Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Best Books, Aught-Nine

I'm pretty sure this is the first (and last!) time I've gotten to use the antiquated word "aught" to name the years this decade, and I can't believe I let that slip. It just has such a delightful, old-man-from-Nantucket quality it. So here's to your inner elderly Yank: Hooray for Aught-Nine!

2009 turned out to be the year of reading really dark books. All the way back in October 2008, I picked up an anthology of horror stories, and it launched back to my roots. Yes, I was a nine-year-old Goth. ANYWAY, long story short, I read rafts of horror after that point and even the non-terror literature I picked up seemed to be saturated with darkness and woe. It was a really great year of reading. :)

So here are the top books I read this year:

Best NONFiction:
This is a toss-up between Portait of a Killer, by Patricia Cornwell, a remarkable examination of the Jack the Ripper case and Rats, by Robert Sullivan, a natural history of New York City's rat population. Both amazing, both delivering remarkable information with captivating style. Read them both!

Best Anthology:
Poe's Children, edited by Peter Straub. Some of the best short fiction I've ever read, and all of it work within the dark arts. Proof positive that horror doesn't have to be a gross-out fest.

Best Spec fiction:
Another toss-up. This time we've got giants slugging it out for the top placement. Duma Key, by Stephen King, is a remarkable adventure into the world of aging, loss and creativity. It is probably my favorite book by King so far--and that's saying something. The world it creates is remarkable. But Chuck Hogan and Guillermo Del Toro created a rock-n-roll rollercoaster in their new collaboration The Strain, which hybridizes epidemiology and vamprism in the most fun book I've touched in years. Characters, however, are pretty much cardboard cut-outs.

Best Children's Book:
The Miraculous Adventures of Edward Tulane, by Kate DeCamillo. If you haven't read this wonderful story of a vain china rabbit forced to wander until he finds the true meaning of love, then run out and do so. Better yet, listen to it as an audiobook--we listened to this book 3 times in the car, and each time, it only got better. Any other year, this book would have taken top honors.

And now for ...

Wendy's Favorite Book of the Year!!!
This is a pretty important prize, and there's no surprise that it goes to Solar Storms, by Linda Hogan. The heart-breaking, magical story of a teenaged Native American girl, raised in foster care, who goes on a journey with her grandmother, great-grandmother & great-great-grandmother. The women all seek something: an answer to the ecological devestation of 1970's Northern Minnesota; love; a place to die; and the mother who tortured and abandoned her child. One of the best books I have ever written.

So run out to your nearest library and start reading! And share some of your favorite books. Lord knows my reading list isn't nearly long enough!

Monday, December 28, 2009

The library is a veritable smorgasbord

Thank goodness tomorrow is library day. My stack of library books has dwindled to a couple of books about the dulcimer and a vegan cookbook. And I have a confession to make. I can't cope with the world without a library book to read.

Note that all important qualifying adjective: I didn't say I can't cope with the world without a book to read. I said I can't cope without a library book. There's something about the due date that just lights a fire under me.

It's not to say that I don't love books that I am given or that I buy. I read them, too, and I'm excited to read them. But when I get fresh new books from the library, I feel free and wild and luxurious. I like to flip through the first few pages of each book in my new stack, gulping down mouthfuls of words and gorging myself. The books I own I ration out parsimoniously, one measly chapter at a time.

You know, it's a little like that first hour after I get home from a trip to New Seasons (Portland's home-grown Whole Foods) and I want to try a little taste of each delicious item. I just want to see what that chunk of brie tastes like. I just want to know if those strawberries are as juicy as they look.

That's how it is with books, too. At the library, I blithely snatch up tomes for their gorgeous covers, grab slim volumes based solely on the author's name, or scoop up stacks of librarians' recommendations. There are no consequences for picking a book that looks better than it tastes, so I can succumb to tempation and take them all.

A trip to the bookstore, however, is different. My money is on the line. I research by awards and recommendations and I seriously ponder each variable. Will this book be worth my investment? Will it add something to my writerly toolbox? When I get it home, I set to work on it with perfect seriousness--just how I approach the ingredients my husband brings home when I send him out with the shopping list. The list is culled from the week's menu. There is no room for play in all that planning.

So I'm glad tomorrow is library day. I'm hungry for something fun to read.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Slice o'life!

Sometimes I dream of being a hit blogger--you know, a funny mom blogger like Dooce or a super-star food blogger like Susan of the Fatfree Vegan Kitchen, or an awesome writing blogger like Elizabeth Spann Craig at Mystery Writing is Murder. But honestly, I just don't have that kind of sense of humor, that much interest in food or that good of advice. I'm just another semi-employed mom trying to learn how to write spec fiction.

That doesn't mean I feel like I have to stop blogging. Blogs are fun. And honestly, the blogs I read on a regular basis (I have 40+ feeds I subscribe to for the fun of keeping tabs--and that doesn't count Martha's) aren't all about "valuable information." I know that's what the experts say drives readership, but I guess I'm not that kind of a reader. I want to read a blog that gives me an insight into the life of the person writing it.

I love Alexandra Sokoloff's blog. She talks seriously about writing and movies, but she shares fun and salacious details about her life, as well. I like Pyr Books' blog, which frequently includes funny moments from editor Lou Anders' real life. And best of all, I love reading all my friends, even the ones I only know from the Internet (that's you, Miriam, Christie & Helen!).

