Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The sea lion mutiny has begun

(from Salon.com)
. . . In the most frightening of the recent episodes, a rogue sea lion bit 14 swimmers this month and chased 10 more out of the water at San Francisco's Aquatic Park, a sheltered lagoon near the bay. At least one victim suffered puncture wounds.

In Southern California in June, a sea lion charged several people on Manhattan Beach and bit a man before waddling into the water and swimming away. In Berkeley, a woman was hospitalized last spring after a sea lion took a chunk out of her leg.

Last year, a group of sea lions took over a Newport Beach marina and caused a vintage 50-foot yacht to capsize when they boarded it. And a lifeguard in Santa Barbara was bitten three times while swimming off El Capitan State Beach.

In Alaska, a huge sea lion jumped onto a fisherman's boat in 2004, knocked him overboard and pulled him underwater; he escaped without serious injury. . .

We are living in very dangerous times, people. Exercise extreme caution around large marine mammals. They want their planet back.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Ready for December!

(My husband makes a mean apple pie and he's cute!)

I was suffering creative “grass is greener” syndrome last night. While I was writing, my mind kept wandering to an idea for a sculpture that I was suddenly wildly enthusiastic to attempt. (I don’t sculpt, but recently purchased supplies in case of just such an attack of enthusiam.) I made myself write for a few more hours and then wandered upstairs and unwrapped a package of clay. I fiddled with it for a while and my enthusiam waned with every awkward lumpy squish until I could no long visualize my great idea. By dinner, I was all too happy to leave my malformed creations and wash the synthetic clay-like substance off my hands. And after dinner? Writing was sounding SO much more appealing than sculpting, and I got back to it with a feeling of “phew, something I can actually do!” But after about an hour my mind started straying back to the clay upstairs (an impulse I ignored)! Do I just want to be doing whatever I’m NOT? I would like, please, an attention span extender. How about an attention span timer that you set, and for however long you give yourself your mind does not wander from the task at hand? I’d like that.

And now, with it being officially sanctioned Christmas decorating season, there’s that to contend with, the urge to make cookies and wrap presents and decorate the tree and stare at the tree in admiration and hang the stockings and nest and break into the chocolate I’ve gotten for stocking stuffers and make mulled wine and drink it in front of the fire. I love love love the month of December -- even if this year it is sweeping me officially into my mid-30s. (arg!) -- and I’m ready for the it! (for the decemberness, not the turning 35 part) It even snowed a little in Portland today, though not here at our house, drat it. I want icicles. I want flurries! I want hobo snowmen up and down the street. (that's the only kind we get here -- a little skinny, a little dirty; there's not enough snow for plump "healthy" snowmen!)

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Cranberries, pumpkin & the Millenium Falcon

I got a little start on the Thanksgiving cooking this evening with these two easy condiments that I've made the last few years: red wine cranberry sauce and pumpkin marmalade. The cranberry sauce is DELICIOUS and simple -- just say no to canned cranberry sauce! -- and the pumpkin marmalade is good with dark bread and slices of fresh parmesan, or, as I did last year, with mango-ginger stilton from Trader Joe's! Here are those recipes that can be whipped up in a flash:

1 c. dry red wine
1.5 c. sugar
1 lb. fresh cranberries
Combine wine, sugar and 1 c. water in medium saucepan and bring to a boil for 1.5 minutes. Add cranberries and reduce heat to simmer for 15 minutes, until berries burst.
Chill. Devour.

1 15-oz. can pumpkin puree
1 c. orange marmalade
1 tsp grated fresh ginger
2 tbsp lemon juice
In medium saucepan combine pumpkin, marmalade and ginger; bring to a boil, then reduce to simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in lemon juice. Cool. Serve with fresh parmesan and dense bread. Also good in turkey sandwiches!

This year we're not hosting Thanksgiving at our house, as we have for a number of years, so I am only responsible for a few dishes, mainly my yam gratin and a fennel-orange salad. Jim is making his annual apple pie and maple-balsamic green beans. If anyone is looking for a new yam recipe, try this: slice yams thin and layer in casserole, sprinkling each layer with grated parmesan cheese, salt, pepper, and diced jalapeno (about 2 seeded jalapenos total, for a mild dish). When it's all together, pour in heavy whipping cream to just cover yams, and sprinkle a bit of the parmesan on top. Bake -- I don't remember how long. Steal the time from some other gratin recipe. I've tried substituting the heavy cream partly with milk and it doesn't thicken. This is an evil, evil dish, and I recommend it highly, especially if you're not so into the sweet potatos with brown sugar and all that stuff.

