My story “City of the Dying Sun” is now out in the current issue of Kaleidotrope. Click on the link to read it! It’s set in the same world as the novel I’ve been working on forever, but takes place many years earlier. There’s an elf in it, but I avoided using the e-word or mentioning his pointy ears.
Check out the t-shirt Donald and I are selling on Zazzle! It’s the perfect 2nd anniversary gift for yourself, your spouse, or a friend.
We designed it because we wanted them for ourselves and couldn’t find ones we liked online. There was one, but it ruined the joke by explaining on the shirt that the traditional 2nd anniversary gift was cotton.
White t-shirts are shown, but you can get pretty much any color, any size, even a different style of t-shirt than the ones we used. You could even get our design on a t-shirt that isn’t 100% cotton. But that would be silly.
Hopefully if we sell a few t-shirts we’ll actually get some money, but I have to admit that I didn’t read the details of the agreement closely enough to ascertain whether any royalties will be paid in money, or Zazzle store credit. (No, I’m never that careless about signing contracts for my fiction!) Donald doesn’t think it really matters; he thinks we’re going to make so little money from this that we might as well use it to buy a t-shirt or mug. But I admit, I have grand dreams that we’re tapping into some hitherto unmet need for creative 2nd anniversary gifts. (My overactive imagination is very helpful in writing fantasy and science fiction.)
The traditional 3rd anniversary gift is leather. Hmm….
I’ve written elsewhere (here, here, and here) about my attempts to cook ancient Roman food. Until now, I’ve followed adaptations of ancient recipes worked out for use in modern kitchens, with quantities and preparation notes. But I was making grilled pork kebabs as one menu item for a dinner party with friends and I wanted to try something new for the dipping sauce, something I hadn’t tried before.
Donald always appreciates ancient Roman food, and there are four sauce recipes in Sally Grainger’s Cooking Apicius that would have been appropriate. I’d already tried two of them, though (I liked one but not the other, possibly because of all the tinkering I had to do with the recipe due to not being able to acquire all the ingredients here in the US). And of the others, one calls for myrtle berries, which we can’t get (we bought a myrtle plant that we’ve been babying along and carefully moving inside each winter, but still no flowers or berries), and the other for hard-boiled eggs, which I don’t like.
Also, I’ve been going to the trouble of growing rue and pennyroyal from seed so that I have them on hand for the recipes that require them, and I wanted to use some of the fresh rue. So I went back to Grocock and Grainger’s straight-up translation of the Apicius cookery manual to see what I could find.
8.1.9. Another sauce for boar: pound pepper, lovage, oregano, celery seed, laser root, cumin, fennel seed, rue, liquamen, wine, passum. Bring it to heat; when it is simmering, thicken with starch. Pour the sauce into and over the boar and serve.
Sounds promising. I was using ambiguously labeled “pork kebab meat” from our meat CSA, not wild boar, but it was free-range pork. And the Romans often cooked food over charcoal (many of the more convenient methods not having been invented yet). Laser is silphium, but that was already extinct by the time most of these recipes were being written down, so they were using asafetida instead. Liquamen is fish sauce, and ancient Roman fish sauce was pretty close to modern Thai or Vietnamese. Passum was a sweet wine made from dried grapes. I always use Passito di Pantelleria, which is probably the best modern approximation (Wikipedia says so, anyway). The one made by Cantine Pellegrino is available at a local wine and spirits retailer (this is the modern, fancy term for liquor store).
I didn’t follow the instructions exactly. Partly because I wanted to marinate the pork in the mixture before grilling it, as well as using it as a dipping sauce. Here’s my recipe:
1 tsp. lovage seed
1 tsp. celery seed
1/2 tsp. cumin seed
1/2 tsp. fennel seed
1/4 tsp. ground asafetida
1 tsp. peppercorns
1 tbsp. finely chopped fresh lovage
1 tsp. minced fresh oregano
1 tsp. minced fresh rue
3/4 c. dry white Italian wine
1/4 c. Passito di Pantelleria
2 tbsp. Vietnamese or Thai fish sauce
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 1/4 lb. pork kebab meat (I wouldn’t be so vague about where on the animal the meat came from, except that I don’t know. Legs, maybe? Loin? Anything you’d use for grilling, frying, or roasting (rather than braising or stewing), cut into approximately 2-inch chunks, is probably fine.)
