Some photo references for Alien Blue.

One of the speakers at PPWC was talking about using photo references for facial expressions.

Just for fun, I've found some for Alien Blue:

Martie Washington.

Caveman exterior (but without a basement or steps up).

The look on Bill's face after Nina comes in.

Nina, when she smiles. When she doesn't.

Back from PPWC...

So on Friday I'm in a read-and-critique session, one where a reader reads the first page and three people give their first impressions. I have Ginger Clark, Jeffrey Deaver, and Rose Hilliard (editor at St. Martin's).

I have (yet again) rewritten the first page, based on Miss Snark's First Victims Secret Agent first page contest (I didn't enter; I just read all the pages).

The reader stumbles over one sentence three times. I resolve to rewrite it.

Rose Hilliard says, "Intriguing." She likes the title. SF isn't her specialty.

Jeffrey Deaver says it starts out very concretely and advises me to ground the situation quickly - are we on a spaceship? (No. Crap.) The story comes across as a detective/thriller; he advises me to be careful about mixing genres.

Ginger Clarks says, "I would keep reading" and says I have evocative descriptions.

My pitch session on Saturday is with Ginger Clark. She's sick, and her ears are out. I give her the log line: Barkeep tries to save town from alien invasion using mysterious blue beer.

She says, "Wait. I've heard this one. This is the girl that walks into the bar."

"Yeah," I say. When you say it like that, I feel like there ought to be a punchline.

"What did I say about it?"

"I don't remember. I was too ecstatic. It was nice things, though." (I wrote them down at the time, though, luckily, so I have the crits.)

"Okay. I'm paranoid I'm going to run into someone whose stuff I didn't like. Send me fifty pages."

I glow, even though I know she'd probably ask for pages as long as it wasn't something completely awful or out of her range of representation. I ask her a few questions.

The entire time, her expression is very guarded, frozen onto her face. Her lips are a little oval on what looks like a wide mouth. I wonder whether I've seen her smile: on Friday, I tracked her down to be a Geeky Fangirl and tell her I loved Patricia Wrede's Sorcery and Cecilia books.* She didn't smile at that, just asked whether I knew about PW's new book, Thirteenth Child. I didn't. (I look up the book later: Old West School-of-Magic fantasy WITH STEAM DRAGONS. It's mine. I don't care if I have enough unread books to last me a year. It's mine.)

What I really want to ask her is whether she's a bitch. Because I don't want to work with someone who's going to be nice to me. I don't know I got it across, but she told me she'd let me know if she thought anything was wrong with the manuscript - and pointed out that I should be more worried about an agent's track record. Fair enough.

Will she work with small press, if that's the best option? Yes. (I love Subterranean Press.)

Is she completely adverse to something with a more literary quality about it? [Cautiously] No. But in the RNC session, she joked about literary fiction as being "anything that won't sell." Well, Alien Blue is what it is, and I think one of the reasons SF hasn't been doing as well lately is that all the wonder and love has been sucked out by ideas and facts and plots and messages. Greg Egan is brilliant...but where is Zelazny? Corey Doctorow is inspiring...but where is Sturgeon? Exactly. I can help.

I tell her I have YA drafts I'm working on, too, so I need a good YA/adult SF/F agent. As miserable as she is, she lets her mouth go wide - not exactly a smile - at that. I'm not sure why. Maybe it's an open-mouth-insert-foot moment. I'm okay with that.

To sum up my first impressions of Ginger Clark, professional literary agent for Big New York Agency: an introvert dropped naked into poison ivy and then put onstage at Broadway. The best you can do is not scratch until you bleed, at least until you get off stage. I know that feeling.

About four minutes left in an eight-minute pitch session. I tell her thanks, and I'll get out of her hair.

She tries to look earnest: her eyebrows go up. "But we're doing this for you."

I say, "You wanted fifty pages. I asked my questions. I got what I wanted. Have some free time."

She dives into her purse (ollie ollie oxen free!) for her Crackberry: "I'll get caught up on some e-mail." Her lips crush themselves into a smile that only goes wide and curly at the corners, and she blinks several times. Has she not blinked this entire time? I can't remember.

She's gone. I leave the room, find the first person I recognize, and do the squirrel dance, which is both arms up in the air, loose in the knees, and jiggling like an electrocuted scarecrow. I have no pride.

I find out later Ginger used the time to request a full from a buddy of mine. So dear Powers that Be: I got some karma coming, all right? Yeah? Yeah?

*With Carolyn Stevermeyer.

Mama Told Me not to Come, mock interview.

PPWC Thursday, we performed mock interviews for our current book projects. Margaret Brettschneider's interview, for her true-life account of taking a 29-year-old virgin around Europe decades ago, called Mama Told Me not to Come, had tears running out of my eyes.

True love and slapstick comedy.


Word of the Day.

with Anu Garg


noun: A rumbling noise caused by the movement of gas through the intestines.

From Greek borborygmos (intestinal rumbling), an onomatopoeiac word to describe the sound.

Borborygmi are usually harmless, they are simply a result of gas movement around the stomach. And the rumbling sound doesn't mean one is hungry either. We can't really do anything about the sound of a stomach growling, but we can take comfort in the fact that at least we know a fancy word to describe it.

"And the piece de resistance:
'He was woken early by borborygmus as his insides fermented and his intestines ballooned with gas beyond their capacity.'"
Ruth Dudley Edwards; Book Review / Straying Into A Dark, Ugly And Sick World; The Independent (London, UK); Sep 21, 1994.

Learning without thought is labor lost; thought without learning is perilous. -Confucius, philosopher and teacher (c. 551-478 BCE)

Alien Blue Log Line.

This might be it:

A barkeep tries to save his town from alien invasion using a mysterious blue beer.

