The Omnimvore's Hundred

via Very Good Taste.

Here’s a chance for a little interactivity for all the bloggers out there. Below is a list of 100 things that I think every good omnivore should have tried at least once in their life. The list includes fine food, strange food, everyday food and even some pretty bad food - but a good omnivore should really try it all. Don’t worry if you haven’t, mind you; neither have I, though I’ll be sure to work on it. Don’t worry if you don’t recognise everything in the hundred, either; Wikipedia has the answers.

Here’s what I want you to do:

1) Copy this list into your blog or journal, including these instructions.
2) Bold all the items you’ve eaten.
3) Cross out any items that you would never consider eating.
4) Optional extra: Post a comment at www.verygoodtaste.co.uk linking to your results.

The VGT Omnivore’s Hundred:

1. Venison
2. Nettle tea
3. Huevos rancheros
4. Steak tartare
5. Crocodile
6. Black pudding
7. Cheese fondue
8. Carp
9. Borscht
10. Baba ghanoush
11. Calamari
12. Pho
13. PB&J sandwich
14. Aloo gobi
15. Hot dog from a street cart
16. Epoisses
17. Black truffle
18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes
19. Steamed pork buns
20. Pistachio ice cream
21. Heirloom tomatoes
22. Fresh wild berries
23. Foie gras (not Pate de.)
24. Rice and beans
25. Brawn, or head cheese
26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper
27. Dulce de leche
28. Oysters
29. Baklava
30. Bagna cauda
31. Wasabi peas
32. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl
33. Salted lassi
34. Sauerkraut
35. Root beer float
36. Cognac with a fat cigar
37. Clotted cream tea
38. Vodka jelly/Jell-O
39. Gumbo
40. Oxtail
41. Curried goat
42. Whole insects
43. Phaal
44. Goat’s milk
45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth £60/$120 or more
46. Fugu
47. Chicken tikka masala
48. Eel
49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut Hot!
50. Sea urchin
51. Prickly pear
52. Umeboshi
53. Abalone
54. Paneer
55. McDonald’s Big Mac Meal
56. Spaetzle
57. Dirty gin martini (Excess=martini glass full of olives, covered in gin. Eat olives. Discard gin.)
58. Beer above 8% ABV (Maybe? Not for that specific purpose.)
59. Poutine
60. Carob chips
61. S’mores
62. Sweetbreads (
63. Kaolin
64. Currywurst
65. Durian
66. Frogs’ legs
67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake
68. Haggis
69. Fried plantain
70. Chitterlings, or andouillette
71. Gazpacho
72. Caviar and blini
73. Louche absinthe
74. Gjetost, or brunost
75. Roadkill
76. Baijiu
77. Hostess Fruit Pie
78. Snail
79. Lapsang souchong
80. Bellini
81. Tom yum
82. Eggs Benedict
83. Pocky
84. Tasting menu at a three-Michelin-star restaurant.
85. Kobe beef
86. Hare
87. Goulash
88. Flowers
89. Horse
90. Criollo chocolate
91. Spam
92. Soft shell crab
93. Rose harissa
94. Catfish
95. Mole poblano
96. Bagel and lox
97. Lobster Thermidor
98. Polenta
99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee
100. Snake


Volcanoes (from the Quad Cities)
Bacon Chocolate
Baby octopi
Homemade mayonnaise



Writer's Toolbox: Minor Characters, Part 6 (First Draft)

I really should have parceled these out, one a week. Unfortunately, when I do that kind of thing, I start revising too much, or I forget to finish the damned thing.

Last one :)

What's the difference between major and minor characters?

Not a whole lot.
  • The main character contains the story conflict; the major characters contain a good bit of it, too. Minor characters don't; they trigger the conflict in others.
  • Major characters have more room to breathe and develop--they don't have to go from A directly to B; they can go from A to drunk to Timbucktoo to B (kicking and screaming). Minor characters have simple internal conflicts, if any.
  • Minor characters might make choices; major characters (as a part of the story conflict) must make choices.
  • Minor characters can make one mistake (think horror movie); major characters can (and should) make lots.
I know the rule of any good essay is never to introduce new material at the end, but I'm going to do it anyway: part of what separates good fiction from great fiction--in my opinion, the essential part--is an acknowledgment of the complexity of the human condition. Shakespeare didn't just write pretty; he bowed down before the understanding that it's hard to be truly human, heartbreakingly, gutbustingly hard.