In a small skillet over moderately low heat, toast lovage seed, celery seed, cumin seed, fennel seed, and ground asafetida until fragrant, while stirring. Cool slightly, then grind with the peppercorns in a spice grinder or mortar and pestle. Add wine, Passito, fish sauce, and fresh herbs. Divide mixture into 2 equal portions. Reserve half of the mixture to use as a dipping sauce. To the other half, add the olive oil. Marinate the pork kebabs in the mixture that contains olive oil for 2-24 hours (In the fridge, of course. Ancient Romans didn’t have fridges, but the ancient text says nothing about marinating in this mixture, either.)
Thread the pork kebabs onto skewers and grill to desired doneness. You could broil them instead, if it were raining or too cold to grill. I’m not giving precise instructions here based on what I did, because I was trying to grill-roast a whole chicken at the same time (that’s another possible blog post), and my grilling of the pork didn’t receive the close attention it deserved. My kebabs were cooked through more than I like (medium-well rather than medium-rare, though if you’re still afraid of trichinosis this may be more to your liking (ancient Romans were probably afraid of trichinosis, too)), and not seared enough on the outside because I was using briquettes instead of hardwood charcoal to get the chicken right. Also, the pork got cold before we got around to eating it, because the chicken took longer. But the hickory wood chunks I was using to flavor the chicken gave the pork a nice, smoky flavor.
Serve the grilled pork with the dipping sauce.
If you compare this to the original Apicius recipe, you’ll see I didn’t bother heating the sauce once it had been assembled, and didn’t bother thickening it, either. I could have, though cornstarch isn’t strictly authentic, as the ancient Romans didn’t have corn. You could use wheat starch, often available in Asian grocery stores near the rice flour, if you were striving for verisimilitude.
Of course, you’re going to have trouble duplicating this recipe if you don’t grow your own lovage and rue, as they’re not easy to find. I have seen fresh lovage, still growing in little pots, at the Lexington farmers’ market here in Massachusetts. You could substitute celery leaves for the fresh lovage, or just leave it out. I used organic lovage seeds sold for planting rather than culinary purposes, and lovage seeds are not too difficult to find. If you haven’t just spent the last several months growing your own fresh rue, you’re probably out of luck, though some friends of mine who used to live in Park Slope, in Brooklyn, told me they’ve seen it at the farmers’ market there on occasion. Before we had rue, we would substitute fresh fenugreek leaves in ancient recipes that called for it (fresh fenugreek is available at well-stocked Indian grocery stores), or dandelion leaves. Rue is quite bitter, so you’ll get some of the correct flavor that way. You’d probably want to use a tablespoon of either of these substitutes, as neither is as astoundingly bitter as rue. Rue also has some interesting flavor notes that you might describe as citrusy, though, so I don’t think any substitute will be quite right.
If you want to use rue, keep in mind that it’s, um, mildly toxic. And should probably not be consumed by pregnant women or those attempting to become pregnant. It had medicinal as well as culinary uses, and one of those medicinal uses was as an herbal abortifacient. I’m pretty sure that a teaspoon mixed into a cup of liquid and shared among 3 or more people as a marinade and dipping sauce is not going to hurt anybody or their unborn child. But I have no real knowledge on the subject. I informed all our dinner guests of the potential toxicity issue, and you should do the same.
How did it turn out? Everyone seemed to enjoy the pork kebabs and dipping sauce. There are a lot of different flavors in there, but they seem to meld well together. Donald wants me to try the sauce again, this time using rue in one batch and a rue substitute in the other, to see if there’s any noticeable difference (Donald’s blog post on the dipping sauce is here). Maybe he’s wondering if growing fresh rue is worth the effort. It’s supposed to be a perennial herb, though, so I think we’ll have fresh rue as long as we remember to water it from time to time.
My friend DC Harrell has a story in the latest issue of Swords and Sorcery Magazine; read it here! I saw an earlier version of this story when we were in a writers group together, years ago, and it still makes me choke up a bit to read it.
This is the first story she’s had published, and I hope there will be many more. Because then I’ll get to read them.
I thought I would post some pictures of my latest way to procrastinate from writing: gardening!