Happy & delicious Thanksgiving to all ye who celebrate it, and if ye don't, I still recommend these recipes!

As for that next holiday, Christmas, something TERRIBLE happened this morning!! Last night online I had ordered Jim's main Christmas present. It's something he really really really really wants but never seriously thought I would get him (Kelly, at least, can guess what that is!). So I told him not to accidentally peek at my email, just in case he might see a confirmation before I could delete it, and I arranged for it to be shipped to my parents' house. So, this morning, we got back from walking the dogs and Jim checked the answer machine, and there it was -- a customer service call from the company I ordered from!!! Jim's face was transformed by shock, and he dove to turn off the machine, too late! And instead of turning it off he deleted the message, so I didn't even know why they had called (turns out it was because they have to check on alternate shipping addresses due to online ordering fraud). There was no way to invent a fib. The cat was out of the bag. The surprise had lasted less than 12 hours. How much does that SUCK? Meanwhile, the less important online orders I've placed for Christmas can't even return emails, much less actually CALL. I mean, who knew that would happen? Ugh -- it's such a big bummer.

It wasn't Jim's fault, but in my irritation I told him I was going to "Millenium Falcon" him, which is a family joke: when my older brother was 7 or 8 he wanted the Millenium Falcon toy (that's Han Solo's spaceship, if you don't know), and my parents got it for him and stashed it in the closet to make its Christmas morning appearance, and some weeks before Christmas my mother noticed that the toy had been taken out of the box, played with, and put back. Badly. She never said a word about it to Alex but quietly returned the toy to the store, and come Christmas morning he kept waiting for it to appear and it never did. That's the official version, but my mom is a softy so I suspect it did make an appearance later, after lessons had been learned.

I love this story because when that same brother was in a group counselling session during high school, surrounded by severely troubled teens with histories of abuse and trauma, the worst thing he could dredge up that had ever happened to him was the Millenium Falcon episode!!

Anyway, sweetie, if you're reading this, I probably won't Millenium Falcon you, but don't be too sure!

And in unrelated cool news, the Blackbringer galleys came today!! Hooraaaaaay! My book is a book! Look! My book is a book!

Monday, November 20, 2006

Ashland weekend

We got home last night from the quick trip to Ashland I mentioned in my last post, where I was invited to participate in the holiday open house for a wonderful store that sells Laini's Ladies. The event was beautiful -- the store really is magic, three stories of gifty goodness, and it was sunny and lovely, and nice to get away for a few days and eat some yummy things and do some Christmas shopping. My parents came down with us and we all stayed at the fabulous Winchester Inn, where the beds are big and comfy and really high off the ground so you need a stepping stool! There were flowers waiting for me in the room, thanks to the folks at Paddington Station, and that really started things off well (that and the chocolate-covered strawberries!) I'd love to say more, but I'd better get caught up on some work!

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

feeling all exclamation pointy

I just received my new business cards and postcards in the mail from Vistaprint - yay! I haven't had a business card in a while and I was starting to get embarrassed by scrawling my website down on scraps of paper for people. Luckily Kelly had sent Jim and I samples of her cards (she's so on the ball) and that was the beginning of our love affair with Vistaprint. Thanks, Kelly!

Speaking of businessy business, I have three really really fun things to report:

1) I've been invited to "appear" for the first time to promote Laini's Ladies and I feel very special! This Saturday there is a holiday open house shindig at Paddington Station in Ashland, Oregon, home of the famous Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Paddington Station is a terrific store, and they're putting us up for the night at a gorgeous Victorian B&B. Special, I tell you! (Stop by from 4 - 8:30 Saturday the 18th, if you're in the neighborhood.)