Shakespeare never could have conveyed that without his minor characters (Falstaff, anyone? The gravedigger in Hamlet? The acting troupe in Midsummers?).

Can you?

Writer's Toolbox: Minor Characters, Part 5 (First Draft)

How to make a minor character that symbolizes an element in the story.

This one's tricky. Nebulous. I'm grasping at straws...

Maybe I'm just splitting hairs with this last category here, but I want to differentiate between theme and story element. If a theme is a mini-moral, a minor building block of the "so what," then a story element is an archetype of one of the story ideas.

The easiest example is a "Good vs. Evil" story. The good guy represents Good; the bad guy represents Evil. The good guy isn't a theme; neither is a bad guy. Themes hang off these characters, but the characters are bigger than that, more fundamental than that.

Not every story needs these types of characters. If handled well, they make a story more mythical, more fable-like (which may not be what you're looking for). If handled poorly, they make a story into a joke, a fake parable, the kind of thing you roll your eyes at.

The difference, as far as I can tell, is how individualized you make these characters. Are they both human and archetypes? Another good example of an elemental character--again, not a minor character--is Elric. He's both human (full of conflicting emotions and desires) and elemental (Servant of Chaos). Tying Elric's humanity to his chaos, making his emotions and desires the driving force behind his destructiveness, is what makes him so great. Michael Moorcock doesn't just slap an archetype on the page--making him a stereotype--but makes Elric's character a necessity for carrying out his elemental nature.

Spiderman. Same thing.

Elemental characters aren't stereotypes because the author narrows down her Big Idea. Darth Vader isn't just Evil. He's Evil, but he's controlled by other people--suddenly, he's not just a stereotype. Darth Vader is loyal. He's dependable. In the end, we find out it's love that's fueled driven him to this depth.

And, speaking of Darth Vader, that finally brings us to minor elemental characters.

Emperor Palpatine is a minor elemental character. The general idea for building one is the same as for a major elemental character--but the minor elemental characters stand in relation to the main character, just as their Big Ideas stand in relation to the main Big Ideas. Darth Vader is Evil. Emperor Palpatine is worse--but he's still an individual. His greed is destroying him, but man, that greed has led him to some pretty powerful places.

His purpose is to say, "Darth Vader? At least he's not Emperor Palpatine." In other words, the very idea that there is an Evil is undermined, because in the end, Greed is worse. Also, Greed destroys itself.

But wait! Emperor Palpatine is too major to be a minor character, so let's look further down the food chain. Remember the two (because once is not obvious enough, apparently) sequences in Phantom Menace where large fish creatures try to eat the submarine with Our Heroes? Other fish creatures come along and eats them, and again, allowing Our Heroes to escape. The fish creatures acted as Greed, showing Greed's self-destructive nature. However, because the creatures didn't have any individuality, the two sequences end up being unintentionally funny.

In other words, the thing keeps a story-element character a stereotype is that the element is tailored to the story's "so what." A minor element character can surprise the reader; a stereotype never can.

Writer's Toolbox: Minor Characters, Part 4 (First Draft)

How to make minor characters that establish setting.

Setting isn't just buildings, weather, and stuff--it's characters, too. Setting establishes:
  • Place and time (in our example, a modern-day college town)
  • Mood (an ordinary college town--not Miskatonic U.)
  • Theme* (education is a part of real life, not separate from it)
The setting should go back to the "so what." Marla's normal college town is something safe, dependable, and comfortable. She likes going to college. She likes living where she does. Hank? He's not safe, dependable, or comfortable--he'd never be able to settle down, especially not in the college town that Marla loves. The normalcy of the college town symbolizes everything Hank hates about Marla. She goes out with her friends, drinks three beers, goes home, and falls asleep on the couch--and wakes up in the morning and gossips on the phone about how hammered she got.