Donald and I live in a rented apartment, so I couldn’t very well dig up the side yard and plant a vegetable garden without first asking the landlord’s permission. And by the time I got inspired (mid-May), it was really too late for that. So I went with containers. These are on my front porch. From left to right: chives, shiso, sorrel, and lettuce. You can’t see the shiso too well because the seed packet had both green and red shiso, and when I initially planted, only the red came up. Actually, I thought I had a red and a green for a while, but it soon became apparent that what I’d assumed was green shiso was actually clover (hmm, I wonder why the green and red seedlings look so different). I’m not sure where the clover came from, but I’m hoping it was the Organic Outdoor Container Mix, not the shiso packet. Unfortunately, I wanted green shiso more than red, so I had to do a second planting. This time two green shiso seedlings have come up. At least, I hope that’s what they are. They’re very tiny, so you can’t see them in the picture.
Shiso turns out to be a bit of a pain to start. The seeds require light in order to germinate, but you also have to keep them from drying out. Initially, I followed the packet instructions and pressed four seeds into the soil surface. But I think they got covered with dirt later while watering, and only one ever sprouted. I don’t know where the others went. For the re-seeding, I tried to be more careful, and this time I only lost three seeds under the dirt instead of all four. After that, I sprayed it with a gentle mist of water twice a day instead of trying to use a gentle spray from the watering can that turned out to be not so gentle whenever the surface looked a bit dry. Days went by and no sprouting. Finally, I put a sheet of Saran wrap over the one remaining visible seed, weighting it down with coins at each corner. I still sprayed it twice a day, lifting up the plastic wrap and then replacing it. This worked, and the seed sprouted. And one of the buried seeds came up, too.
Here’s the rest of my porch garden:
The one on the far right that’s partly cut off is the empty pot following my unsuccessful attempt to grow spinach. I think it was too hot. Apparently spinach is very sensitive to hot weather. I had some plants, but they were leggy and floppy, with tiny leaves, and it looked like they were on the verge of bolting. So I pulled them and tossed the leaves into a salad. I guess spinach needs to be planted in early April, not late May.
The next one over is English pennyroyal. You probably can’t see any plants. I can barely see them, and I know where to look. They’re very small. I started them inside and just transplanted them yesterday.
Finally, lovage. You might notice that the leaves look vaguely like celery leaves. Supposedly lovage grows to be six feet tall, but right now I’m skeptical.
I don’t think the patio actually gets enough light for gardening. The lettuce is doing okay, but everything else is growing very slowly. These pictures were probably taken at about the sunniest time of day for this location, and you can see there’s no really direct sunlight falling on them. Next year, I think I need to reserve the patio for shade-loving plants. Leaf lettuces and baby salad greens are probably fine, and I think the lovage pot is too heavy to move (fortunately it’s a perennial, so I can just leave it out there all winter). But herbs may need to go outside.
Fortunately, the outdoor containers along the edge of the side yard are doing much better.
The three on the left are tomatoes (Black Krim, Brandywine, and Sun Sugar (a yellow cherry tomato hybrid; the other two are standard-size heirloom tomatoes)). I don’t know if you can tell from the picture, but they’re taller than I am (at least if you start from the bottom of the container, which admittedly is at least a foot below the soil surface where you’d usually start measuring). The other two containers have green beans, first a bush variety, then a pole bean.
None of the big tomatoes are ripe yet. This is a close-up of the Brandywines. Don’t they look tomato-ey?
The third ripe cherry tomato. I’ve already eaten two. I hope at some point I get more than one every 2-3 days. There’s another that’s turned a bit yellowish, but the others are all still green.
I don’t think the beans are doing quite as well. The leaves are a bit yellowish, and I seem to be getting a lot of aphid damage with the pole beans especially. You can see how they’re climbing the poles. The bush plants have started to produce a few beans, but I’m very disappointed with the productivity. I have three plants in the middle and then one on either side, smaller ones that I planted later. So far I’ve gotten three beans from one plant, and one bean from another. They all have small baby beans on them, but not as many as I’d hoped. I’m not sure why. I was fertilizing them once a month like the fertilizer bag said, but I decided to increase it to twice a month, in case they’re not getting enough nutrients (though I worry about this more with the pole beans, since I have eight plants crammed into that container). Beans fix nitrogen from the air, though, and aren’t supposed to need a lot of fertilizer. I did see some insects on the bush bean flowers that looked like tarnished plant bugs. If you don’t feel like reading the Wikipedia article, the gist of it is that there’s no good way to get rid of them except multiple applications of insecticide, and I’m trying to keep everything organic. They feed on the flowers and inject their toxic saliva. I’ve definitely seen some flowers with brown, sticky bug residue on them, and those flowers later fell off without producing beans.
