Banned Books Week 2013

It’s going on right now.

To my knowledge, I’ve never had one of my books banned someplace.  I’ve also never been required reading anywhere on the K-12 level, which — based on the books which do make the American Library Association’s “most banned” list – appears to be one of the common ways to get on the book-banners’ radar.  Friends and colleagues of mine, though, have been banned, and referred to as “tools of Satan”, and had copies of their books burned in public . . . so, no, I don’t approve of book-banning one little bit.

My mother was a school librarian for years, and at one point she was tasked with writing up the guidelines for people who wanted the local school board to remove a book from the local system.  When she was done, I looked at what she had come up with and said to her, “You wanted to make this whole thing as difficult for them as possible, didn’t you?”

And she said, “Yes.”

I don’t believe there were any successful book challenges during her tenure.

(Librarians . . . bringing the awesome ever since somebody with money and an empty storeroom bought a bunch of clay tablets/papyrus scrolls/parchment codices and said to somebody else with a great deal less money and an organized mind, “Hey, you.  Watch over these for me, will you?”)

An Offering of Pie

Last week was hectic and full of distractions, and this week is shaping up to be more of the same.  As an apology for erratic posting in days past and possible erratic posting in days to come, I bring a recipe for cherry pie.

(This also celebrates the reappearance of proper canned cherries in the local supermarket.  For most of last year they were hard to find up here; I eventually Googled “cherry shortage” and after some poking around learned that the late snowstorms back in 2012 had killed off a lot of that season’s cherry crop.)

Cherry Pie

  • 2 cans of tart cherries (we’re talking actual canned cherries here, and not “cherry pie filling”, which is a horrible sickly-sweet sticky glop and an abomination before the Lord.)
  • 6 T sugar
  • 2 T cornstarch
  • 1/8 t salt
  • 1 T butter, cut up into little pieces
  • a scattering of fine tapioca
  • unbaked pie crust

Put the unbaked pie crust into a pie pan.  Sprinkle the bottom of the pan with fine tapioca; this will help keep the crust from getting soggy.

Drain cherries; reserve juice.  Place cherries in unbaked pie shell.

Mix sugar and cornstarch and salt.  Put on top of cherries. Pour in cherry juice.

Dot with butter.

Put on top crust.  Or streusel.

Bake in 475 oven for 12 minutes; reduce heat to 425 and bake for 45 minutes longer.


1/4 cup butter
2 T sugar
1 T cinnamon
1 cup flour

Cream butter; add sugar and cinnamon mixture alternately with flour.  Blend until crumbly. Sprinkle over top of pie.

Tales from the Before Time: No Respect

Believe it or not, there was a time not so long ago when science fiction/fantasy was a pariah genre — a scant half a step above Harlequin/Mills and Boone category romances and nurse novels, and at least a full rung below westerns.  (Mystery novels were at the top of the genre heap, since the intellectuals of the day would sometimes admit to reading them  for relaxation in between thinking important thoughts.)  I have my own memory from those days, of once being asked, by the instructor of an undergraduate creative writing course I was taking, why I was wasting my talent on writing science fiction.  He clearly thought that “because I like to read it” wasn’t sufficient reason or explanation.

For writers, and even for readers, whose formative literary experiences come from that era, it’s hard to forget having been on the receiving end of all that reflexive critical sneering, and hard to unlearn the resentment and disdain for the literary establishment that rose up in response.  We have to keep reminding ourselves to do periodic reality checks, and to try to appreciate on a gut level that the world is different now:  fantasy and science fiction are major storytelling modes for the visual media, and no longer just the stuff of kids’ television and cheesy drive-in movies; mainstream fiction feels no compunction about borrowing genre tropes for its own purposes; and serious grownups with serious jobs can admit to enjoying sf and fantasy (and even comics!) without fear of losing all their adult credibility.

And if sometimes we feel like the long-time patrons of a little neighborhood bistro that’s suddenly gotten a rave review in some foodie blog and is now full of all sorts of outsiders who don’t really appreciate the original funkiness of the joint . . . well, it’s ungracious to begrudge the old familiar place its newfound good fortune, just because it isn’t exactly the way it was when we found it all those years ago.

Peeve of the Day

Today’s peeve, gentlethings of the reading audience, is “seemed” (with a guest performance by its close cousin, “appeared.”)

Nine times out of ten, “seemed” is unnecessary.  This means that you’ll encounter ineffective sentences that say things like, “He seemed to be enjoying the party” when “He was enjoying the party” would do — the “seemed  to be” doesn’t add to the force the verb, but detracts from it.  “Appeared to be” works the same way.

Q.   All right then.  So when is it appropriate to use “seemed”?

A.  Mainly, when there is in fact some kind of contradiction between the surface appearance of something — its outward seeming — and its inward reality:

“He seemed to be enjoying the party.  (But inwardly, he was a seething mass of nerves and insecurity.)”

Today’s Link of Interest

Another take on the whole worldbuilding question:  Chuck Wendig’s 25 Things You Should Know about Worldbuilding.

(What have we been doing the past couple of days when I wasn’t posting?  Well, dealing with the mini-van hitting a moose halfway between here and Oxford, Maine.  Moose collisions . . . are a thing, up here.  Even a low-speed glancing collision, like this one was, can do some serious damage — there’s nothing quite like having something the approximate size and shape of a Hereford steer on stilts slamming into your windshield to put the capper on an otherwise perfect day.  But nobody was hurt, except maybe for the moose, which ambled off into the woods before its state of health could be ascertained, and the mini-van is repairable, so once the adrenaline has quit pumping, all will be well.)


