Another Geek Christmas.

We had a couple of people over for the 2nd annual Geek Christmas. It went very well; we played Warhammer and stuffed ourselves. Thanks to Rob and Sheena for coming over and to Lee for magnificent grilling :)

Merry Christmas!

Recipe: Raspberry-Chipotle BBQ

I was going to put this on Cornish game hens, but I couldn't find any in bulk, so it ended up on pork loin.

I received about a cup and a half of raspberry sauce in trade for a big container of weird soup, so I'm guesstimating on the amounts there. I had too much leftover sauce, so I cut it back to a cup.

I'm a convert to the rub-and-sauce school of BBQ. Sauce chars if you leave it on grilling meat for too long, but if you just add the sauce at the last second, the meat isn't flavored properly. Put the rub on the (thawed!) meat for a few hours so the salt can do its magic. Then grill the meat, adding the sauce for just the last few minutes, so it can carmelize but not burn. Brilliant, I tell you, brilliant!


Recipe if you have a mortar and pestle:
4-6 T ground up chilis--not pre-mixed chili powder
2 T cumin seeds
2 T coriander
1 T ground sage

Stirring more or less constantly, toast the chilis, coriander, and cumin over dry heat until the chili powder is brown but not black. Working with a small amount at a time if you have a small mortar, crush the spices and grind them into powder (adding the sage) with about a third as much salt as you have spices. You should end up with about 1/3-1/2 cup of mixture. Finesse is not really required here.

Recipe if you don't:
Halve the whole spices. Toast and mix with salt as above.

The mortar and pestle are really easy to use and easier to clean than a coffee grinder. Also, spices keep better when they're not preground. The cumin seeds were a nose-awakener when I ground them the first time. I'm going to have to try it with whole dried chilis next.


1 c. pureed raspberries (about 1 pt. whole), seeds left in.
1/2 c. honey
1/4 c. soy sauce (caution: don't add all at once)
4-6 canned chipotle peppers in adobo (one small can)
2 cloves fresh garlic, minced
1 T sage

Wear gloves or wrap a sandwich bag around your non-knife hand--chipotles are smoked jalapenos and will burn your eyes if you touch your face; this effect lasts about a day after you're done cooking, whether you wash your hands or not.

Pull the chipotles out of the can, discarding onions (if any).* Slice the chipotles in half and scrape out the seeds. Mince the chipotles and add them to a small saucepan with the raspberries, honey, garlic, and sage. Bring to a slow simmer. Add soy sauce to taste. The sauce should be very thick. Simmer longer if you think the sauce is too thin.

If something tastes off, you probably need a little more soy sauce. If you want to finesse the sourness, you can add vinegar - balsamic, good sherry, champagne, or fruit. (Don't use red wine or distilled.)

When you're ready to grill, split the sauce into two containers. Use one to mop the meat during the last few minutes of grilling; save the other to serve with the meat.

*Maybe you'd like the onions, but they gross me out.


Book Review: Peacekeeper

by Laura Reeve.

In a way, Laura Reeve is the reason I got involved with Pikes Peak Writers just over a year ago. I was talking to a friend of mine, and she said a friend of hers was always trying to get her husband to go to this writing group and a conference that came up every April. I ended up going to a meeting (in a complete panic), then to an all-day workshop, then to the conference...

I finally met Laura Reeve last year at the Pikes Peak Writer's conference, where she gave a dry and informative yet funny talk about subgenres in science fiction and fantasy. She struck me as the kind of person who knows the answer to the question "Why" really is "Because" sometimes.* She looked a lot more competent and confident than she should have for a not-yet-published novelist with no experience babbling literary theory to newbies. In retrospect, my impression probably came from her years coping with the military, which is definitely stranger than a writers' convention.

And that's how her first published book goes - dry, informative, often funny military sci-fi, about a character who's a lot more competent and confident than she should be. The characters are interesting but don't rest on their "interestingness." (The main character is no Miles Vorkosigan, but she has enough flaws to outlast a dental convention.**) The plot is solid, until you realize she's been spinning more plates than you realized, and they might go amuck at any time...but don't. The writing is direct and doesn't screw around with vagueness or purple prose but is never dull.

Totally the kind of thing I never read. Totally going to read the next book.

Minor spoilers in comments.

*Or, "What is slipstream?" "Honestly? I don't think anybody knows."


Greeting Cards.

Becky over at Beckland needs to start writing for Hallmark:
  • When you’re sad — I will jump on the person who made you sad like a spider monkey jacked up on Mountain Dew!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
  • When you’re blue — I will try to dislodge whatever is choking you.
  • When you smile — I will know you are plotting something that I must be involved in.
More over at her site.


Smug of the Day.