It’s also possible that it’s too hot for green beans right now. The package warns that they won’t set fruit if daytime temperatures are consistently above 90 degrees, and we’ve had a lot of really hot days right as the plants were at their peak of flowering. Also, soil in containers set on a concrete ledge heats up more than it does in a garden plot, since the heat can’t dissipate into the ground as effectively. Fortunately, tomatoes love the heat. My sister used to live in Tucson, and she says tomatoes do really well there. Not surprising, as it’s close to their ancestral habitat.
Finally, in another particularly sunny ledge spot along the yard, you can see the myrtle plant Donald and I have been coaxing along for a little over a year now, and a pot of rue. Myrtle can’t survive cold temperatures, so it over-winters in the house with us. I transplanted it into a larger pot this spring. We were hoping it might flower and produce berries this summer, but so far, no such luck. I might have stressed the plant by moving it outside all at once, though. Apparently you’re supposed to gradually ease plants into a new environment, which I only learned after it was too late. It’s hard to find information on the Internet about growing common myrtle. Most of the search results you get are for crepe myrtle, which is completely different.
If you’re wondering about some of the unusual herb choices, lovage, pennyroyal and rue were common in ancient Roman cooking, but you can’t really buy them anywhere, not easily. We were able to order seeds online, though. Actually, after we already had the seeds, I discovered that you can buy lovage seeds at Mahoney’s Garden Center in Winchester, where I purchased most of my garden supplies. Oh well. The Internet seeds worked, too.
My new gardening hobby has helped me to have just about my least productive two months of writing since going full-time! Yay! Actually, there are other factors, which I may write about at some point, or maybe not. The plants have helped to keep my spirits up, though. And, vegetables!
I’m definitely planning to expand the container garden next year. I want fresh okra, which I can occasionally get at farmers’ markets here, but otherwise is of poor quality. (The ideal vegetables to grow in your garden are the ones that are expensive at the store, or deteriorate rapidly after being picked, or both (unsurprisingly, the two issues are often related).) And maybe some fava beans or edamame, though the poor showing of my green beans has made me nervous about trying to grow legumes in containers. And some herbs. Also, if our landlord doesn’t mind, my downstairs neighbor and I might do a garden in the side yard, so that would be fun. Although the challenge is to not go overboard right away. I made up a list of things I’d like to plant, and had something like 50 different things.
Yeah, I might not get much writing done if I did that.
Presented to you in its unvarnished glory*, as it originally appeared in my 5th grade yearbook, the very first fantasy story I ever wrote. I was 9 or 10.
The Fairy Princess
Two new people had come to our school. Becky Harris and Jimmy Patriquin. Becky was 11 and Jimmy was 9. I liked them. Becky had brown hair and brown eyes. Jimmy had red hair and black eyes. One day they came up to me. “Could you come to my house after school tomorrow? We need you urgently,” said Becky. “Yes, it’s important,” said Jimmy. So the next day I went to see Becky. It was the last day of school. Waiting for us was a tall boy about twelve with black hair and green eyes. “That’s Peter Andrews,” Jimmy told me. When we got out, Peter told us to come with him. “I’ve got a picnic lunch here,” he told me. After walking through the forest awhile, we came to a clearing. In the midst of it, was a wooden vehicle. “What’s that?” I asked in amazement. Becky replied, “That’s our invention, we’re going to use it.” Peter said, “Now, listen. The princess of fairyland has been captured by witches. We must rescue her.” “How?” I asked. “You’ll see. We’ll go in our vehicle. All aboard!”