I talked to someone at the conference about it yesterday. She was a very good listener - I don't say that often.


PPWC: Thursday.

This is the first year of Thursday add-on material for PPWC. I chose Track 3: Giving it Wings (Publicity, Promotion, Marketing).

I have mixed feelings about the day.

The track itself, I think, was good, sound stuff. We even wrote trial press releases and gave interviews. But I talked myself into listening to the wrong stuff later in the afternoon, so I didn't get everything I wanted. Lesson learned.

The Basics of Marketing:

One of the speakers, Sue Mitchell, kept telling us, "Become your own cottage industry."

In traditional publishing, the publishing house coordinated all PR efforts, including marketing, advertising, and coop projects between authors in bookstores. Alas, most authors don't get to go the traditional publishing route. However, nowdays, the publishing house handles just the editing, the cover, and distribution - the rest of it is up to the author.

It's important to start early with publishing and marketing, so you can assure potential agents you know where you want to take your book and how. Your initial marketing materials should include a press kit with your log line, a 1-page synopsis, and a 5-page (i.e., more detailed) synopsis. Keep your press kit available at all times. Also helpful are a publicity photo and review copies (when you get them).

Then it's time to start considering where you want to start marketing. One way is to find an author you like or who writes the same things you do, then use the same marketing techniques. Another is to research what markets are available locally, and spread out from there. Advertising can be coordinated with other authors.

Types of marketing:

Interviews - Practice in the mirror or on a camcorder. You should sound relaxed, informed, and competent even in the face of attacks, incompetence, and lack of preparation. Also, make eye contact with the camera, not the interviewer.
TV - Various news programs are always looking for content. Public access is an option.
Print - Newspapers (including independents), magazines.
Radio - More talk radio is on air than ever before (including on the internet).
Internet - Try mailing lists to register people for updates, promotions, and giveaways. Use blogs, vlogs to build a following and fan base before your book ever comes out.

The key is to find out what kind of author you want to be. Do you want to be an overnight bestseller or earn out your first printing and get a second? Your goals should drive your marketing efforts.

The basic elements of a marketing plan:

Your press kit (see above) is your marketing overview. Your marketing plan should also contain:
  • A description of your next project. To help establish yourself as an emerging artist with a promising career, know what you're going to work on next and be able to describe it and where you are on it.
  • Your author bio. Include anything that will help an agent or editor decide what to do with your book (which line of a publishing house, which editors, etc.), anything that makes you more credible and interesting as the author of that book. Example: If you're writing a military history and you used to be in the military, mention that. Include publishing credits.
  • Your customers and audience. Being able to narrow your potential audience down to a core will save the publishing house's marketing group time. Saying, "My audience is men, women, and - in fact - children of all ages" tells them nothing.
  • Your competition. Sue said, "If you have no competition, you have no product."
  • An action plan. Include your objectives (goals, like pre-sales and additional print runs), strategies (author positioning, book positioning, establishing yourself as an authority on the subject), and tactics (press releases, author tours, reviews, volunteering, etc.).
Press Releases

A press release should have an angle, a purpose, and a goal or result and should not be a simple cry for attention. Press releases have a specific format that you customize to fit your needs. There are a lot of good examples of press releases online. For example. you can use PRWeb to search for and track response to press releases.

Press releases should contain:

Contact Information:
  • Your name/firm.
  • Phone number, e-mail, and website contact information.
HEADLINE (the most important part of a press release).
  • The date, the date of the event, or the date until which to hold the release (or "For immediate release").
  • The location of the event, if applicable.
  • The headline should be pithy, short, active, and capture all important information.
  • Being a headline, it should be in noun + verb format (e.g., "Local Author Makes Good" vs. "Booksigning").
  • The lead sentence should include the who/what/when/where/why/how information.
  • Next section of the copy should expound on or explain the lead sentence and include any quotes (keep in mind, the quotes will probably get cut if the press release is published).
Standard information about the author, history, organization, etc.

End the press release with "-30-" or "###" to indicate no more pages follow. If another page does follow (but probably shouldn't; the release should be short), start the page with "(Add1)" and end it with "-30-" or "###".

Press releases should be customized for each release.

We wrote practice press releases for (fictional) events. I now want a book signing/reading at a brewery, with a special on blue beer. I bet some of the local breweries would at least consider it, especially if it was during a First Friday, which is a local arts/culture walk downtown, in Old Colorado City, and Manitou Springs.


The internet has a plethora of marketing possibilities. Here are some:
  • Youtube. Book trailers, vlogs, interviews (remember to get rights to post any TV interviews you do).
  • Podcasts and web radio.
  • Newspaper A&E editors with blogs.
  • Blogs. Use free software from Blogger, WordPress, Flickr, OpenSource, SourceForge, Joomla!, Drupal, b2Evolution, TypePad, etc.
Make sure you're not giving away your first rights to your writing projects for free - unless you're doing it on purpose. Posting something on the internet can count as "first rights," so don't post anything you plan to publish elsewhere.

That being said, if you're going to have a website, you're going to need content. While you can publish very small portions of your work (personally, I go by the guidelines for fair use), most of your content should be material relates to but isn't the work itself.

Deb Courtney noted that once you post something on the internet, you cannot simply "take it down." Any number of websites record every page on the internet...regularly (for example, see the Wayback Machine).

Several people asked how to drive traffic to their websites. The answer was there's no easy answer; you have to 1) network and 2) hustle. Ron Heimbecher noted he was using a group of websites to act as "rabbit holes" for his current project.

Marketing for Pitchers

At this point, we split into two groups, "marketing for pitchers" and "marketing for those with published books."

