: That’s two questions – the question about the identity of a swede is quite easy to answer. A swede, believe it or not, is the bastard offspring of a turnip and a cabbage. It’s rather yellow (unlike turnips which are white). Some people call a swede a neep, others call it a rutabaga.

JANE: Urrgh…

ALAN: But the question about the curries in Jingo is far too complex to answer without going off on a tangent, so I think we should talk about it next time. For the moment, let’s just say that my curries are nothing at all like those described in Jingo.

JANE: Whew!  That really didn’t sound very appetizing.

Change(r) of Approach

November 15, 2017

Some of you may remember that a while back I invited feedback regarding new cover approaches for my novels Changer and Changer’s Daughter.  Everyone agreed that these books would be hard to represent in a simple picture, so I received few suggestions.  Nonetheless, perversely encouraged, I decided to forge ahead.

Changer E-Book

If you’re familiar with Changer and Changer’s Daughter (aka Legend’s Walking), feel free to skip the next two paragraphs.  For those of you who aren’t familiar with the novels, I’ll offer a short description.

Changer and Changer’s Daughter are classic urban fantasy.  By this I mean that they have more in common with Neil Gaiman’s American Gods or the mythic fiction of Charles de Lint and Terri Windling than with the paranormal romance novels for which marketers have appropriated the term “urban fantasy.”

You won’t find vampires, werewolves, or Faerie Folk in these novels.  You will find the athanor: deities and creatures whose tales are told in myths and legends from all over the world.  The athanor are neither static nor fixed in their roles, but pursue rivalries and goals old and new, even as they struggle to adjust to the modern world where they find hiding in plain sight much, much more difficult than it once had been.

Changer’s Daughter E-Book

When, at the request of readers who were eager to share the now out-of-print novels with friends, I decided to bring the books back into print as both e-books and trade paperbacks, I was in a dilemma as to what approach to use for cover art.

The original covers from Avon were interesting, even lovely, but they didn’t really suggest anything about the content of the novels.  When I was doing bookstore signings for Changer, the most common comment I received from people who wandered into the bookstore was “Oh, I love Tony Hillerman’s novels.”  This was not encouraging since (while I love Hillerman’s work) it’s a stretch to find anything in common between these books except that they share (in part) settings in the American Southwest.

The friend with whom I was working on the reprint project suggested we use coyotes.  This approach fit one aspect of the novel.  The Changer begins the novel as a coyote.  His daughter Shahrazad is a coyote pup throughout.  You can see these covers on my website and on-line.   They still adorn the trade paperback edition.

However, with the recent resurgence of interest in urban fantasy of the “mythic” sort, I felt a yearning to try for cover art that would get across the idea of urban fantasy.   I started by searching the stock art sites where I had successfully found art for the covers of the e-book editions of When the Gods Are Silent and Smoke and Mirrors.

While I found some interesting art, I failed to find two pieces by the same artist – or even featuring similar approaches – that would meet the challenge of representing the individual works, while indicating that the books belonged to a series.  I solicited opinions, but none of the many suggestions worked out.  Finally, my friends Rowan Derrick and Cale Mims (both of whom had read the books) suggested that perhaps a magic circle done in a street art fashion would provide an appropriate mood and tone.

Although a magic circle isn’t featured in either of the books, the idea of urban magic is an important element in both.  Since the art was going to be on an e-book – and therefore had to be effective on a relatively small “thumbnail” scale – I decided against a circle as too constraining.  Instead, I went with a fragment of a spell scrawled in colored chalk on a cinderblock wall.   I deliberately chose colors that would echo the southwestern setting of portions of both novels. The crackle of lightning suggests the spell coming to life.

The design was a laborious process but, in the end, we arrived at something that I felt said both “magic” and “urban” – and maybe even “mythic.”

For now, the coyotes will remain on the paperback, the new art on the e-book.  Why not?  In the world of the athanor, gods and monsters wear many faces.  Why shouldn’t the books that tell their story have different faces as well?

FF: Next Event

November 10, 2017

This Saturday, I’ll be at the Albuquerque Museum participating in their second Author Fest.  The Fest is between 10:00 and 4:00, and is free and open to the public.  In addition to me, SF/F will be represented by Betsy James (whose Roadsouls was among this year’s World Fantasy Award finalists) and Robert Vardeman).   Other genres, from mysteries to westerns, romance and thrillers will be represented.

Starlight Reads (and munches)

This event is a great way to get a jump on your holiday shopping, while supporting both the museum and local authors.  All those participating are donating a portion of their sales to the museum.  For more information about the event and talks associated with it, you can look here.

For those of you just discovering this part of my blog, 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:

Myth Directions by Robert Asprin.

Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire.  Audiobook.