A Commercial Reminder

For those who may be interested:

As of today, my base rate for doing a line-edit and letter of critique on a standard-weight novel is $1500.  The $100 deal for critiquing a short story or the first 5K words/first chapter of a novel still stands, however, and a client who takes that deal and later comes back for a critique of the entire manuscript still gets $100 off of the whole-novel fee.

Meanwhile, the local rains have (temporarily) stopped, and the thermometer is dropping.  Our local purveyors of fresh and organic vegetables anticipate sub-freezing temperatures on the higher elevations, which means no more fresh zucchini for zucchini bread.

Finding Story

Sometimes, in this writing game, you get lucky.  A story idea doesn’t so much come up and whisper in your ear as leap out of the bushes in front of you and demand your attention.  Stories like that don’t get written so much as they get exorcised — writing them down is the only way to get them out of your head so that you can get on with whatever it was you were supposed to be writing instead.

(It’s one of the sad truths of writing:  The story that you’re supposed to be writing is never quite as attractive as the one that you’re cheating on it with.)

Other times, though, you have a pressing need to write a story — you’ve promised something to an anthology, or you’ve got a class assignment, or you’ve committed yourself to producing a piece of handmade original fiction as a birthday present for a dear friend — but you haven’t the foggiest idea what you should be writing a story about.  You’re suffering, in this case, from the problem of too much choice.  Given the whole vast and varied universe to pull a story idea from, your muse takes a hard look at all that vastness and variety and goes off and hides in a corner whimpering.

What you can do, at that point, is start setting up boundaries and making requirements, so that your agoraphobic muse isn’t forced to either contemplate infinity or hide.  So you decide that you’re not going to write anything longer than 5000 or 50,000 or 150,000 words (depending upon just how big a story you need); and you’re not going to include self-aware robots, or an in-depth exploration of employer-employee relations in mid-twentieth century Chicago, or time travel.  At the same time, you decide that your story will include certain things.  You can derive these included things any way you like.  You can pull random nouns out of a dictionary, or random objects out of your household junk drawer; you can draw cards out of a Tarot deck; you can go to any of the various online plot generators.

It doesn’t matter what method you choose, because the whole point is the imposition of random constraints.  The self-imposed boundaries and required inclusions give you some fixed points on which to hang a story, and they reduce a universe of infinite possibilities to something that even the most timid of muses can contemplate without coming unanchored and floating off, storyless, into the void.

Such as, for example, self-aware robots, an in-depth exploration of employer-employee relations in mid-twentieth century Chicago, and time travel.

Thunder and Lightning

It was a dark and stormy night. . . .

You know, the first time that was used as a novel opener, it wasn’t a cliche.  It was all the imitators that came afterwards that made it tired and hokey.

And “dark night” wasn’t redundant, either, in an era when urban skyglow hadn’t yet blinded large numbers of people to the differences possible in a night-time sky.  A clear night with a full moon is a whole lot brighter than a cloudy night with a waning moon or no moon at all.  (There’s a reason why night-time assemblies of all sorts — dances, lodge meetings, and the like — used to be held on full-moon nights.  That way, people would be able to see the road on their way home.)

And right now, outside, it is indeed a dark and stormy night.  The crescent moon is completely obscured by clouds, and we’ve had thunderstorms rumbling through all evening.  The local volunteer fire departments have been called out at least twice for lightning strikes and downed trees smouldering on the power lines, and while we haven’t ourselves gotten any hail, other parts of the state haven’t been so lucky.

You could begin a novel with a night like this, if it hadn’t already been done.

Zucchini, Redux

As a follow-up to yesterday’s post, here’s the zucchini bread recipe:

Zucchini Bread


  •         3 cups flour
  •         1 teaspoon cinnamon
  •         1 teaspoon salt
  •         1 teaspoon baking soda
  •         1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  •         3 eggs
  •         1 cup brown sugar
  •         1 cup white sugar
  •         1 cup vegetable oil
  •         1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  •         1/2 cup sour cream
  •         2 cups zucchini
    (This is one of those recipes that having a food processor with a shredding blade makes oh so much easier; otherwise, you and your grater are going to become very good friends.)
  •         1 cup raisins


  •     Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  •     Grease and flour 2 bread loaf pans.  (Or take the easy way out and spray them with Baker’s Joy cooking spray.  It’s what we do around here.)
  •     Sift together the flour, cinnamon, salt, baking soda, and baking powder.
  •     In a separate bowl combine the eggs, brown sugar, white sugar, and oil.
  •     Add the dry ingredients slowly to the egg mixture.  It’s going to be fairly stiff by the time you’re done.
  •     When everything is thoroughly mixed, add the sour cream and the vanilla.
  •     Finally, mix in the shredded zucchini and the raisins.
  •     Pour the batter into the two loaf pans.  (They say, “pour” all the time in these recipes, but using a ladle and transferring the batter a ladle-full at a time makes the process easier to control, and helps you keep the amount of batter evenly distributed between the two pans.)
  •     Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for about 1 hour and 20 minutes.
  •     Test with a toothpick or a skewer; if it comes out clean, the loaves are done.
  •     Let them cool on a wire rack in their pans for a few minutes, then turn them out onto the rack to finish cooling.
  •     Have a slice, warm, with butter, if you want to. (Just to check for quality control, you understand.)

So there you are — zucchini bread.  If you’re looking for story ideas, or for recipes for Zucchini Lasagna or Zucchini Pickles, you’re on your own.