Sue Mitchell recommended pitchers put together what she calls a "Pitch One Sheet," a one-page sheet with all the information you need during a pitch session.
  • Title.
  • Log line (a one-line summary of the book).
  • A one-paragraph explanation of what the book's about.
  • Your ideas about market (customer, audience, genre, what authors/books this is like, etc.).
  • Bio, including why you're the best person to write the book, writing credits, professional associations, and what else you're working on.
The rest of the session turned into a Q&A about pitching, which was disappointing - I'd just gone to the April Write Brain on Tuesday (about pitching). I wish I'd joined the other group, but I kept hoping we'd get back on track, and I was too embarrassed (I mean, no published book to market) to get up and switch. However, Ron Heimbecher was talking to the other group, and I'm confident that I can contact him with any questions I have.

Other interesting points covered:
  • If you're asked about the ending, just tell it - don't tell the editor or agent to buy the book!
  • The type of marketing help you can get from your publishers is sometimes determined by the size of the press. Large presses have more resources - which they use on big-name authors. Small presses have fewer resources - but more attention to give. Just make sure your press can register an ISBN for you (thus allowing you to distribute the book in other places than the press's website).
  • Talk to your agent about your marketing plan to help set your timelines.
  • Review copies often must be sent 90 days or more ahead of the desired date in order for reviewers to meet their publication deadlines. If you're not sure how to submit a review copy, send a query first.
  • If you have an agent, talk to them about short stories you intend to submit - they may know of markets and editors who are looking for what you're writing.
I will try to post links to the interviews, which went really well - informative, confident, calm under fire (at times), and sometimes even funny.

More conference tomorrow...


Poem: Another Reason Why I Don't Keep A Gun in the House

By Billy Collins.

The neighbors' dog will not stop barking.
I close all the windows in the house
and put on a Beethoven symphony full blast
but I can still hear him muffled under the music,
barking, barking, barking...


Allllmost. But again, no.


Thanks very much for sending "Fragile," my way. My assistant editor and I both enjoyed the narrative voice, but overall, the piece isn't quite what we're seeking for Farrago's Wainscot, so we're going to pass.


Darin Bradley
Fiction Editor

Such is the life. However, I will happily take the compliments where I can get them.

Secret Agent!

Kate over at KT Literary reviewed 50 first pages over at Miss Snark - it starts here.

Here's what I learned:
  • So far, I see I give people about four-five sentences before I’m bored.
  • Grammar issues are grating.
  • I hate running into a plethora of weird names.
  • Irony is good.
  • I want to start off with character + action, not just action.
  • NO MORE EYES. (Eyes rolling, etc.)
  • After a series of pages without action, a page that handles action well is a breath of fresh air.
  • People who talk down to MG audiences make my teeth grate (Hello? Remember fourth grade? You were SMARTER than that).
  • I want to say I just don’t care for women’s fiction, but it’s not true–but I know that’s not true–but the women’s fiction barely gets a sentence or two before I’m tired of it.
  • Fiction vs. the moral of the story = give me fiction!
Control Issues and No Pet is Worth All This! are the two I hope get published, so I can read the rest.

Also, I don't want Kate's job.


Query update.

I sent my updated query off to Query Shark. Blood! Blood in the water! Blood everywhere!
Dear Query Shark,

An hour's drive from Roswell, New Mexico, is a wide spot in the road named Haley. Haley's famous for two things--Haley Hospital, the best in the state, and a dive called the Caveman Bar and Grill.

Bill Trout, big-mouthed owner of the Caveman, is enjoying running the bar, coming up with new kinds of weird beer, and settling back into a bachelor's life when Mayor Jack Stout, his best friend, decides to hide an interstellar fugitive in town. Jack's a good guy, but his common sense isn't a strong point.

Bill, who has been walking the fine line between "jerk" and "responsible adult" for many years, tries to trick the alien, Anam, into leaving, but when the aliens attack at the bar, he promises to let Anam stay if Anam will help kill them. Not that Bill intends to keep his promise.

Will Jack get off his high horse and help Bill get rid of the local alien before his pursuers find them again and kill them all? Will the local alien-conspiracy cult that runs the hospital find Anam and before he can save humanity from invasion? Will a town full of perfectly ordinary people turn crazy from the New Mexico summer heat?* It all depends on an old man built like an orangutan, a stranger with a familiar face, and Bill's latest brew, a blue beer he calls "Alien Blue."

Alien Blue is an 85,000-word contemporary science fiction novel that fits somewhere between Spider Robinson and Kurt Vonnegut. Alien Blue stands alone, but I'd like the chance to develop a sequel.

I'm a technical writer and editor for the Air Force, but my clearance isn't high enough to know anything about what happened in the New Mexico desert in 1947. Or so I tell people. I've published short-short stories (at Toasted Cheese, Verbiage, and Clever Magazine, all online), poetry (in Darkwaves and Larkwings, Vol. 1; and iMPS iN THe iNKWeLL, from a gleeful press!), murder mystery party games (the best of which are at Freeform Games, online). I volunteer for the Pikes Peak Writers as a reporter and Published Writer Liaison. I have a blog at secret-hideout.blogspot.com (shh).

Thank you for your time.


DeAnna Knippling

[contact info]

*Probably not. It's a dry heat.

Thanks to everybody with comments from last time.


Today I found over used words...

...and @#$%^ the @#$% out of them.

Today I removed the phrase "rolled his eyes" or similar from Alien Blue seventeen times.

I left references to that monstrous dice game twice:

Miss Dewey scooted the chair back toward the computer. She poked the power button on the monitor, but not fast enough, so I was able to read a few lines: And then Jack said it was an undercover group. The BFI? I asked. But he said no, it was worse, it was the MacTeagues. Well, what does that mean? I asked. He rolled his eyes at me, if he does that one more time, I'm going to-- Then the screen went blank.