By drawing the setting back to the "so what," you're establishing the unspoken rules of your book. "This story will be set in a normal college town. I promise no tentacled monsters will invade. I promise this story will not be about the New York publishing industry." All kinds of things. --On the other hand, if you want a setting where you can mess with the reader's underlying assumptions, you at least have to drop a few hints that everything is not what it seems; otherwise, the reader is going to feel cheated. "I thought we were playing Romance in a Small College Town! Why didn't you tell me you were playing off the Gothic Tragedy deck?!?"

How to create "setting" characters depends on whether they relate to the setting's place/time, mood, or theme.

Place/Time. What kind of characters might be found at this particular place and time? What type of roles do people tend to play in that society? What kind of person would naturally fill that type of role? These type of characters tend to be more orderly, more typical. --If you're trying to establish the ground rules, you're trying to establish order, and you're trying to avoid random elements.

Examples are a professor in a tweed jacket who always smells like cigarettes, a secretary with an annoying voice, or a student who wears the same pair of sweatpants to class every day.

These characters establish the norm from which other characters deviate. Ironically, giving them interesting details is counterproductive.

Mood. What's the first impression the reader should get from the setting as a whole? Creepy? Friendly on the surface but dark beneath? Ordinary, something to be taken for granted? The characters should "sum up" that impression. However, if you have a setting that is "Seems like X but is really Y," you might go with one character who shows both traits or a pair of minor characters, one for each characteristic. You could even show them in conflict.

Mood is the root of foreshadowing, by showing a small example of an idea or conflict that's going to come into play later. Really, the more straightforward the mood is, the less interesting your story's going to be. You can use minor characters to foreshadow, the same way you can use a chance event.

Examples of "mood" characters are a next-door underage neighbor boy who's nice but always trying to buy beer; a landlady who hates college kids but likes the main character; an art student with big dreams and a bigger mouth. All point toward an ordinary college town, a place that's both comfortable and a little annoying. Marla likes these people, but they all rub her the wrong way--just a little.

An example of a "mood" character used to bring out foreshadowing is a renowned college "bad boy" who dies in a motorcycle crash.

Theme. Themes are the smaller building blocks of the big "so what." Some good themes for our story might be "Bad boys have more fun," "Comfort food isn't a good steady diet," and "Constant novelty is boring." If the "so what" relates to the book as a whole, themes relate to smaller parts of the story. A theme is the "so what" of a scene or a chapter. --Themes don't have to run all the way through the book as long as they relate to the main "so what," but it's kind of fun to have them show up again. "Ah, Marla. You thought you figured out a steady diet of bacon and chocolate ice cream is bad for you, but we're going to stress you out so much that you do it all over again. You don't learn very quickly, do you?"

Minor characters that help carry out theme are a lot like characters that help carry out main character development. The difference is that these characters can be more caricaturized. The girlfriend that introduces Marla to a bad boy with a wink and a nudge, to get Marla to "loosen up"; the grocery-store boss who supplies Marla with a case of damaged Oreos; the self-involved acid-head preaching enlightenment--they can all be a bit less human than the characters who end up poking around in the main character's very soul.

However--be careful. Too much caricture and the minor character will be unbelievable rather than funny or resonant.

In the end, the characters who solely add to setting are less human, more stereotypical, and less interesting than characters with other purposes--but you still need them. I find it more fun to give minor "setting" characters other purposes, either when they're introduced or later on--I like letting the reader dismiss the character as a piece of furniture for a few chapters, only to have the character become essential to the plot or evoke a soul-searching conflict later on.

*This theme pours into the "so what" by letting Marla run away from her conflict with Hank by pretending her education is more important than dealing with her feelings for him. She tells herself she can't determine her own fate because she has to study for Biology.

Writer's Toolbox: Minor Characters, Part 3 (First Draft)

How to make minor characters that show off the main character.

Back to the "so what." Out of the "so what" comes the main conflict--stories are about drama, which is based on conflict. --The main, story conflict isn't the same thing as the plot conflict. The story conflict is on a level of "Good vs. Evil" while the plot conflict is on a level of "Luke vs. Vader." However, the plot conflict relates to the story conflict; it's the concrete way the characters carry out the way the Big Ideas of the story smack into each other.

Going back to the original example: "The little girl with a kitten up a tree; she begs the heroine to save the cat. The heroine is afraid of heights. What will the heroine do???"