So I keep posting recipes and talking about my kid and babbling about what I write. And you know, that's enough for me, even if I only have ten or so readers. I know they're good ones! ;)

Monday, December 21, 2009

Brussels Sprouts on the Darkest Day of the Year

Today is Solstice. Here in the Northern Hemisphere, that makes it the day with the most darkness of all the year. The fact that today our Congress finalized $632 billion toward an unnecessary war in Afghanistan, signed a health care bill that only benefits the insurance companies (and will only hurt the working poor), and that throughout the world, dozens of activists were arrested in the wake of the pathetic Copenhagen conference, it is a symbolically dark day. A very dark day.

Luckily, I have plenty of distractions from the unpleasantness of my nation's politics. I have a wonderful family and lots of work on my plate. And tonight, I had lots of brussels sprouts on my plate--which was a delicious distraction. Here is a recipe for the Braised Brussels Sprouts we enjoyed tonight. Salty, nutty, caramelly, tasty: they will put a smile on your face, no matter how you feel about Washington DC. And the good news is, sprouts are in season here in Oregon, so at least the veggies are doing their bit to reduce our carbon footprint.

20-25 brussels sprouts, trimmed and cut in half
1 tb butter, unsalted (could veganize with Earth Balance!)
1/2 c hot water
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tb brown sugar
fresh ground pepper to taste
Over medium heat, melt butter in a 2-quart saucepan. While it is melting, combine sugar and salt in a large bowl; add hot water and stir until dissolved. Toss brussels sprout halves in liquid. When butter begins to bubble and smell fragrant, add the brussels sprouts and liquid. Cover immediately. Cook until brussels sprouts are a vibrant green, about 4-5 minutes. Remove cover and bring heat up to medium high, stirring occasionally. Cook until liquids have evaporated and sprouts are a golden brown (about 8-10 minutes). Add pepper, serve immediately.
We had these with roasted potatoes from my dad (purples and reds!) and some terrific tofu--but I can't imagine a meal that couldn't make space for a pile of these tasty little cabbage-cousins.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Fa la la la la

It's coming. Christmas. You might not celebrate it, but you know it's out there, spreading its wings of sugary goodies and brightly printed wrapping paper. Its scent is in the air, the powerful aroma of Scotch tape and egg nog. God, that smells good.

I love Christmas. It doesn't make much sense--after all, I'm a pretty serious atheist and fairly opposed to crass consumerism--but nothing can keep the joy of the season out of my old, craggy heart. I love Christmas trees. I love Christmas carols. I love, love, love Santa! And it seems like the last few years, each Christmas had just gotten better.

I blame my sweetie-pie for this. Our first Christmas together was magical. We sat side-by-side a few days before the big holiday, hand-sewing our Christmas stockings (boy are we glad we have a sewing machine now!). We made a Lego wreath for the tree--a tradition we've maintained, even if the tree has shrunk to a tiny potted Norfolk fir. He is a man good at creating moments of peace and magic. He has a natural instinct for holidays.

Me? I don't have any instincts for the holidays. My family celebrated every special day the same way: with food, food and more food. The more important the holiday, the more desserts, right?

Given my troubles with food, especially sweets, that's created a lot of holiday-related stress that poor Sweetie-Pie has had to work through. But I know we're getting someplace these days. We celebrated Thanksgiving with instant mashed potatoes and a pumpkin-butterscotch-pudding dessert. For a girl who once routinely baked a feast and ate three pies plus a cranberry pudding every year, this was a big step away from food obsession and toward the real spirit of holiday: togetherness, love, and joy.

Let's just hope our decision to celebrate Christmas with a White Trash Dinner doesn't derail all of our progress. The nostalgic flavor of (vegan!) marshmallow-capped sweet potatoes might send me into a memory-induced feeding frenzy!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Explosion of Merriment!

Today marks the beginning of Extreme Fun Weekend, Holiday Edition. It started with a simple request for lunch today. Then I scheduled a breakfast with a friend for Monday. Then a friend decided to come stay the weekend on her way to her family's home in Colordao. Then my brother decided to come down. There's SO MUCH fun in my future! I'm not sure I can take it.

Forunately, I already got a chunk of work out of the way. I critiqued a piece for the very talented Christie Yant, wrote an article on spec for the Association of Children's Museums journal, wrote a review (SKIN MEDICINE, from my pals at Severed Press) and wrote a profile on the extremely cool Edward Morris. You can read the profile on HorrorWeb if you'd like to see my brilliance in action.

Needless to say, given all that work, I'm kind of ready for a break. And in fact, here's Erin now! Burgerville, here we come.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Moving right along

Okay, I had my birthday. I met my goal of sending my first book out the door on my big day. And now, I'm taking a deep in-breath to settle into the next project. Part of that in-breath is a couple of days reading like crazy! I figure after completing my big goal, I ought to reward myself.

So, off I go. I've got some pretty great books to read, and I'm going to enjoy every of them!

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Another cup o' joe, please!

I keep telling myself I am going to reduce my coffee consumption after X goal date. It was Thanksgiving--after all, I would be finished with the last draft of my book and I could slow down for a polishing pass. Then it was "after Orycon." Now it's become "after I recover from Orycon," and after that, lord knows when it will be!

The problem is, there's just so much I want to get done every day. I was managing things pretty well, but somehow I've fallen way, way behind on everything. November and its pandemics really wrecked my work schedule. I only wrote about half what I'd hoped to get done (I really wanted to start the first draft of my new project), and I've hardly read any of the books I've planned to review. If only I didn't have trivial stuff like a day job and housework and a family to get in my way!

Althoough I have a feeling that even when I no longer have a day job and the kid is off in college, I will still probably have way more that I want to do than I have time to do it. Recently I found myself daydreaming about editing anthologies ...

So, any heroes of time management out there with good advice?