I closed my eyes and leaned back against the wall. "Yup," I said. "I know exactly how you feel. So what the hell are you wearing a black shirt and jeans for?"

"I wanted to look cool," she said. "For my first day at the dig. I mean, my first day that I'm not actually trespassing."

I rolled my eyes.
It's like using exclamation points. Did I do the right thing? Should I have cut it?

Which reminds me...oh, shit. TWO HUNDRED EXCLAMATION POINTS.

And then I almost used another one.

First cut: down to forty-four. Sigh. Second pass: seventeen. Third pass: Nine. Good enough.

Yell: fifty-three uses. Down to six.

Shout: eighteen uses. Down to nine.

Bill cusses a lot.

F-bombs: sixty uses. Down to eleven.

Shit: forty-seven uses. Down to ten.

Damn: one hundred ten uses. Down to twenty.

Hell: seventy-six uses. Down to...oh, forget it.

To be continued.


Yet another Alien Blue log line...

I don't know if it's perfect, but this one actually rings true:
Loud-mouthed bar owner must convince mayor to ditch an alien fugitive before invaders come to exterminate him and all "contaminated" humans. And there's beer.
I couldn't get it down to Twitter-level (140 characters) without taking out the beer. To hell with it.



Another iteration of celebrating a holiday for something you don't believe in, but you do, but you don't, but who wants to miss out on everything, you know? Is it just for the kids or not?

I got the existential; I just ain't got the angst.

We cheerfully dyed eggs on Friday night. I like getting new kinds of egg dye as they come out; we invested in egg-dye stamps this year. I liked them, but they were a little tricky. The stamps were very spongy, and you had to roll them around a bit to get the whole stamp to show up. Honestly, I think Lee and Ray had more fun just painting dye on the eggs with the little brush.

On Saturday, I went shopping for food stuff. There was this cake at Rancho Liborio that I have been eyeing for quite some time, so I picked one up. The cake had chocolate icing and was shaped like a torte, with glazed strawberries and whatnot on top. Just...pretty. I asked the lady at the counter for one, and suddenly she goes, "You want that in a box, right?" with a panicked look on her face. The ensuing 10 minutes of looking for a box, not finding a box, sawing a big box in half, taping it together, retaping it together, figuring out that closing the box will squash the stuff on top...it gave me time to watch one of the pastry chefs assembling another cake. He had big squares of what looked like sponge cake, which he shook before dipping in some kind of liquid and slapping onto a cake board. A good half-inch of icing, then another layer of cake, and the whole mess was carried, just pouring liquid onto the floor, onto a cart to drip dry or something. Wow.

Lee and I stayed up late the night before to sow eggs (sow the egg...reap the deviled egg!) and candy. I fluffed up a pile of shredded colored paper (which, sadly, I had to buy, since the shredder at work is approved for classified documents, and the pieces end up looking like really ugly snow) and put out treats. To bed by midnight.

Awake by seven; Ray was searching our room for eggs. I asked her to wait until we're awake; she had trouble but managed to limit her search to our room while she waited.

Later, we did the treasure hunt, which was five riddles long. When she solved one, Lee presented her with a kids' movie. We spent most of the rest of the day watching movies, because Ray was sick with a cold (still from last week) and was pretty pooped. The movies were: Igor (meh), Barbie's Thumbelina (shoot me), the Tinker Bell Movie (surprisingly, a movie to inspire girls to be engineers), Bolt (pretty good), and Treasure Planet. We didn't get to Treasure Planet. I hadn't seen this many movies in one day since never or maybe-college-but-I-doubt-it.

Breakfast was peeps and hardboiled eggs. I've never seen anyone so enthusiastic for oversalted hardboiled eggs. I cooked the last of the baby artichokes, because that's what I like to eat with salt (and butter and lemon). And then I had cereal.

Lunch was Kraft macaroni and cheese.Ray's seven. So sue me; it's what she wanted.

Ray took a nap with me, which meant she really wasn't feeling well. She's had this cold since last week. This cold's a doozy. Personally, it's settled into my ears, which for some reason means I have to cough all night.

The cake was good but not more-than-normally moist; the frosting tasted, as Ray noted, "like chocolate ice cream."

Supper was potstickers and salt-and-pepper shrimp and mangoes and pineapple. I did not make the potstickers by hand; I knew she'd rather have me snuggle and eat popcorn than eat homemade. Which may be some kind of lesson about motherhood. A lesson for me, anyway--do less work; have more fun.

We wrapped her up and Made Her Brush Her TEETH and go to bed.

She was still sick today, so sick she stayed home from swimming lessons. But not so sick she couldn't eat little lemon cakelets and drink tea and watch Treasure Planet, apparently.

A gluttonous day: laying around all day, watching movies, eating what she liked, and being petted over to her heart's content. She's a good kid who probably enjoyed the last, best.

Which witch is which?

Is it "wild hare" or "wild hair"?

Even the experts aren't sure.

But I, being of the Bugs Bunny tribe, go with "wild hare" every time.

Writely Update:

This has to be my what, seven millionth time rewriting the prologue of Alien Blue?

This week: a huge stack of AB edits that I should have addressed already. I pulled them off into their own little pile and saw the first chapter comments for the new book, which I now want to work on, at least to get it from longhand onto the computer.

Also, a longish list of murder mystery edits.

Next week reporting on Tuesday for PPW April Write Brain; Thursday is the start of the conference. Time to get a move on!