The "so what" is "Chance giveth; chance taketh away. Determination is what makes life have meaning." I'm going to say the story conflict coming out of that is "Should you take life passively or force it to be what you want?" and the main plot conflict is "Marla's fear of change vs. her desire for Hank."

At some point, we want to show that Marla isn't just afraid of the situation with Hank; she's afraid of everything. So we're going to make up an example that shows that off; we're going to put that kitten up the tree and see what Marla does about it.

Basically, the main character should have at least two possible courses of action at any given time. Will Marla climb the tree or will she walk away? Will she call the fire department? Will she find a competent-looking person along the street and ask them to do it instead?

The options should come out of different parts of the character, parts related to the main story conflict. (The main character should be one of the main moving parts that carries out the story conflict.) Marla is afraid, but she can also empathize with the little girl's fear of losing her kitten. Whose fear is more important? --Keep in mind the main character has to develop throughout the story; you can't make her do all her developing in a single scene.

Let's say we want to show how Marla tries to take matters in her own hands but gets burned--once bitten, twice shy. She overcomes her fear of heights but falls and breaks her wrist.

Fine, we've got all that figured out. But what about the little girl?

Again, we can make a random kid, a nobody. We can make a nobody with an interesting detail. Or we can make a kid who reminds Marla of herself at age six, and the time Marla lost a kitten up a tree and she never saw it again. Or an annoying kid, a bossy one, who makes Marla grit her teeth and ask herself why she's bothering to help the snot. Or a liar--there never was a kitten--making Marla feel even more betrayed by fate when she breaks her wrist. Or a kid who becomes more afraid for Marla than she was for the kitten in the first place: "Look lady, I think he's coming down by himself. Don't go any higher!" "No, I can do it!" Crash!

Again, the minor characters are related to the major ones, either by relationship or attitude. Minor characters can have their own internal conflicts that relate to the ones inside the main character, too--they feel the same; they're completely opposite; they can't believe anybody would care about the things the main character does; they feel horrified at putting the main character in this situation; they resent the main character for not seeing things from their perspectives.

The main thing is to remember minor characters have to touch the main character right down to the quick in order to elicit character development. Dealing with them has to make the main character hurt.

Writer's Toolbox: Minor Characters, Part 2 (First Draft)

How to make minor characters that move the plot forward.

First, you need to know your plot. For some people (like me), this means you have to finish the first draft of the book and figure out what the story is actually about. Other people can plan ahead and do this before they write their minor characters. All I can say about that is thbbbbbt.

So you know your plot. Next, make sure you know the reason why the event with the minor character needs to happen.

Minor characters are a detractor--a distractor--from the story. Readers don't care about minor characters as much as they do about the major characters; if they do, you've done something wrong. Every time you bring in a minor character, you're pulling the reader away from the main characters, so the reason you bring in the minor characters had better be damned good.

Okay, back to the example: "A man who knocks his coffee into the heroine's lap, causing her to bump into the man who becomes the romantic interest."

Let's say the main plot is about a heroine (Marla?) who lives life passively, dreading both the good and bad things that happen to her, because all she wants is peace and quiet after her horrible childhood. She meets a cute guy (Hank?) who lives his life to the fullest--food, sex, alcohol, rebellion, travel--and can't get him off his mind.

How should the characters meet?

The cute guy, Hank, would never hit on our heroine, Marla. She's uninteresting. Marla would never talk to Hank--he's trouble, the last thing she wants.

So they meet by chance. A man in a diner knocks coffee into Marla's lap and she backs into the Hank. But what about the man with the coffee (Don)?

He could be a nobody. He could be a nobody with one interesting detail. Or he could mean something. To make a minor character mean something, you have to get at the "so what" of the story.* Here, I'm going to say the "so what" is "Chance giveth; chance taketh away. Determination is what makes life have meaning."

Who should Don be? We could make him a gentleman, and give Marla a choice between following up on the accidental meeting with Don or the accidental meeting with Hank. Don, instead of disappearing from Marla's life, could call her later on and take her on a date that leaves her flattered but cold. --Chance led both men into Marla's life; her determination drew her to one over the other.