So I'm working on edits on Alien Blue and I have to totally rewrite a scene because I'd condensed sixteen years into seven (e.g., one of the characters went from thirteen to sixteen) and because it just, in general, sucked. I'm supposed to be done with major rewrites, damn it! There must be some way to save this @#$%^&* scene...

Three days of thinking and banging away on the keyboard, I get this line:
I puffed out my cheeks, decided what I knew about women could fill shot glass if I poured myself a shot first, and said, "Back later, Miss Dewey. Aanybody asks, I'll open when I open, all right?"
Okay, it was the right thing after all.

Recipe: Lee Chili

Chili for Lee.

2 T dried chili pepper (not chili powder)
1 T cumin
1 1/2 lbs chorizo
1/2 lb summer sausage, cubed
1 T olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 Anaheim peppers, seeds removed, diced
4 chipotle chilis in adobo, seeds removed, minced
1 T salt
2 15 oz cans pinto beans
4 15 oz cans tomatoes (2 before the cooking for a deeper flavor and 2 after for a brighter red color)
1 bottle dark beer (brown ale or stout)
2 oz mexican chocolate (for example, Abuelita brand)

Cook chili pepper and cumin over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the chili pepper starts to brown and smell toasty. Add the olive oil, sausages, garlic, Anaheim peppers, and chipotles and cook until the chorizo is cooked through. Add 2 cans of tomatoes, the salt, the beer, and the chocolate and cook over low heat for at least 3 hours (or place in a crock pot and cook overnight), stirring occasionally if on the stove. About 1/2 hour from serving, add the beans and the rest of the tomatoes. Heat through and adjust seasoning as necessary.


Just Plain Weird.

Note to self: Check this out sometime; it looks like pure MADNESS.

Repo! The Genetic Opera stars Anthony Steward Head, Paris Hilton, Terrance Zdunich:

The premise: in the not-too-distant future, an epidemic of organ failure prompts the rise of GeneCo, which both provides replacement organs and finances the loans to pay for them. Miss a payment, and a Repo Man comes to collect GeneCo’s property. (Exhibit A at right.)

The plot: By day, the Repo Man (played by Head) is well-meaning but controlling single dad Nathan Wallace. His daughter Shilo has a Victorian-sounding “blood condition” and is supposed to stay inside, but she’s a teenager, so that lasts for about five minutes. On one of her excursions to her mother’s tomb, she meets the Graverobber, who mines the bodies of the dead for an addictive painkiller he sells on the black market.*

The daughter's played by the girl from Spykids, who sings really, really well.

*Via Tor.com, which is turning into my favorite "updates on all things sciffy" blog.


Again, an Auntie!

New baby: Jillian! Congratulations to my brother Matt and especially to my sister-in-law Erica. Also to big brother Liam, who will probably be the most protective, sweetest big brother ever :)

Update: Yep.


First Grade Joke:

Why are monsters so wrinkly?

Because they're so hard to iron.


Nine Inch Noels.

The alternative Christmas carol.

Ye gods, I laughed so hard a guy came around the corner at work and said, "So the giggle bomb went off" and I couldn't stop!


All you have to do is believe in yourself...

...but if you can't even do that, you're a failure!

Today on the way home from school, Ray announced that she was going to buy a baby and travel around the world when she grew up.

"Adopt a baby?" I said.

"Adopt," she agreed.


"Because no boys like me," she said. "So I will adopt a baby and travel all around the world."

I had to laugh. And then I gave her the "boys are stupid" talk.* I did, however, reassure her that boys do grow up to be men, eventually, and they will think very well of her then indeed. Although if she still wants to adopt a baby and travel around the world, I'll be okay with that if I can go with her sometimes.

By the time we got home, I thought we were in the clear. Uh-uh. The teacher had sent home a worksheet that was all about "talent." All kinds of remarkable kids with lots of talent! More talent than you! More talen than GOD! After reading about all those kids, Ray had to draw a picture of what she was good at. Sheesh. So she'd drawn a picture of herself swinging, because that's all she could come up with at that point.

I told her all the things she was good at--I've had to do this before--and she was able to add some that I forgot from the last time I had to list these things, so I hope she's feeling better.

"Mom," she said finally, "it's hard to know what you're going to be good at when you're just a kid."

I agree.

*Like the sex talk, no doubt the first of many.


Lightbulb joke.

How many mystery writers does it take to screw in a lightbulb?

Two … one to screw it in most of the way and the other to give it a surprising twist at the end.

(via Beckyland - more jokes in the comment thread at her site).


Writer Book: The Writer's Journey

Mythic Structure for Storytellers & Screenwriters, by Christopher Vogler.

On my quest to learn how to write (instead of just spouting stream-of-consciousness like it was the end-all of all artistry), I've run across some really, really good books:
Add this one to the list. Basically, it's Joseph Campbell from a writer's perspective. It breaks down the Hero's Journey into twelve steps (and yes, the journey is a kind of recovery) and translates them into practical storytelling terms.