Good news: I get to go to South Dakota in May for my sister's graduation! I'm going to stop at Zandbroz and see whether they have any good SD history books for the new book. Something clicked the other day, and I realized Wounded Knee was in 1890, which would (tragically) put it at the exact right time for H. to have set it in motion when he arrived stateside from Mother Russia. Granted, wrong location, but not by that much.

Back to work!

Bill, tall and grim and as gangly as a wind-stripped scarecrow--a real cowboy--was out on the floor, telling jokes, passing out beer, and trying not to step on folks' toes when the young woman came in.

She stopped just inside the doorway just like most people did, first time they walked into the bar, because the first thing anybody saw was the dusty old diorama of a papier-mache caveman, dragging his woman with one hand and fending off a saber-toothed tiger with the other.

Bill lurched over to the door; if anything, his bad leg seemed to add speed in wobbling across the cracked linoleum and around the battered wood tables. He smiled down at the woman. "'Lo there, missy. You're letting out all my cold air, you know."


Recipes: Perfect beer batter; lavender gin

I perfected the beer batter recipe tonight.

1 c all-purpose flour
2 T cornstarch
1 t baking powder
1 T salt
1 egg
1c beer

--I just adjusted the salt. Make sure to dredge the stuff in flour first; the batter seems to stick better.

Fried: Button mushrooms, tilapia, white onions (sliced very thin to offset their stronger flavor), pickle slices. I love the pickle slices.

Dipping sauce: 1/4c mayo, 2 T capers, 1 t ground chipotle powder.

I deep-fried some capers, too; the flavors in the admittedly-overused oil overwhelmed it. Not recommended.

Lavender Gin

1 oz. good gin
2 T raw sugar (stir the first two)
6 oz dry lavender soda, if you find it

I wanted some fresh rosemary to muddle up with it, but I didn't have any. Mint would also have been nice. I like "dry" flavors, but the soda was too dry. I could have made some simple syrup, but this did just as well.


Tea arrival.

I ordered some tea from Stash tea.

Of all days, it arrived today, when I cannot truly appreciate anything other than the taste of salt and vitamins. (I had a six-fruits-in-every-bottle! white people juice with vitamins in it and all I could taste was the vitamins.)

I had ordered pu-erh tea and some other stuff.

I was very excited about this pu-erh tea.

I'd had some at World Market. It was delicious.

I opened the vacuum package, knowing I wouldn't be able to smell anything.

But I did smell something. Dirt.

Lee said, "That smells like marijuana."



I brewed some.

Tasted it.


But...tasty dirt.

Having been subjected to many of Lee's taste experiments, I ran over to him and shoved the mug in his face. Classic Lee face. That Look he gets when Y.T. does something completely goofy and expects praise for it, like a two-year-old proudly presenting her first poop art in the bathroom.

"I think it tastes like dirt," I said. "But I think I like it."

"I know how you could save a lot of money on tea. Just send Rachael outside for it..."

"But it would have dog poop in it. Or cat poop, probably," I said.

He gave me That Look again.

"Does it taste like marijuana tea?"

He stopped giving me That Look to think about it for a few seconds. "I don't know," he said, finally. "I've never had marijuana tea."

So, if there's anyone who's ever had marijuana tea, let me know if it tastes like dirt, because if this package just has marijuana with dirt on it, I'm going to send it back, damn it, for the sheer principal of the thing.


Mexican Grocery Store: Fruiteria Guadalajara

We have a hard time remembering how to say "fruiteria" ("fruitereria? fruitorama? fruitarena?") so we ended up calling the place "Fruitopia." Which turned out to be exactly the case.

So last Saturday it's bad out, the kind of gray snowishness that promises to work its way between the cracks of your house and freeze you in your sleep. Also, I'm sick, green-bullet sick.* In fact, these two items are probably not unrelated. Lee says, "Make sure you take it easy today, okay?"

Perfect day to go grocery shopping!

We all bundle up and get in the car and go to...Sam's Club (looking for trash cans and eating pass-out snacks). And then Home Depot. And then, after a couple of hours of wandering around and using up what little strength and/or patience I had, we go to Fruiteria Guadalajara.

Perfect plan for going grocery shopping!

Hey, I'm not blaming anybody but myself. I always think I can fit more into any given hour than 60 paltry minutes would indicate, doubly so when I'm sick.

Also, we left at 10 a.m., didn't really eat anything first, and figured we'd get home before we were really hungry.

Trifecta of good planning!

The result was that I didn't keep track of as much as I had planned.

The F.G. is a tiny orange store on South Academy and Airport Street. The most delicious smell comes from outside the building, where a man is doing something with a grill that makes me want to cry. Did I pick anything up to eat? Pfft. No. Next to him is a little, sheltered, year-round kiosk that sells Mexican polka music, which is probably called something else, but it has accordions and sounds very oom-pah, so that's what I've called it since we moved here, almost 10 years ago.

The first thing inside the door is an international phone card dispenser and a freezer case filled with what looks like limes stuffed with ice cream. The glass is fogged up, so I'm not sure. Also did not get any, because I'm an idiot.

Unless you were looking for fruit, the selection was sadly limited (say, mostly convenience-store level). However, fruit was almost all top-notch and the selection pretty much overwhelmed anyplace else I've been:
  • limes - two types
  • papayas
  • melons - two types
  • mangoes - two types
  • oranges
  • clementines
  • coconuts
  • papaya
  • guavas
  • bananas - five types
  • peaches
  • nectarines
  • plums
  • grapes - three types
  • pears - four types
  • apples - seven types
  • no lemons (unusual)
  • grapefruit - poor quality
  • kiwis
  • pluots
  • chirimoya [sic]
  • avocados - two types, all perfectly ripe
  • and a bunch of stuff whose label had not been dilligently applied and I have no freaking clue what they were.
Oddly, no berries that I can remember. And no apricots, which I had thought were ubiquitous to any Mexican grocery store worth the name. Also of note: 15 types of fresh peppers, 11 types of beans, 12 types of dried chilis (bulk), and a cast of thousands of small-package dried chilis.