We could make Don a sweet, stuttering geek. We could make him an ex-boyfriend from 7th grade. We could make him the cop who pulled over Hank last week for speeding in a heavy fog. We could make him a trucker who doesn't even notice what he's done--while Hank gets pissed off for being bumped (at least noticing Marla).

The point being that minor characters, no matter how minor, are related to the major characters (and to the plot) in some way, either through an actual relationship or through an attitude they have toward the major characters.

Something I like to do--especially with mysteries--is draw a "web" of characters. The main character is at the heart of the web. The major characters are arranged around him; the minor characters branch off whoever they come in contact with. Each strand of the web is a relationship ("Mother" "Head of Secret Cult MC is fighting") or an attitude ("Hates MC" "Loves MC's mother"). Extra connections tend to suggest themselves, even to the point of minor characters becoming major players or recurring minor characters later on ("Head of secret cult loves MC's mother" "Mother hates MC").

Your minor characters should be fun. They should introduce surprises--even to the writer--and threaten to change the plot, right down to its bones.

Otherwise, you can just have Hank spill his own damned coffee in Marla's lap.

*I think getting at the "so what" is the heart of my writing problems, so this comes up a lot with me. "So what" isn't theme, by the way. It's more akin to "the moral of the story." For example--in "Little Red Riding Hood" the "so what" goes something like "The cost of loose behavior is more than you expect" or "Don't talk to strangers." One of the themes could be "sex" or "death" or "women need to be rescued."

Another Alien Blue Log Line Attempt.

Bar owner Bill Trout weighs the safety of his loved ones against his ornery sense of justice when interstellar cops threaten to destroy Bill's town if he doesn't hand over the unnerving alien scientist he's been hiding for the last sixteen years--right down to their memories.
Pros: It seems to capture the storyline better, which is something akin to "For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?"* Conveys the horrible choice Bill has to make.

Cons: It doesn't convey the humor. I want to end with "memories" but the sentence structure is bad.

*Wow. I had to look this up to make sure I got the wording right. Turns out, there are so many variant translations it makes my head spin.


Writer's Toolbox: Minor Characters, Part 1 (First Draft)

I'm trying to write up a how-to on writing minor characters, but I feel like I'm just making an ass of myself. I mean, I feel like I know something, because I keep running across useless minor characters and going, "No, that's not it," but I'm still working out what it is that would make them work.

So here's me, throwing out some advice and seeing whether I want to take it myself. As always, do what works; hopefully, this helps.


The standard piece of advice for writing a minor character goes like this: add something unexpected. It's that kind of advice that really gets under my skin. It's useful advice, but only if you already know how to add something unexpected, and if you knew how to do that, you wouldn't need the advice in the first place. I mean, how do you know what's unexpected? And why bother adding it in the first place? And when should you add it? Can you build plot points off of insignificant details like that? Should you?

Two ways that I've found to approach the problem:

1) Simple & effective. Imagine a range with "random" on one side and "orderly" on the other. A random number doesn't convey any useful information; a perfectly orderly number (e.g., 0000000000000...) doesn't either. Add details about your minor characters that aren't random but aren't totally in keeping with expectations, either. The essence of the detail is that it has to "fit" with the character.

Example: A modern-day witch.
Orderly: A sexy, modern-day witch with brunette hair.
Random: A sexy, modern-day witch with purple hair who does things exactly as the witch with brunette hair.
Middle: A modern-day witch with purple hair who acts like a person with purple hair might be expected to act, sullen and alienated, with a geeky fangirl love of Neil Gaiman.

Pros: Simple. Acknowledges that people have lives that don't necessarily fit in with our prejudices. Gives story texture.
Cons: Too many charming but essentially meaningless minor characters gets distracting. It's hard to make this work consistently.

2) Complex & resonant. Figure out what point of the story is, and then make the character fit the purpose of the story as well as her minor function in the plot.

Pros: Gives the story more integrity and more opportunities to use themes, subplots, etc.
Cons: It makes my brain tired.

First, ask "What's the purpose of the character?" I've come up with four, so far. Each purpose doesn't stand alone; minor characters, like anything in a good story, should serve more than one purpose. Minor characters should:
  • Perform an action that move the plot ahead.
  • Allow the main characters to show off or display their character traits/conflicts.
  • Establish setting.
  • Symbolize an element in the story.
Action. An example of an action character would be a man who knocks his coffee into the heroine's lap, causing her to bump into the man who becomes the romantic interest.

