Nanowrimo’s Almost Over

And so is my Thanksgiving/Winter Heating Season quickie sale, which ends at midnight on Sunday the 26th of November.

As always, you can make the purchase for yourself or as a gift for a friend, and can collect on it either right away or at a future date.

Meanwhile, I have to trundle out and purchase this year’s turkey and all the rest of the traditional Thanksgiving oddments.

And in honor of the season, a reprise of my 2012 posting of The World’s Easiest Cranberry Sauce recipe:

1 bag fresh cranberries

1 cup sugar

1 cup water

Put cranberries into a small-to-medium-sized saucepan.  Take a moment to make certain there isn’t a twig or a pebble in there by mistake.  (I’ve never encountered one, but everybody says to check, so somebody must have, at least once.)

Add the water and the sugar.  Stir to combine.  It’s probably a good idea to use a wooden spoon, because you’re going to want to stir the mixture some while it’s cooking, and it’s going to get hot.

Put the saucepan on the stove and turn the burner up to high.  Bring the cranberries-water-and-sugar mixture to a furious boil, stirring every now and again.  Keep on boiling it until the cranberries have all popped.

Remove from heat and pour the sauce into a bowl or tureen or what-have-you, so long as what you have isn’t going to melt from the heat.  Put the saucepan in the sink and run some water into it, so that you don’t end up having to remove the cold solidified remnants with a chisel later.  Remember to turn off the stove.

Serve the sauce with turkey, or with pancakes, or with whatever seems good to you.  It’s good warm or cold, either way, and will keep for a day or so in the refrigerator.

Some people fancy this up with lemon peel or other seasonings, but simple is easier and works just fine.

The Free Speech Bargain

Every so often, a voice from the back row asks the plaintive question, “In today’s publishing climate, what am I, as an [insert identify marker or lack of one here], allowed to write about?”

Okay.  Here’s the deal, at least as far as the US of A goes*:

You’re allowed** to write about anything you damned well please.

And everybody else – your mom, your best friend, all the other people in your writers’ group, your editor, the New York Times Review of Books, and total random strangers on the internet – is allowed to say out loud and in public what they thought about it.

The thing about the deal, you see, is that it goes both ways.  And a writer who can’t handle the deal is probably better off pulling an Emily Dickinson and keeping their stuff locked up in their dresser drawer for posterity.


*The world is a large and varied place, and I make no claim to pontificate for all of it.

**With the usual narrow exceptions involving nonexistent fires in crowded theatres, and the like.

 

Sometimes It’s an Analog Problem

For the past few days, I’ve been having really bad audio playback problems on my desktop computer – sounds dropping out, sounds being fuzzy, dialogue on videos suddenly becoming harder to follow.  Because we’d just had a fairly large Windows 10 update, and because I’d just said “The hell with waiting for the bad news, I’m going to switch over to the Firefox 57 Beta now,” I went about searching for a cure for the problem in my Firefox and Windows setups, to no avail.

Then this afternoon I finally wised up, and bethought myself of the maxim that when in doubt, one should always switch in a known good piece of hardware and see if the problem persists.  So I dug out my emergency earbuds (I hate earbuds, so I never use them unless I have to; earmuff-style headphones suit me much better, and keep my ears warm in winter to boot) and unplugged my headphones – whereupon I got a good look at the headphone jack for the first time in a couple of weeks.

And lo, the jack was visibly bent several degrees off true.

I blame the cats, who are in the annoying habit of leaping from the top of my desk to the floor and catching the headphone cord with their hind legs on the way.  I will have to buy a new pair of earmuff headphones this afternoon, and I can see a pair of cordless bluetooth headphones in my future as well.  (I can cheap out on regular wired headphones, because they all break eventually and don’t really get much sturdier until you get into the $100-and-up range, but the wireless ones don’t have anything like the battery life I’d need until they’re well into not-cheap territory.  Also, my desktop computer is sufficiently elderly that I’ll also have to throw in a bluetooth adapter to make it work.)