I didn't have much on my shopping list, but I was unable to obtain most of it. For example, prepared salsa (as in chunky) was unavailable, although multiple types of hot sauce were. No matches, toothpaste, leeks, whole chicken, tomato soup, ramen, or Velveeta (for bjork, a.k.a queso dip). There were 9 types of cheese available, of which only one was not a traditional Mexican style (i.e., fresh mozzarella). None of the cheeses appeared to be aged.

There was a meat counter, but it didn't have much (although it did have tripe, which is fascinating but personally intimidating). There was an eating area with 4-5 small tables. With the grill outside, the indoor area seemed to sell only fruit cups the size of a large soda (with or without chili pepper, looked like), juice, and ice cream (including birthday cake flavor).

The fruits and vegetables were indeed stacked above my eye level on displays, or chest level in crates. Open bulk containers had dry items: rainbow-colored jimmies, dried shrimp (complete with pitch-black eyeballs), flaked coconut.

The place was clean but for what people were tracking in, but worn. The place only opened after we moved to our house, so it hasn't been open for more than 2.5 years, so go figure. The staff offered to help me a couple of times, but only when I ran into them.

Of all things, there was a plastic box full of dried crickets (unmarked, unpriced) next to the cash register.

I picked up a few things, including a chirimoya, which I haven't eaten yet. It feels like a non-bristly kiwi fruit. Lee picked out a box of chocolate cookies with pink coconut marshmallows on top. Nom nom nom.

There were no organic, whole-grain, or "top-shelf" items (i.e., only one brand was available of almost everything).

After that, we went to Rancho Liborio, which is a supermarket-style store, and failed to find either Velveeta or matches but were otherwise able to obtain the necessaries. I didn't keep track of R.L. as I was about ready to sit down and not get up again by the time we left.

The next day, I went to Target to stock up on Easter supplies for Ray, because I couldn't find any at either store. In retrospect, that seems very odd.

All in all, it was what it was: a fruit shop, with extras. I would stop there for good-quality fruit and some vegetables, if that's what I was looking for. I will also stop there again to try the grilled whatsits and frozen limes. But a pain, as far as checking items off a list of weekly supplies.

Also, if I had any sense, I wouldn't go out in bleah weather. I was sick all weekend, dragged myself feverishly and giddily in to work on Monday, and had to crash Tuesday and most of today. I finally woke up about 1:30 going, "Okay, I can bend over without endangering myself." I'm not that graceful at the best of times, and I kept turning around too quickly and running into walls.

*If you have to ask, you've never seen a kid with a really bad head cold sneeze.


House full of sick people.

Send us your vitamin-rich thoughts.



Taught Ray how to elicit toots from a bottle today.

As always, the experience of successfully teaching something comes to me as a miracle: I say stuff, and suddenly the light goes on, but the connection between the two isn't as straight a line as the ego would like.

She did the work. I just babbled about blowing straight across, like the top of a drum, to make echoes that are smooth and run together. It was only the doing that made it make sense.

Here she comes with the bottle again :)

My hands shook a little...

Lee has spent a considerable (and considerate) amount of time setting up the computer IN MY OFFICE for me.


I can't tell you how good this feels, how nerve-wrackingly good.

I had been trying to pick out the perfect desk, but I abandoned that plan in favor of a cheap-ass-but-for-all-practical-purposes-perfect desk. The room is filled with that je ne sais quoi, that new office chair smell, full of chlorofluorocarbons, burnt rubber, and promise.

I tell you, I love plowing into the unpredictability that is hustling for freelance jobs, even the parts where you go, "I'm never doing that again" and mean it. I love trying to figure what the hell keeps going wrong with the beginning of Alien Blue. I love struggling to find the time to edit the short story I wrote. My life is full of love and teeth filed to sharp points at all the possibilities.

Writing updates:
  • I sent off the draft characters for the murder mystery expansion pack, Hollywood Lies. Editor said, "Great! I'm off for Easter break. I'll get back to you." I feel like I got a free snow day, only it'll probably go on until 13 April. Cast size: 23-33 people. I'm scared to try to run this.
  • I've been considering the updates for Alien Blue, and rereading Nancy Kress's Beginnings, Middles, and Ends. Why don't I care for her writing as much as I like her advice? Why am I getting so much more from reading the book this time around? I rewrote the prologue, adding more to the beginning. "Why doesn't the beginning make sense?" "Because you didn't set it up." I'm a guy out in the middle of a corn field hearing the voices say, "If you set it up, they will read it." Just have faith, Martha. I know it seems crazy...
  • Considering a change to the middle, with the Good Doctor. Because I know he needs to be there; I know why he needs to be there; I just don't know how the hell to make that make sense. In a story where various people are trying to figure out what "human" is, exactly, it helps to have a monster to compare and contrast. Also, when you scrape down the plot to the actual story, he's a linchpin. Again, how to set that up? Er...
  • I'm going to take Richard's advice on the ending. Even though I'm planning for another book (Blue Spirits, maybe?), his suggestion will make the climax more effective. Things fall apart, but before they do, a last stand should be taken.
  • No updates on the Greece story.
  • Haven't finished editing writer group stuff. Shit shit shit. I will take it with to Ray's swimming lessons. It's amazing what you can accomplish when your sense of duty says "SIT STILL."
  • April Write Brain is 21 April. Planning to go and practice pitching.
  • Going to PPWC this year, April 23-26. I'm taking the extra-day option, with the advanced class, on marketing. I think: WHAT IF THEY SEE THROUGH THE FACADE? I'm not advanced! But I already sat through the Write Brains related to the middle-level class. Damn it, I will take the advanced class! I will be advanced! The PayPal bill has already been paid!
  • The book is getting pitched at the conference and sent out shortly afterwards to a short list of agents. I'm also going to send the query to Query Shark, which I have been reading with little exclamation points in my eyes.
  • After that, I'm going to consider myself having graduated from the beginners class, finally and aboslutely. 1) I write and edit for a living. 2) I make a profit freelancing (including the new office setup). 3) Alien Blue doesn't suck. 4) I HAVE AN OFFICE!!11!!
  • The next steps have yet to be specifically determined, but will include figuring out a business model, getting word out, and hustling my ass off. And figuring out what I can do for people besides stroke my own ego. I've always felt that what I write is to try to say things that need to be heard, but can't be said directly without ruining them, like "We are all in this together" and "You're stronger than you think." But is that right? Is that entirely right? Is that all of it, or is there something else?
Okay, time to pretend to be human, or at least make sure I can access the music files across the network.