Main Character Development. The little girl with a kitten up a tree; she begs the heroine to save the cat. The heroine is afraid of heights. What will the heroine do???

Establish Setting. The long-winded professor whose biology lectures are so dull the heronie is teased into responding to her best friend's notes about the romantic lead during class.

Symbolize Story Element. The drunk driver who hits the little kitten-girl, symbolizing the dark side of chance (chance brought the romantic interest into the heroine's life; chance could take him out).



By Alvin and the Chipmunks, Yo!

...And the Mt. Rushmore T-Shirt.



Bad Cakes.

Bad cakes. Bad.

My sibs decorate good cakes. But these are bad cakes.

Why did I not see Cake Wrecks before? Why? Even Lee's seen it before!

Errors in English.

Site on errors in American-English usage. Includes many useful things, including verbage/verbiage, please RSVP, and brunt/butt.


Is Omaha the Weird West?

It just doesn't feel like it. Too big a burg? Too entirely modern, both in its shiny surfaces and its rusty ones? Not haunted enough, not like the way Minneapolis shimmers in the night like Tir na Nog'th?

Dunno. Anyway, that's where we're going to meet the folks and pick up Ray.

Update: I'm still not sure about Omaha, but Nebraska (at least along the I-80 corridor) is hereby christened as Limbo. The river of forgetfulness wends nearby, and the twisted elms nearby resemble the grove(s) of suicides.

Maybe it was just my frame of mind. We stopped at a gas station on the way out there. As I was leaving, I noticed a reward poster--$10,000 for information leading to arrest of murder of a blonde woman. As I walked back to the Jeep, I saw a dead yellow butterfly on the ground. Brrr...

Tribe Theory.

I have this theory that certain species of mammals have a "tribal" instinct. Like dogs, monkeys, and humans. Because an excessive amount of inbreeding is a bad idea, the markers for determining your tribe can't be based on anything genetic -- if the only people who are part of your tribe are related to you, you're going to end up with too many dead-end relatives.

So we needed different markers, self-selected markers, to identify tribe members. Why not? We have self-selected status markers -- in wolf packs, the less-dominant wolf will show its belly in case of a confrontation. The instinct is in the common language of the belly display, not in determining who displays the belly (wolves challenge each other regardless of their genes).

So here's my theory -- yawning is a marker of tribal inclusion. While yawning may serve other functions, it's also used to help identify members of your tribe. One creature yawns; it observes what other creatures yawn and takes that as a piece of evidence about their relative empathy. Not proof -- a piece of evidence.

Studies have shown that people with more empathy yawn more often. Monkeys yawn. And now we're sure dogs can catch yawns, too.

I wish I knew how to test this. Find out whether wolves yawn, for a start. Find out whether wolves yawn with packmates vs. non-packmates more. Dogs being domesticated, find out whether dogs yawn more often with their owners or with human strangers. Find out whether dogs yawn more or less often with human strangers if they've been trained as guard dogs. Find out whether wolves or dogs yawn more with human strangers. Find out whether opponents in contests yawn at each other more or less often than a control group. Find out whether the yawn of a pariah cause more contagion yawns than a member of the "in" crowd.

Anyway, with humans, I think the instinct goes further than just yawning, and covers some inane topics of conversation, like "So how about them Bears?" "Nice day, isn't it?" or "Whazzup?" Because the object of the conversation isn't information; it's finding out whether the other person reacts with empathy or hostility.

"Are you a part of my tribe?"
Yes: "It is a nice day."
No: No answer, a scowl, "Who cares?"

As for house cats, I suspect they're showing their teeth. Although I will have to conduct rigorous cat-yawning tests to make sure...


Paris Hilton Responds to McCain Ad...

And lays out a new energy policy.

(via Randy, who says, "Paris Hilton (watch it anyway) actually did something I like. Now I gotta keep an eye out for the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.")


Zombie Survival Quiz

I lived, but only because other people suck worse than me, apparently. (A)

Book Reviews

The Milkman, by Ian Healy.