2) I found out today that my publisher is taking a booth at San Diego Comicon (the mack daddy of all comic book conventions) next summer (for the first time), and will be promoting Blackbringer there as a lead title. Yippeee! And no, Blackbringer is not a comic book, but "comic book convention" really does not convey the scope of Comicon. Jim and I have been several times to network and then to promote our graphic novel, The Drowned, and Comicon is a pop culture EXTRAVAGANZA encompassing books, movies, video games, toys, TV shows, and yes, comics. And because my book is fantasy, this is a really cool marketing niche, so, yay!

3) I got an email last week from the talented Lesley Riley asking if she could interview me for the new Artist to Artist feature in Cloth Paper Scissors Magazine. So cool!!!! (I know I'm abusing the exclamation points key today but I can't help myself.) If all goes as planned, that article, plus a special Laini's Ladies, will appear in the May/June issue.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

"She is too fond of books and it has addled her brain" **

Is it wrong to spend $70 or $80 on books for fascination brought on by having written one little short story? Could I not go to the library, perhaps? Perhaps. But last night Amazon cast its spell on me and kept doing its “readers who ordered this also liked this” magic trick and before I knew it I had ordered four books of collected first-hand accounts of the lives of soldiers, civil servants, families, and children of the British Raj. Four books -- a bit lavish of me!

Here’s how it all began: in the midst of ploughing forward with my novel, I took a few hours to reread a Sunday Scribblings story I wrote last summer, set in Raj-era India, Spicy Little Curses Such As These, about kissing and curses and Hindu Hell. I LOVE it.

But I have long been wanting to spackle the huge holes in my knowledge of British India. The details about regiments of Scots Fusiliers and what sorts of weapons the dacoits weilded; and what is a syce and a khitmutgar and an ayah; and what cocktails were mixed at parties? And is it true that most children were sent home to England to boarding school? And lots of other little things. Did they play cricket yet, or mainly polo? I’m just really suddenly fascinated with that era. Beside me now sit a battered second-hand copy of Famous Tales of India by Kipling; one of Barbara Cleverly’s fun Sandilands Raj mysteries; and a mysterious-ish old yellowy tome called Hindu Religious Customs and Manners. Been a while since I read Passage to India -- maybe I should rummage for that, too.

Quite apart from the India stuff, I read a little about the Battle of the Somme. MY GOD. July 1, 1916, Northern France: the British army suffered 57,270 casualties in one day, of which 19,240 were deaths. IN ONE DAY. Almost a hundred years later, this remains a one-day record. I say again, MY GOD. How can generals bring themselves to send waves and waves of young men to certain death like that? How can there exist a personality type capable of marshalling that scale of death? Do generals have to terminate the functioning of their imaginations, the thing that would make them start putting faces and childhoods and histories to those 19,240 names? It puts me in awe and fear of the flexibility of the human mind, the way it can be made to do the limbo under the basic human default setting of NOT sending thousands of one's own country's sons out to die in the mud. I’m not saying those generals were wrong to do it. Obviously if I just learned about the Battle of the Somme, I don’t know nearly enough about the First World War to judge. I wish I could judge. If I could have my dream super power of time stoppage I would somehow squeeze in a history degree, learn to do research, read more nonfiction, delve in dusty archives for old letters and diaries, and try to gather enough of the past into my head to have some insight into our baffling human ways.

Right now, though, I’ll just wait for my four new books and hopefully learn enough about the Raj that I’ll be compelled to write MORE about it some day. Just think of all the story possibilities! (Oh, but I am proud of myself that I drew the line at ordering these books. I’m only allowed to get them if I actually read the other four!)

[** The quote in the title of this post is by Louisa May Alcott. See it here.]

Saturday, November 11, 2006

a hobo in space

For Sunday Scribblings: “I don't want to be a passenger in my own life.” - Diane Ackerman

There are some big, dazzling daydreamy things that I want, like a villa in Italy and to ride elephants through the tiger preserves of northern India. Dinner parties with intriguing people, a mask-making class in Venice, a mango tour of the tropics, open-ocean sailing. Smart curious children, a beautiful marriage (this one I have already), holiday feasts with family (yep, that too), baking marathons (sure), a lovely home (working on it). I also want days and weeks and months of living in the worlds in my head, writing, dreaming, uninterrupted. Somewhere cozy with a fire and a coffee pot and a big shelf of books, some of them by me.