The Mexican Grocery Store Project.

First of all, I've been trying to figure out whether I should call this the "Hispanic" or "Mexican" grocery store project. It would be more PC but less accurate to call it "Hispanic," as the grocery stores to not appear to cater to wider, pan-Hispanic tastes.

Here's the deal. During January-February, I worked on getting rid of the excessive stocks in my freezer, pantry, squirreled around the house, etc. I didn't spend more than $50 a week on food; I didn't buy chocolate; I didn't buy tea; I didn't go to Sam's or Costco.

The project was a partial success.

Freezer: I didn't get the freezer entirely free of crap, but I think I'm down to the last few meals and can throw out the freezie pops and frozen egg whites. I DON'T USE EGG WHITES. Lesson learned. Next time I make a custard, I will find a recipe that requires the whole egg...or just dump the whites down the sink. When frugality is counter-productive...I could have used that space, damn it, for something tasty. And I wouldn't have used so many freezer bags.

Pantry: A flop. Shelves still stuffed with crap I've had around for years. I finally threw away a jar of pineapple with a 2006 expiration date. Time to check expy dates and donate, I think.

Chocolate: most of the holiday chocolate is gone. I would have succeeded, but Lee bought an excessive amount of chocolate for Valentine's Day (yum).

Tea: I'm drinking the next-to-last serving, but for: 1 can iced-tea mix, 1 pint of loose-leaf tai iced tea leaves, and about half a box of Korean barley tea. They're tasty, but I decided from the get-go that these didn't count. Mostly because I knew I wouldn't finish them in time, but also because I didn't want to commit to getting rid of them just before I'd enjoy them most, i.e., during warm weather.

I took the month of March off from overarching food projects and promptly spent too much money at Costco. But I NEEDED that gallon of green olives, damn it.*


I will purchase groceries from Mexican grocery stores only, unless something insurmountable comes up, like Ray wants something specific for Easter (Ray Day) that I can't get there. Spoiling a family member should take precedence over hair-brained projects every time.

Why Mexican grocery stores?
  • We have a lot of them in Colorado Springs. Lots of little ones with specific functions. "Fruteria" "Carneceria" etc.
  • I like going to non-normal places to buy food.
  • To try different foods. One sub-goal is to make fresh baby octopus, for Ray.
  • To see what they have, instead of what I expect.
  • To find out differences, in specific items and prices and in patterns.
  • To explore the area.
  • To assure people that non-normal places to buy food are not scary. I know a surprising number of people who are afraid to walk into non-U.S.-standard grocery stores, because it's too much to handle.
I've been to several Mexican grocery stores nearby over the last few years. Here are some things I've noticed causally but will take a closer look at:
  • Most starches are refined; I don't remember ever seeing anything "whole grain."
  • Plain yogurt is apparently an anathema.
  • The cheese selection is very limited.
  • The fruits and vegetables are plentiful and cheap.
  • The vegetables are more diverse than the fruits, which are mostly apples, citrus, and a few pears.
  • You can always get perfect avocados.
  • You can easily get cheap meat, if you don't mind cheap cuts of meat.
  • Seafood is almost as important as beef, pork, and chicken combined; it gets slightly more shelf space than any two but not all three.
  • The seafood selection is waaaaaay wider than you'll see at a standard U.S.-style grocery store.
  • You will almost always see an area with food served to eat and tables at which to eat it. I do know one place that doesn't (or didn't; I haven't been there for a while).
  • The amount of exo-culture foods are limited (the biggest Italian foods area is generally a smaller ratio of shelf space than U.S.-style stores; Italian is usually it).
  • The illusion is of abundance over variety. Shipping crates are often stuffed with false bottoms, then piled above eye level with products - but at the expense of having two kinds of something.
Some other areas to explore:
  • Meat/Protein: What types are available? How much do they cost? How much space do they take up? Frozen vs. fresh? Organic, locally-raised? Vegetarian alternatives? The subject of beans is probably a whole different experiment. Wow.
  • Dairy/Fats: Cheese, milk, yogurt types? Cost? Space? (Add'l research: do Mexican people tend to be lactose intolerant or not?) What other types of fats are available, in what proportions (e.g., lots of shelf space for oil, little shelf space for butter)?
  • Starch: What are the main types of starch? What is there, but less often? What types of primary types (uh...flour? The minimal amount of processing, uncooked, etc. as commonly available?) of starch are available? Cost? Space? Are they located in a central area or dispersed around? Are there any whole grains anywhere? Are there more starch products in a primary state or a prepared state? Are there a lot of breakfast cereals?
  • Fruits/Vegetables: What types are available?
  • Sweets/junk food: What proportion of sweets are mass-produced vs. in-house prep? What are the types of sweets and junk food? How much shelf space do they get?
  • Convenience foods: Are foods interim foods (e.g., tortillas) or final products (e.g., burritos)? Frozen vs. canned?
  • Marketing: How much is directed towards kids? Is "abundance" a typical ploy? Are the stores agressively, assertively, or passively Mexican?
  • Service: Cleanliness, helpfulness, ease of use, ability to communicate with/attitude towards yours truly, etc.
Clearly, biting off more than I can chew.