Anyhow – I plugged in the earbuds, and gave the sound another try.

Yep.  Dead jack on the old headphones was the problem source.

So.  Immediate solution:  earbuds.  Short-term solution: new headphones.  Medium-term solution: wireless headphones+bluetooth adapter.  Long-term solution: New desktop computer.

It’s always nice to have a path mapped out.

Harbingers Ahoy!

First Tree Color SmallerThat tree in the front driveway that I was talking about the other day is now showing its first patch of color.  Summer is now officially (for local household values of “official”) transitioning into autumn.

We have also recently taken in our first batch of gift zucchini. Likewise a couple of locally-grown tomatoes, which promptly went into BLT sandwiches.  Raising tomatoes up here in northern New England is a triumph of hope over experience every time; they have to be started indoors, and once they’re out in the garden, it’s a race between them and the first frost.

(A harbinger, by the way, was originally a person who went ahead of an army to arrange for lodgings, going back through Old French to Old Saxon to a couple of root words heri and berga – meaning, respectively “army” and “a fortified place.”  The latter is the same root that shows up in a lot of place names, since for a long time, historically speaking, “city” and “fortified place” were more or less synonymous.)

Another Sign of the Changing Times

Our printer died the other day, somewhat to our surprise. It was an HP Deskjet 6940 — in other words, a fairly sturdy office model — and it really shouldn’t have reacted so badly to having been taken for a car ride to Peabody, Massachusetts, and back again.  But react badly it did; once reconnected to our household setup, it steadfastly refused to communicate with the desktop computer.

We did all the usual things to confirm its defunct state:  We switched in a known good USB cable, to make certain it wasn’t the cable, and it didn’t work; we switched in an old but working college printer left behind by one of our various offspring, and it did work, to the extent that it would install and communicate with the desktop computer (it had paper take-up issues, and its ink cartridges were several years old, so it wasn’t good for anything other than diagnostic purposes); we ran all the troubleshooters and checked for updated drivers; all to no avail.

It was time, we admitted, to go printer shopping, and so we did.  I wound up ordering a refurbished Kodak Verite 55 from New Egg; I’ve had good luck with their refurbished stuff before.  Also, the printer in question was on sale that week for $34.99, which meant that even if it turned out to be a dud, I wouldn’t be weeping hot tears over its demise.  Nor would I feel unduly guilty if we decided at some more wealthy point to upgrade to a more expensive model.

The printer in question is low-end enough that by the time we’ve gone through a couple of replacement ink cartridges, we’ll have spent more on ink than on the machine itself.   (It’s the “don’t make your money selling razors; make your money selling razor blades” principle, I suppose.)  But it doesn’t matter.  We don’t actually need an iron-thewed workhorse of an office printer that can do 600-plus pages in an afternoon without breaking down, because it’s been over a decade since we last submitted a novel in hardcopy form.

It’s all electronic now, and I don’t miss it a bit — not the wrestling with a stack of loose paper that wants to slump over into an uncollated pile; not the necessity of keeping an eagle eye on the printing process to make certain that no blank pages or skipped pages get through; not the wrestling with paper jams or the inevitable discovery at page 550 that you’re out of ink and the nearest Staples is an hour and a half away and already closed for the night.

Other people can wax nostalgic over their old-school office-quality printers†, or their IBM Selectrics or their Smith-Coronas, or their one true fountain pen, or their perfectly-trimmed goose quill, but not me.

In this case, at least, technology is my friend.


Okay, I’ll admit to looking back at my first Epson MX-80 dot-matrix with fond remembrance; that printer was built like a tank, and survived both a transcontinental move and an international move without failing, and was our printer of choice for first drafts for a long time after that.