We climbed on. There were four seats. Becky and Jimmy sat in the front while Peter and I sat in back. Then we started. I had my seatbelt on. Suddenly we crashed. Then we bumped around for five minutes. Then we went more smoothly. “That’s the barrier,” Peter explained. “Now we can go anywhere, the barrier’s tough.” “Here we are,” said Becky. Then we glided and landed. We stepped out. It was beautiful in fairyland! “How do we rescue the princess?” I asked. “Winged horses,” Jimmy pointed to a herd quietly grazing. We sneaked up and each grabbed one. We leaped on and away we flew. When we got to the castle we stopped. We knew we would have to swim across the moat. It was cold water.
Peter spotted a secret door. We jumped in and ran through the castle. We rushed down a flight of stairs. There before us, was the door to the room where the princess was. I tried to open it, but it was impossible. Then Peter tried it. After a good deal of pushing, he opened it. I said, “Peter, you could do anything.” “Not quite,” he laughed.
Then we took the princess, ran down the hall, and swam across the moat. Then we took the horses back. The fairy had wings, so she flew.
When we were back, the fairies thanked us. We had some food they gave us. Then we climbed into the vehicle and went home. I had to go home, but I remembered the fun I had had.
Many things are unclear about this story. What sort of wooden vehicle was it? Why did Becky, Jimmy, and Peter require the assistance of the unnamed narrator? Did the witches set the whole thing up so that the children could have an enjoyable adventure? They can’t have been too determined to keep the fairy princess prisoner, seeing as how she was in an unlocked room that a 12-year old could open. I won’t even mention the incorrect paragraph formatting or the irrelevant details about everyone’s hair and eye color.
Other things are clearer. Apparently I already liked boys, and liked ‘em tall. And, um, able to open doors? Yeah, let’s not get too Freudian on that.
Not that I’m the world’s greatest writer or anything now, but I have at least written stories that editors were willing to pay me for. I offer this “gem” as evidence that writing ability has more to do with persistence and hard work than any innate talent. I honestly believe that most people, if they’re willing and able to put in the time and effort required to learn the craft, can become decent fiction writers. Maybe not the best in their field, but competent, at the very least.
It can take a while, though.
* I did correct spelling errors and some egregiously bad punctuation. I’m not sure whether I’m to blame for those, or the teacher who typed this up from my handwritten submission. Oh, those pre-computer days!
There’s a lot of discussion about the inappropriate sexualization of little girls through media and advertising images, but maybe we should also be talking about the inappropriate sexualization of little boys.
At Walgreen’s today, I saw a toddler-sized t-shirt that read, “I think your girlfriend is checking me out”. A few weeks ago, I saw one with the caption “Lock up your daughters”.
Am I the only one who finds this problematic? Despite Toddlers & Tiaras and sexy fairy Kinder Surprises, I think most people in our society would still consider it wildly inappropriate to put a 2-year old girl in a t-shirt that joked about sexual attraction between her and grown men, or suggested that she needed to be locked up to protect her from amorous boys. If we want to move towards a more equal world, we need to stop giving boys the message that the rules about sex are different for them than for girls.
We certainly don’t need to start giving them that message before they reach the age of 3.
I have to disagree with some of author Dean Wesley Smith’s conclusions about short fiction publishing, in his article “When to Mail Short Fiction To Traditional Publishers”.
First, he argues that there are only 4 or 5 science fiction magazines worth submitting to and only 2 or 3 for fantasy. If you’ve submitted a story to those top few places and none of them want to publish it, he thinks you’re better off self-publishing it as an e-book and starting to earn royalties from it immediately, rather than keeping it on submission to successively less high-paying and less prestigious magazines until someone finally accepts it.
He does offer the caveats that he’s only offering his opinion, that every writer has to decide for himself or herself which magazines are worth submitting to, that there are no right or wrong answers. He’s outlining his own strategy for deciding whether to try traditional or self-publishing for a short story in the hope that seeing his thought process will be helpful for other writers. He also suggests that if a writer doesn’t already have a track record and fan base, keeping a story on submission for longer might make more sense than self-publishing.
However, I’m not sure how he came to the conclusion that there are only 4 or 5 places worth sending science fiction to and only 2 or 3 for fantasy. And I’m surprised that the only science fiction magazines he mentions by name in the article (Asimov’s Science Fiction and Analog) are both print magazines. Especially since some of the highest-paying and most prestigious magazines these days are online.