I know these things don’t just happen. Anything we want in life we must create with our own minds and hands, whether it is a career or a home or a relationship, a round-the-world trip, an opportunity, a niche. Each of us begins, essentially, like a hobo standing at a point in space with just the brains in our heads and maybe a small bundle over our shoulder with some clothes in it. Cars might come by and offer you a lift -- a spouse, a parent, a job -- and you can get in and get swept up in the ease of that, of riding along with someone else.

Or you can gather your little hobo self together and figure out how to get a car of your own, how to make a map, how to cross oceans when you come to them, how even to fly. We all start from scratch with the most basic notion of how the create our own maps, and it’s hard. A lot of people give up and get in somebody else’s car. These are choices we make again and again and again, every day, the easy way or the hard way. It’s not just a matter of “driving” -- to begin at the beginning, you need a place to go and a way to get there, and a car is not magically handed to you with the tank full. You need to do that part, too.

This all reminds me of another quote I love, by the astronomer Carl Sagan:

“If you want to bake an apple pie from scratch, you must first create the universe.”

Yes! It’s just like that! If you want to bake an apple pie from scratch, first you need to invent apples; you need to dream up the soil, water, and sun, day by day by day, plant the seeds and wait for a tree to grow, and eventually gather the fruit. What is your apple pie?

I still remember a tidbit from the book The Pigman by Paul Zindel that I read in junior high (back in the old days before it was called “middle school”) -- I recall the young characters developing a practice of doing 2 things every day that will carry them closer to their goals and dreams. Two real things. That has stuck with me. I don’t do it everyday -- yesterday I read all day long -- but overall, I think I do. Do you?

Thursday, November 09, 2006

the blog gods are smiling

Aside from the emotional thrill of the election and the big bloom of hope in my soul, I'm not feeling so hot. I think I might have to go to the doctor, which I generally do precisely once a year, for that unavoidable appointment known only to women. This will make 2 whole trips to the doc in one year! For years as a "starving" artist I had no insurance at all and was blessed with virtually perfect health (still am, knock wood). The blithe uninsured era of our lives came to an end with Jim's melanoma. Now we pay hundreds of dollars every month to enjoy our good health and the possibility one of us might have to visit the doctor unexpectedly. Hundreds of dollars a month. Totally healthy and never using the system. That's so screwed up. I want to be able to go to the doctor when I need to, but I shouldn't have to pay THAT much for peace of mind. It's so disproportionate.

But enough of that. I will mutter under my breath one brief hopeful prayer that the Democrats will make us all proud for the next 2 years, and then even prouder for the next many more years when we get a Democratic president in office to undo the years of depraved incompetence of the current half-wit tyrant. [whisper whisper pray pray] There. Done. Onto FUN things!

I got to meet another blogger in person this week! Meg! My first blog friend and my partner in Sunday Scribblings, was in Seattle all the way from England to visit with some other blog gals, and she and Liz drove down to Portland in the middle of the MONSOON to see me & Alexandra! (Thank you Liz for driving!) It was wonderful, though I wish we'd had more time. We had sushi, a slumber party, desserts, a fire in the fireplace, pizza-sized pancakes in the morning, and the necessary pilgrimage to Powell's Books, and then, too soon, it was over. Thank you blog gods again for providing this weird matrix for the meeting of kindred spirits!

Tuesday, November 07, 2006


Yippeeeeeeeee!!! It's almost midnight on election night and. . . YIPPEEEEE! We're still waiting on confirmation of the Virginia and Montana Senate seats but it looks like Webb and Tester are going to take those too and "we" are going to take back the Senate as well as the House - - YIPPEEEEEEE!!!!!! Go Dems! WOO HOO!!!!

Sunday, November 05, 2006

ghost post

Oooh, this is so weird. I have a ghost post loose somewhere in my blog. Either that, or technical difficulties. I had posted my "Third Day" book review (with much difficulty from blogger), but it wouldn't allow comments, and when I checked my archive of posts, it WASN'T THERE. Weird! And, as if the act of noticing it didn't really exist made this post also take note of its own phantom status, it promptly vanished. So I'm reposting it, hopefully with pictures this time!

So this is it, the first “meeting” of the Third Day Book Club, the brainchild of the fabulous Patry. I must admit, I don’t even know who the other members are, but I wish we were all in someone’s living room drinking wine and talking about this amazing book! Fellow readers, I raise my glass (or in this case, my coffee cup) to you.

Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, is a novel about a war I had - ulp! - never heard of, the ill-fated Biafran war for independence from Nigeria, which spanned the mid-1960s. And while it is a novel of war, the story is relatively small in scope, focusing on a few lives and how they are changed by the events around them, not trying to explain or “teach” the war. There is very little “big picture” analysis. I’m not quite sure exactly how this book club is meant to work, but instead of going into any kind of synopsis, I’ll just say to those of you who haven’t read this book: it is engrossing from the very first paragraph, the characters are vivid and real and warm, and I am left with a feeling of having had an inside glimpse at wartime life that goes so much deeper than news reports and death tolls.

I also couldn’t help thinking, reading this book, of another war, one that is going on right now. One of the things I would do if I had infinite time on my hands, is take more history classes. I have such a skimpy understanding of geopolitics, and there are intriguing hints in Half of a Yellow Sun about the imperialist history of British Nigeria, about how the country was formed, and how that history paved the way to the Biafran secession. I got the idea that the British had, for reasons all their own, drawn lines on a map of Africa and carved out a country and named it Nigeria. In this new country were a number of ethnic groups with their own unique cultures and religions, bound together by nothing but this British-drawn border (sound familiar?). The British played the Hausa, Igbo, and Yoruba people against each other for their own reasons, perhaps even inciting the terrible massacre of the Igbo that kicked off the civil war. I would like to understand better the history of white people mucking around with nation-building. I had such a feeling of outrage reading Barbara Kingsolver’s Poisonwood Bible years ago, and discovering how the US was responsible for propping up Mobutu in Congo. And seeing Syriana recently, the fictional depiction of the US interests ensuring a playboy puppet would come to power in a nameless Mid-east nation, because he would be easier to manipulate than his more serious, reform-minded brother. It all gives me a helpless sense that humanity really is a bunch of monkeys that are just intelligent enough to be highly, highly destructive.

But back to the book! One thing that sticks in my mind a few weeks after finishing it is this question: when writing a book about tragic times, is the writer compelled to inflict personal tragedy upon his/her characters? That is, in a book about war, must the characters suffer personal loss? I’ve had this conversation with Jim, who sometimes gets angry at writers for killing characters, but I think they must. As much as we readers pray for characters to make it through books like this, there would be a sense of “cheating” the reality if some major characters did not die. That sounds morbid, but if everyone comes out okay, it would leave the readers with a false sense that the generality of people who went through that war also came out “okay.” Books like this function for readers like me as a microcosm of events. This is the first I have ever really heard of the Biafran War, so it is essentially all I know. If it ended well, would I subconsciously associate that ending with the war in its entirety?

Last year I read an amazing book about the Northern Italian arena of WWII, called A Thread of Grace that I recommend VERY HIGHLY, and without giving specifics, the end of that book is like repeated gut punches. It wrings you out. There is no reprieve, no little happy place you can retreat to and feel that anyone came out of that war “okay”. It is visceral and haunting, and that is the only way to depict war. War is death. So much needless death. And war fiction sort of HAS to clobber you with it. And Half of a Yellow Sun does, though certainly not with nearly the grimness of A Thread of Grace. All in all, there is a kind of return to life at the end of the book, such as there wasn’t and couldn’t have been in A Thread of Grace.

I’m curious to read what others have written about this book, but I’ll throw in a few other comments: I loved the characters, Ugwu especially, and I found the opening completely absorping, though it was such a small kind of scene, a young boy going to his new job, I was engrossed, rooting for him. And a line that really really sticks in my head is Kainene telling Olanna she sometimes hates the refugees for dying. I thought that was a powerfully truthful thing to say, to admit. I also kept thinking repeatedly of all the people in all the conflicts throughout Africa and the rest of this damned planet, currently living in the kind of horrific conditions the refugees endure in this book. The starvation, the rapes, the massacres. And sitting home in America, it is so easy to forget it all. Again, that’s the power of fiction, to make us SEE, if only we pick up the right books. Like The Kite Runner, and Half of a Yellow Sun. In a way, it should be our homework as citizens of the world, to read books like this, to SEE, to KNOW. To not vote for people who will make more wars. To perhaps do more than simply vote, but do. . . something.