Summer’s Lease Isn’t Up Yet

Any day now, though, the maple tree by the foot of our driveway will show its first patch of color.  August up here is almost as much the start of autumn as it is the last of summer, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.  I lived for long enough in Texas, where July and August are fry-an-egg-on-the-sidewalk months; and I spent three and a half years in the literal tropics when my husband/co-author was in the Navy and stationed in Panamá, where you got a choice between hot and rainy and hot and not-rainy (but still humid), six months on and six months off; and believe me, seasons are good, and New England seasons suit me fine.

(Granted, January and February are a frozen hell, but my theory is that no matter how much you like the climate where you are, there are going to be a couple of months out of the year when you pay for it.)

My favorite seasons, which also happen to be the best ones for writing in as far as I’m concerned†, are spring and fall, both of which proceed up here in a leisurely fashion, with subtle gradations along the way.  Fall, for example, goes through early fall and first frost to peak color to waiting for the snow-that-sticks, and runs roughly from mid-August to late November.

Meanwhile, it’s summer, and any day now I expect that the local gardeners will be palming off their excess zucchini (there appears to be no middle ground between no zucchini and too much zucchini) on anyone who will take it, and I will be making lots of zucchini bread.

 


Obligatory writing reference!

Peeve Plus

Today’s peeve, because I haven’t been peevish for a while:

Listen up, people.  The phrase you’re aiming for isn’t “make due.”  It’s “make do.”

I know that homonyms are tricky, and “do” and “due” are homonyms in some dialects of English.†  (My own native dialect isn’t one of them; the vowel sounds are different enough that I’m not likely to confuse the two.  On the other hand, if I don’t specify either a fountain pen or a safety pin, a listener with no context to help out won’t know which one I’m talking about.)

Still, that’s no excuse for not getting it right in your prose. It’s the sort of mistake that puts off discriminating readers, and you don’t want to do that.

And now the “plus” part of this post, or, I discover a tasty new thing to do with cabbage.

The thing is, I like cabbage.  I once – no lie – cut a class when I was an undergrad, purely because the college cafeteria that fed my dorm was going to be serving braised cabbage that day, and I wanted to get there when the dining hall opened so that I could have it fresh instead of after it had been sitting on a steam table for an hour and a half.  (The class was Eighteenth Century English Lit, and Edward Young’s Night-Thoughts – the work assigned for that session – simply couldn’t compete.  The eighteenth century was a great time for English prose, but for poetry, not so much, at least not until the Romantics came along.)

Anyhow, I like cabbage, but after steaming it, and braising it with kielbasa, and chopping it up and putting it into slaw, I thought I’d run out of ways to cook it.  Then I read online about roasted cabbage, and I said to myself, Self, you need to try this one.

It’s one of those dead simple recipes:  Take a head of cabbage, a cutting board, and a nice heavy knife.  Slice the cabbage longitudinally into one-inch thick slices – cabbage steaks, if you will – leaving in the core.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 400° F.

Then take a sheet pan and line it with tinfoil (another lovely word – tinfoil hasn’t been made of tin since the middle of the last century).  Spread a couple of tablespoons of olive oil over the bottom of the pan.  Put the cabbage slices on the sheet pan in a single layer, and brush them with more olive oil.  Then sprinkle the slices with fresh ground pepper and kosher salt.

Put the sheet pan in the oven, and cook the cabbage for 40 minutes, turning them over carefully at the 20-minute mark.

Serve as a vegetable with grilled sausage or whatever pleases you.


†Everybody speaks a dialect of some sort.  It’s just that some dialects are more privileged than others, and get to be called “Standard.”

Food and Drink in the North Country

Things you can have if you travel up this way.  Possibly #1 in an ongoing series, depending upon how much I get out of this house before winter comes back around.  (The Starks of Winterfell could have a summer home up here, I suspect, and nobody would even notice because they’d fit right in.  “Winter is coming.”  “Ayup.  Got your wood in yet?”)

Anyhow.  Here’s a photo of that pHtea Jim Macdonald blogged about in his post about the Vermont RennFaire:

PhTea

That’s white tea, chamomile tea, and yerba mate in the photo; the black tea had already been consumed by me the night before.