Caveat: I consider the author a buddy of mine. If I don't write a positive an honest review, I won't be able to live with myself...

As I was snorting and rolling my eyes throughout this book, it struck me that it's a lighter version of my own alien book in the works. One, Milkman's funnier; two, you could throw it at the author without denting his skull. My book digs into the depths of the human spirit; this book focuses on other, um, ass-pects of the human condition.

Irreverent and fast, this is the book dozens of wanna-be writers sat down with their friends at a bar and said, "Let's write a book explaining why aliens abduct cows, and why they anal probe everybody." And then they laughed like Beavis and Butthead.* But when they sat down to write it...they discovered comedy was just too hard.

But Ian pulls it off. As long as you have a very broad sense of humor, it'll do you just fine. I'm looking forward to more of his stuff. I want to see him give himself more than the 50K from NaNoWriMo, which is were he drafted Milkman, and give himself room to breathe. If there's any real flaw with Milkman, it's that every word has to be funny, and humor often needs a little room to stretch out, like a dog on its back, airing out its crotch and waiting for its belly to be scratched. Gimme more book!

Neil Gaiman Audio Collection.

A collection of short kids' stories, read by the author. (My favorite is "The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish.") An interview with the author, led by his daughter Maddy, is worth the price of admission.

Eglantine: Allie's Ghost Hunters, Case #1, by Catherine Jinks.

(By the author of Evil Genius.)

The story of a girl whose brother's room is haunted by a Victorian-era ghost named Eglantine. Will they put Eglantine's soul to rest? Did the psychic steal mum's jewelry? Will Allie ever be able to get her brother out of her room?

The secret heart of the story is "Girls, don't let your sensitive, creative nature be so stifled that you end up with anorexia or some other mental disorder," which the author manages to pull off without being preachy. I liked it, even though the plot threw me off a few times; I was expecting the narrator to be the mover and shaker of the book -- not just the observer and tilter of doofuses toward common sense. Written with a Jane-Austin sense of character, too -- loving the ridiculous, fearlessly poking fun, even at yourself.

Good audio performance by Melissa Chambers, although I had to spend a few seconds sorting through her Oz accent.

Seventh Tower: The Fall, by Garth Nix.

Garth Nix is a great worldmaker. Someday, I'll try to sit down and figure out what it is that he's doing so well, but not today.

Tal's world is one of darkness, lit only by Sunstones. After his father disappears, with the family's main Sunstone in tow, Tal tries to gain a new one to restore his family's fortunes. Nothing works -- so Tal ends up trying to steal a Sunstone from the top of one of the towers, above the cloudline, in sight of the sun itself. He falls, mysteriously blown into a completely different culture on the same world, almost as if he were in another world altogether. Both worlds? Interesting and believable. And the transitions between the two aren't confusing.

This is some of Garth Nix's earlier writing. The improved prose you see in the Keys to the Kingdom series hasn't developed yet, but you still find yourself immersed in the world and caring what happens to the characters. Plan to keep reading the series.

The Woman Who Rides Like a Man, by Tamora Pierce.

Tamora Pierce's early works are quartets. I think I saw somewhere the reason she wrote like that was publishers didn't believe longer books for kids; each quartet was actually a single novel that had to be cut in pieces.

This book is Book 3 of the Song of the Lioness quartet, and it shows. The first two thirds of the book contain the plot; the last third is just setting up for the last book.

Ray and I listened to the audio version on the way to South Dakota last week; after a while, Ray had to stop listening, because she was too worried about the main character. She's only done that one other time, with a Goosebumps video. Normally, she doesn't care enough about the characters to worry about bad things happening to them -- or not enough that she has put stuff down -- but here, she did.

I have to note having Alanna as a knight is pretty believable. The author's constantly pointing out that Alanna's smaller and lighter than her opponents, and has Alanna work through her disadvantages over and over again. You never get to take for granted that things will work out the way Alanna plans. Alanna has a lot of cool toys that give her advantages, but that's believable, too -- she's favored of the Mother Goddess, and boy, will there be a price to pay for her gifts.

I have a soft spot for stories with stubborn characters. I like stubborn characters. I am a stubborn character.

*I also do this, on occaision. I'm more of a Butthead laugher, personally.