April 1st: Purchased 2 tamales, #1.94/ea., delicious. 1 gallon whole milk, 2.49, from a rack of at least 50 identical gallons (next to 50 gallons of 2%, etc.). 1 pear, .76, anjou, but marked as "pear." 1 pint rice pudding, 1.99, delicious, but with a drink lid with a hole on top, pain in the ass. Customer ahead of me in line drops gallon of what looks like pickled pig rinds. Manager at front in under 30 seconds, and cashier has already drafted a helper to guard the spill, and another to replace disgusting-looking jar of bleah. Must be coming down with a cold; doesn't smell like anything. They all speak in Spanish but switch to clear English when it's my turn.

April 3rd: Yep. A cold.


Iowa Supreme Court legalizes gay marriage.

I send hugs to the gay couples I knew in Iowa. Hopefully this helps with the adoption situation, too.

A couple I knew had started proceedings to adopt a little boy they had fostered, but he was taken away when the social agency found out they were gay and wanted to adopt instead of just feed, clothe, and care for him. Years later, they carried around his picture. He was an ugly pug of a baby, dressed in a diaper and angel wings. Every time J--- saw me, she would show me his picture and kiss it.

I didn't dare tell her he was an ugly baby, you know?


ABNA reviews up!

I had two readers for Alien Blue in the ABNA contest. Unfortunately, I didn't make it to semi-finals, but I did get these two reviews back, see? And while semi-finals were announced March 15th, the reviews just came back today. Understandable; the staff needed to sleep for two weeks, and April 1st would have been too cruel a day to receive anonymous reviews.

Reviewer 1:
I like the title. Alien Blue has a nice ring to it, and it was fun to find out that it was a type of beer.

So far the story is a bit confusing. 20- something Nina Nesbitt is in town to meet her biological father. For some reason, she is led to a special booth at the local bar, The Caveman. The proprietor of the bar is Bill, who serves the foul tasting brew called Alien Blue to the young woman, before presenting with decent food and drink, along with a story of his life. A tall man with a shaved head who wears torn and bloody cargo pants is also at the bar, though there is some disagreement between Bill and his waitress as to whether the guy should be permitted to stay. Then some mysterious men in suits show up and harass the pint sized town mayor. But wait- this appears to be a flashback. This all happens close to the Roswell, New Mexico.

Characters seem interesting, if somewhat eclectic. It's rather disjointed, though the promise of a good story lingers just below the surface. I think this could be a good yarn, if reworked a bit.

Reviewer 2:
I have mixed feelings about this story. It is original in concept and seems to be going somewhere. I found after the initial pages read that I was somewhat interested in reading further, but not strongly so. The circumstances are strange and a bit bizarre, and I wanted to find out exactly what was going on.

But mixed feelings. Why? Because the author's prose gets in the way of his (or her) story. The author almost trips over himself trying to be verbally clever with constant crass colloquialisms, slang, and cutesy similes, metaphors, exaggerations, and other figures of speech. What this does is that it gets annoying. The reader, who just wants an interesting story, has to constantly deal with or interpret these language excesses. Occasionally the author's efforts to impress are enjoyable but most of the time they make reading laborious. Also, The author's attitude, as expressed in his narrator's voice as flippant, irreverent and crass.

So here is a story that has some potential, written by an author with ability and potential, but the language excesses get in the way.

I really don't know what to do about the reviews. Think about them for a few days, at least. As to the first reviewer, I'm having trouble with the beginning, true - I don't remember how many beginnings I've tried out. It is disjointed. Some creative criticism would have been nice - okay, but how might I fix it?

The second review was just frustrating. Maybe it's just not the story for that reader. I've been told many times that you shouldn't confuse the author with the narrator, so that sets me off, and I had a hard time taking the review seriously. Also - does the reader just want an interesting story? Really? And the language and the smartass narrator are features, not bugs. I feel like the reviewer didn't even want me to try to write the book I wanted to write. "Not appropriate!"

But I don't feel like I was robbed or anything; fair dinkum. I'll probably do it again, barring instant-overnight-how-long-have-I-been-doing-this?!? stardom.


Now I have to wonder if "The Princess and the Pea" is about kids with allergies.


Ray tooth update:

Make that three times I've been pranked today.

I'd forgotten which of Ray's baby teeth had come out and which hadn't; the tooth I thought was a chipped baby tooth was an adult tooth coming in at an off-kilter but perfectly acceptable angle.

Silly me; she chipped a different tooth while trying to pry a binder clip open with her teeth. Luckily, that chip wasn't big, and the dentist said she won't need to have anything done for it if she keeps it clean. We'll reassess during her checkup in July.

Yes, we discussed: if you can't open a binder clip with your fingers, it's a bad clip, so just junk it and get a new one! She continues to chew on everything, though. Teething. Go figure.

April Fool's!

After years of running with a perfect April Fool's Day record, I have been caught TWICE today. TWICE!

Fuligin invented.

Scientists have created a black that is blacker than black.

Enormous fish-women swim closer through the stars.

Alinea NOT at home!

Carol at Alinea at Home GOT HIRED BY GRANT ACHATZ! To work at Alinea!

How cool is that? Food blogger makes good :)