What follows is probably TMI:

The steps (which, in a real story, can repeat, go missing, switch order, contain reversals, etc.):
  1. Ordinary World
  2. Call to Adventure
  3. Refusal of the Call
  4. Mentor
  5. First Threshold (end of beginning - entering the Special World)
  6. Tests, Allies, and Enemies (beginning of middle)
  7. Approach to the Innermost Cave
  8. Supreme Ordeal
  9. Reward (end of the middle)
  10. The Road Back (beginning of end - leaving the Special World)
  11. Resurrection
  12. Return with the Elixir
You really have to read the book for the steps to make sense. Since I did, everything I read or watch, I keep laughing out loud: "It's a mentor! He must die!"

The Hero's Journey really does seem universal, at least in stories.

The Hero has a problem that he or she can't solve (call to adventure). How to solve the problem? Change. But nobody wants to change; it's hard (refusal to call). Eventually, they get some good advice (mentor). So they begin to approach the problem in earnest (first threshold). They often cross into a new place, or their current situation changes significantly (crossing into the special world).

They are helped and hindered in their search for solutions; their actions determine whether the people they encounter help them or hurt them (tests, allies, enemies). At some point, trying to solve the actual problem has to be attempted; this takes a lot of courage (this shows up as the approach to the innermost cave). The hero tries to change, often by besting the Shadow (a reflection of the negative possibilities of change, often what the Hero most fears becoming) (the ordeal, in which death is faced). The Hero receives a reward, of knowledge, relationships, or tools (the reward), which oftimes must be forcibly taken.

The Hero then has to go to or create a new home - either literally or by coping with the changed situation (the road back). However, while the original problem has been dealt with or the original goal achieved, the true goal - the driving force behind the first goal - is still unachieved. The Hero has to make a sacrifice or commit to a real, lasting change that cuts deep, and must learn to live as a changed person (resurrection). If successful, the Hero possesses the insight and tools necessary to solve the problem (return with the elixir).

Example: Serenity.

Mal has problems he can't solve - he's being relentlessly pursued by the Alliance, his jobs are drying up, and he still hasn't figured out what to do about River (ordinary world). River helps him by warning him about the Reavers (call to adventure - he could have tried to find out how she knew more than she should, what her ties were). Mal tries to return to the status quo, but Simon attacks him on the ship (upsetting the normal order of authority - just as Mal did to the Alliance), and Mal kicks him and River off (refusal of call). River receives a subliminal message from the Alliance and beats up an entire bar (call to adventure). This time, Mal takes up the call and runs with River and Simon to Shepherd Book for advice (mentor). Book tells Mal to "believe" (the solution to his problems is tied to this). Mal also contacts Mr. Universe (another mentor) to get more information on the name "Miranda," which was evoked in River by the subliminal probing at the bar. They get information, but not enough.

Mal receives a call from Inara (yet another call to adventure) - it's a TRAAAP! Mal encounters the Operative (the shadow - the incarnation of all the bad aspects of "just believing," as Book advised). River reveals that Miranda is a planet, the location of some secret the Alliance has been trying to hide. Access to the planet is blocked by the Reavers; retreat is blocked by the Operative, who is killing all Mal's contacts (including both mentors, who have a tendency to be killed off). Mal decides to go forward (first threshold) and crosses into the special world of Miranda. (Due to the length of time Mal spent refusing to either 1) believe or 2) address the River/Alliance issues, the test/allies/enemies section happens before the first threshold, for the most part - he passes the Inara test using intimate knowledge/trust; he fails the Book test, which would have required faith or at least an understanding of the consequences of his actions.) In Miranda, he receives the reward (but can't use it yet) of knowledge of the source of the Reavers and the corruption of the Alliance - and something to believe in, that he can affect the world that he has come to hate, the world that has deprived him of power. But he'll never be able to put the knowledge to good use unless he leaves the special world; Mal uses the Reavers (a special mark of heroic maturity is using/converting one's enemies) as tools and defeats the Alliance, for the time being (the ordeal).

The rest of the crew (less Wash) has to fight to keep the Reavers occupied, so Mal can transmit the information across the verse (the road back). Mal finds a way to accomplish his goal, but he's blocked by the shadow. Only through believing completely in his cause and a false death (the faked nerve punch) can Mal trick the Operative, defeating him: Mal's flaws have become an asset, when influenced by his genuine change (resurrection). Mal's victory over the Operative shows that faith is necessary, but blind faith is a brutal mistake. Mal transmits the information (return with the elixir). The rest is an epilogue.

Of course, Star Wars is the classic story based on the Hero's Journey.