Here’s a non-exhaustive list of magazines that publish fantasy and science fiction and pay at least 5 cents per word. I’m not distinguishing between print and online magazines in the list, because I submit my stories to both kinds. If anything, I have a slight preference for online magazines, especially online magazines that offer the stories as free content, because people are more likely to read your story if they can click on a link and immediately read it without paying anything (especially compared to the likelihood that they’ll order a print magazine off the Internet or go to a bookstore to look for it):
Analog Science Fiction and Fact (SF)
Asimov’s Science Fiction (SF)
Beneath Ceaseless Skies (F)
Buzzy Mag (F, SF)
Clarkesworld Magazine (F, SF)
Daily Science Fiction (F, SF)
The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction (F, SF)
Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show (F, SF)
LORE (F, SF)
Tor.com (F, SF)
Waylines Magazine (F, SF)
This is a deliberately conservative list. I left off magazines that are often closed to unsolicited submissions or that only accept a limited number of submissions each day, as these practices could be seen as hindrances to authors who want to submit stories there. I also omitted publications that have themes for each issue or give preferential treatment to certain nationalities. Otherwise I could have added AE: The Canadian Science Fiction Review, Apex Magazine, ChiZine, COSMOS, Crossed Genres Magazine, Crowded Magazine, Lightspeed, Nightmare Magazine, Strange Horizons, and others.
I still ended up with 11 excellent places to send science fiction and 10 for fantasy. If I restrict the list even more to those considered “professional” by the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America, I get 7 for science fiction and 6 for fantasy.
Smith’s main argument is that an author loses money from potential sales the longer a story remains unpublished, and if you keep a story “in the mail” until it sells to a magazine or anthology, it might take years. (Of course, “in the mail” is an outdated term; of the magazines on my list, only Fantasy & Science Fiction still requires paper submissions sent through the mail. Everyone else prefers submissions sent electronically.)
The part about taking years is absolutely true. I’ve had all my short stories traditionally published in magazines before self-publishing them, and it’s taken between 1.5 and 7 years from first submission to publication. Losing money from potential sales? Sometimes true. Smith estimates that you can make $12.50 a month self-publishing a short story. Many authors can and do. Many others do not.
I’ve averaged $21 a month from sales of “The Shoemaker’s Daughter”, but that seems to have gotten a boost from the coincidental similarity of its title to that of Adriana Trigiani’s best-selling novel The Shoemaker’s Wife. My average monthly profits for each of the other 6 stories I’ve self-published range from 13 to 24 cents. At that rate, even if I sold a 5000-word story for 1 cent per word, I would be losing money on potential sales only if it took longer than 17 years.
The break-even point for a $10 sale, the lowest payment I’ve ever received from a magazine (for “The Shoemaker’s Daughter”, interestingly enough), would be somewhere between 3.5 and 6.5 years (“The Shoemaker’s Daughter” took 3 years). So should I give up on traditional publication after 3 or 4 years if a story has been rejected by every magazine that pays $15 or more? Maybe. But at my current level of unknown-ness, I think that getting published in even the most obscure magazines gives me a better chance of being discovered by a new reader who decides to look for more of my stories than self-publishing does.
Because traditionally publishing a story in a magazine doesn’t rule out self-publishing later. When you sell a story, the magazine doesn’t demand exclusive rights to it forever. Once the contracted period of exclusivity has ended (anywhere from 0 to 18 months after publication, in my experience), you can go ahead and self-publish. You just can’t do it the other way around, usually, because most magazines don’t pay much, if anything, for previously published stories. And that includes self-published.
I agree with Dean Wesley Smith that if an author is likely to make $12.50 per month from each short story they publish, it’s smart not to keep it on submission to magazines for too many years. But I also think it’s unwise, if you’re a new author, to assume that you’ll be making that much. And if you write short fiction, new magazines are starting up all the time. Don’t rule them out just because they didn’t exist 15 years ago. Self-publishing as we know it today didn’t exist 15 years ago, either.
The ninth and final installment of my novella “The Guild of Swordsmen” is now up at Silver Blade. This is the first time I’ve had a story serialized, so it’s been fun seeing each successive part come out (even though I knew what was going to happen).
For anyone who’s been waiting to read it until the entire story was available, here are the links to each “chapter”:
Only one more installment to go!