In Progress:

A Spell for Chameleon by Piers Anthony.  Continuing my ventures into humorous fantasy re-reads.

Not Quite Dead Enough by Rex Stout.  Audiobook.


Last week I forgot to note the audiobooks Jim and I listed to on our drive to and from Denver.

Notorious Nineteen and Takedown Twenty by Janet Evanovich.

TT: Hot Stuff!

November 9, 2017

ALAN: Last time you promised to tell me how you learned to cook.

JANE: Unlike you and Jim, who had to learn to cook when you were adults, I learned to cook when I was a kid – all of us did, including my brother, so this wasn’t part of preparing a girl to function as a future wife and mother.

Well Used but Very Useful

To be completely honest, both my parents enjoyed cooking, so cooking was a routine part of life.

ALAN: Last time I mentioned that I learned to cook by reading recipe books and following them step by step, using practical skills that I’d picked up from my studies of chemistry.  But I would imagine that your learning experience was quite different from mine.

JANE: Not as different as you might imagine.  Mom taught us a lot of the basics, but she was determined to have us learn how to follow recipes.  I remember a slim cookbook of recipes for kids that we used.

ALAN: What sort of recipes did this include?

JANE: It’s been a long, long time, but I still remember two.  One was for cinnamon toast, and the other was for hotdogs stuffed with cheese.  Both of these involved multiple steps, as well as using the broiler setting on the oven, so they were real cooking.

Later on, my sister and I learned to make cookies and such.  We also made candy and donuts.  I can’t remember if my brother got into this, beyond the eating part.

ALAN: That’s the best part… Were you expected to help with preparing family meals as well?

JANE: Absolutely.  Each of us started with basics like making the salad, then graduated to more complicated things.  My mom wanted to go back to work and school when she had us all in school full-time, and she started planning in advance to make it possible for us to prepare some of the meals.

The first step was basic spaghetti and meat balls.  She would make the sauce in advance, but we’d make the meatballs ourselves.  This meant seasoning the meat, shaping it, browning the meatballs to the sauce, cooking the pasta, making a salad and having everything ready on time.

It says something about my mom that she thought of this as a “simple and easy” cooking job, since she’d already made the sauce (from scratch, of course).

ALAN: You said “first step.”  What about the second and subsequent steps? What were some of the other meals you learned to make?

JANE: Mom’s idea was that she would teach each of us three older kids to cook one meal.  That way, we could cover three nights if she couldn’t be home.

I was assigned pot roast.

ALAN: I use a crockpot to cook pot roasts. They take about 7 hours but boy are they yummy.

JANE: Honestly, I hate pot roast.  I like my meat at least medium rare and with texture.  Apparently, I made a great pot roast, but I always wanted to pull my share of the meat out early, before it got “ruined.”

My sister, Ann, was assigned chicken pot pie.

ALAN: I just went and looked that up because I wasn’t familiar with the term “pot pie.” I’d just call it a chicken pie… Did you make the pastry from scratch?

JANE: A while back we discussed how Brits think of pie as a savory, Americans as a sweet.  I’d guess the varied terms reflect that.

To answer your questions, yep!  Pie crust from scratch.  My mom’s idea of basic, easy cooking for kids did not involve pre-made short cuts.  But you need to understand, all of this was going on in the context of us already knowing a lot about cooking.  I made my first roast by myself when I was seven.

ALAN: A proper roast as opposed to a pot roast? At only seven years old? I’m impressed, particularly if you did all the trimmings as well.

JANE: Yep, I did.  My uncle was in town on business and my mom had invited him to dinner.  Then she twisted her ankle and needed to lie down with it elevated.  So I was directed to cook dinner.  I still remember trotting up and down the stairs to Mom’s room, to get each stage of the directions for seasoning, preparing the potatoes, and all the rest.

I liked that dinner!  Roast beef has rare parts.

ALAN: I regard roasts as simply an excuse to make lots of stock (I never buy stock, I always make my own) so I tend only to cook them when my stock of stock runs low. So to speak…

JANE: Ouch…  I make my own stock, too, and soups.   No matter how demanding her expectations were, I think Mom did things right.  All four of her kids enjoy cooking – including my brother, who is quite a good cook.  Jim and I have gone out of our way to learn a bunch of Mom’s recipes, including my great-grandmother’s spaghetti sauce, two kinds of sausage, ravioli, stuffed squid, clam and lobster sauce, and green tomato relish (my grandmother’s recipe).  And whenever we get together, we always end up cooking – sometimes traditional stuff, sometimes experiments.

ALAN: What about styles of cooking? What kind of things do you like to cook? Are there any dishes that you won’t touch with a bargepole?

JANE: Oh…  That could get complicated.  How about we leave it for next time?