And here is breakfast at the North Country Family Restaurant in Groveton, New Hampshire, where they make their own corned beef hash.  (As does any diner in northern New England with a shred of self-respect.)

Hash and Eggs at the NorthCountry Restaurant

That’s two eggs sunny-side up over corned beef hash, with homemade toast and a side of hash browns.  (Well, up here they call them hash browns.  As a transplanted Texan, I feel obliged to point out that they are actually country fries, because proper hash browns are shredded, not cubed.  Nomenclature aside, though, they’re done well, and come with or without onions at the diner’s preference.)

The other breakfast, in the background, is a fried egg sandwich made with French toast.  I have it on good authority that it tastes just fine.

It’s Dr. Doyle’s Question and Answer Time!

Q. Are you really a Doctor?

A. Yes.

I got my Ph.D. in English from the University of Pennsylvania, back in the Dark Ages 1981. My primary field was Old English, and my cognate field was Old Icelandic, which makes me the sort of person who once stayed up until 2 in the morning reading a book on historical linguistics for fun. Old Icelandic is a great language – we get “to egg (somebody) on” from there, as well as “ransack”, plus a wonderful verb that we don’t have in English but sometimes I wish we did, ydda (“to show the point [of something] on the other side [of something]”; as, for instance, a sword and someone else’s back.)†

Q. What on earth are you doing here, then?  Shouldn’t you be off in an ivory tower someplace, instead of writing fiction and editing other people’s novels for pay?

A. Hah.  Don’t I wish.

I finished my degree at about the same time as Academia started devouring its own young.  The need to hire lots of new-minted scholars every year to teach the glut of baby-boomers and draft-avoiders was coming to its end, and colleges were starting to use spreadsheets and do the math and figure out that they could hire adjunct faculty (aka “temps with doctorates”) and avoid the extra cost of insurance and other perks, and tenure-track positions got scarcer and scarcer.  (Also, colleges realized that you could dangle the prospect of tenure in front of a new hire, and they’d run after it like a greyhound after a mechanical rabbit for five or six years of high toil and low pay, and then you could turn them down for tenure and start the whole process up again with the next victim.)

So I became one of the science fiction and fantasy field’s renegade medievalists, instead.

Q.  Well, that explains the writing, I guess.  What about the editing?

Money, at least in part.  Writing can pay well, but it always pays irregularly, and almost all the writers I know do a lot of other different things to fill in the gaps.

As for why this, in particular:  Teaching (and marking up essays) was something I learned how to do as a grad student and teaching fellow at Penn, and while at the time I thought I didn’t like doing it very much, I eventually figured out that what I actually didn’t like was working on stuff written by people who didn’t want to be writing it.  (I’ve graded freshman essays, and I’ve read slush – unsolicited manuscripts, for those not conversant with the lingo of the trade – and I’m here to tell you that as bad as slush can get, at least it’s all written by people who are willingly putting words onto paper or pixels onto screen.)

Working with people who are actually interested in improving what they’re doing is, on the other hand, fun.

Q. Do you only work with established writers and self-publishers?

A.  Heavens, no.  I’m just as happy to work with writers who are at an earlier stage of their development.  As I say on my “about” page, I can’t promise that their  work will publishable when we’re finished, but I can promise that it will be better than when we started.

Back when I was laboring the the fields of freshman composition, under whatever name it was being called at the time – Introduction to Rhetoric, Expository Writing, or plain old English 101 – I often found that while working with the one or two natural A-level students in the class was easy and refreshing, at the end of the semester I got more satisfaction from having helped a high-B+ student move on up into the A range, or from helping someone who started out as a C- lift themselves up to a good solid B.


†I’ll freely admit that I picked Old Icelandic for my cognate field because I liked all the bloodshed and violence in the great sagas. But my geekhood is safe – my other big interest was subordinate clauses in Anglo-Saxon poetry.