Explorations: my author blog

Hi! Welcome to my blog. I'll be posting reviews, essays, and short fiction here. Eventually, I hope to offer some freebies and contests, too. Many of these entries will be crossposted to my livejournal, and you're very welcome to comment in either place - I love comments! I'm starting out with a brief essay on something that's been puzzling me. Here goes!

The Merchants of Death

It’s been a long time since I updated here: sorry! I am crossposting an entry from my live journal, with a short addition. It’s the clip above, in which a basically honest bartender gets involved with some very shady people out of greed.

Now to the blog post. A couple of weeks ago, my sister and I had the pleasure of going to the Simmons/Horn book Symposium. The theme was resistance, so it was timely, to say the least. I got to meet Richard Peck again! And he was on a panel with the winner for YA literature, Angie Thomas, author of The Hate U Give. This is a book you need to read carefully, without skimming or skipping around. When I first began reading it, I was doing both those things. And it seemed too polemical, too much a retelling of current events. When I read more slowly, though, I really appreciated the story, the characters, and the craft Thomas uses in bringing them into a whole. It’s pretty devastating, actually, but not without hope. 

Since she is a woman of color, Thomas is able to do some things a white writer could not. She presents her African-American teen characters with great empathy and nuance. The boy who dies in the story, Khalil, is by no means a bad kid. But he does make mistakes. He gets involved in gang activity, though he doesn’t want to and avoids becoming a gang member. When the police pull him over, he argues and is slow to cooperate. it’s nevertheless quite clear that Khalil and his friend Starr, the main character, are unarmed children who pose no threat to anyone. Khalil dies, anyway.

Short Story! “Sorrow: A Retelling"

I am happy and proud to say that Sick Lit Magazine accepted one of my stories. It was published today, and you can read it here!

Blog Tour - Blood Road by Amanda McCrina (plus Owlbox giveaway: details below!)

BLOOD ROAD COVER Final

Title: BLOOD ROAD

Author: Amanda McCrina

Pub. Date: April 25, 2017

Publisher: Month9Books

Format: Paperback, eBook

Pages: 329

Find it: Goodreads | Amazon | B&N | TBD


1. Publisher’s summary:

Nineteen-year-old Torien Risto has seen dissidents dealt with before. He knows the young local girl who just knifed him will hang for assaulting an Imperial officer, unless he can stop it.

Someone inside the provincial government is kidnapping Imperial citizens and selling them across the desert to the salt mines, silencing anyone who tries to intervene. The girl’s brother is one of those who has been taken. Rejected by the corrupt courts, she’s waging a personal war against the Empire.

 Determined to save her life, Torien sets out in search of answers on the Salt Road, the ancient trade route running deep into the heart of a desert—territory claimed by the hostile Mayaso tribe.

 Now, Torien is no longer sure where his own loyalty lies, or how far he will go to break the cycle of tyranny, political bullying, and social injustice in an empire that seals its borders in blood.

On Adaptations (cross-posted from my live journal)

goshen in winter

This photo of Goshen is courtesy of TripAdvisor

So they are again trying to film one of my childhood favorites, Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time. Honestly, it’s a book I still love, and I am filled with trepidation. Oh, I’ll go see it when it comes out next year. I’m almost certain to, unless it’s completely panned. But the Canadian TV movie from ten or fifteen years ago was a very mixed bag, and I’m very much afraid this version will be, too.

 Why? I admit I was a little startled when I read that the director insisted on having primarily people of color in the cast. And then I thought about it. It does change the story, which is set in rural New England in the early 1960s. African Americans really didn’t live in small New England farming villages after WWII. They did before the war, and the loss of this population is one of many American tragedies and injustices. But_

 One of the points of the story, and, indeed, of the series, is that Meg’s family are outsiders. Making Kate Murry of African descent, and her children mixed race, is a good way of emphasizing this. And these are beautiful children! If they can act the parts and get the characters across, it doesn’t matter in the least that they don’t look like the characters in the book.

Another recipe from my fictional world—Auntie Thanike’s spring soup.

I know; it’s been a long time, but I’m finally back, and with a new, very green recipe just in time for St. Patrick’s day! This will serve four aunties for a breakfast dish, or eight reluctant small boys. It’s quick and very simple if you can find frozen broccoli rabe. 

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Ingredients: 1 10 0z packet frozen broccoli rabe, or a fresh bunch. 1 small onion, or a couple of shallots. A little good quality vegetable oil, 2 packets Kikkoman miso soup with tofu and spinach, 4 cups water. You may also add a clove or two of garlic and cayenne pepper to taste.

Method: If using fresh broccoli rabe, clean and trim and chop it. Chop your onion or shallots, heat a tablespoon or two of oil (olive or canola) in a deep saucepan, and add the vegetables. Saute the broccoli rabe with the onions if using fresh. (Note: if using garlic, add it after the other vegetables.) Then open the powdered soup packets, pour in, and add the water. If using frozen rabe, add it at this point. 

Bring to a boil and simmer for ten to fifteen minutes, until the greens are tender. You can liquidize the soup in a blender if you like. 

How (not?) to write technobabble. ;)

Ah, technobabble. You’re happily watching some science fiction show or movie, and some character comes out with a string of incomprehensible syllables. For example:

“Captain, the phase inverters have reached 2000 degrees kelvin. If we don’t reverse their polarities, they will implode!” (* Please note: I made up that example on the fly. I think it’s nonsense even for technobabble.)

“Huh?” you say to yourself. Then, if the writers have done their job, you’ll either say to yourself, “Oh, I see. Their engine is overheating, and they need coolant,” or else you’ll just ignore the technobabble and focus on the story. If, however, the writers have not done their job, you will get annoyed.

Of course, each reader, writer, and viewer has a different tolerance for technobabble, and a different idea of what might make it especially good, or especially bad. I’d guess that, for most of us, it’s usually especially bad. Can there be a way to write it well?

I think there might be. I’m going to preface this by saying I have no desire to feed the flames of the Star Trek versus Star Wars arguments. I like them both. To be absolutely accurate, I am a passionate Niner, love the original Trek, like Next Generation, and also like the first three Star Wars movies. It’s quite possible to love both Trek and Star Wars. It’s also quite possible to get annoyed by technobabble in both franchises!

Dragonflies

This, too, is crossposted from my live journal; I thought it up on a walk my sister and I took round the pond. There were lots of little red dragonflies, and one of them landed on my sister’s thumb! (The photo I took some months ago is a big green darner, not one of those little red guys, but it’s pretty!)

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Dragonflies follow you

as though you were at once

shelter and larder;

as though you held 

in your cupped hands

the waters of their birth.

(Mary Johnson, 2016)

Visual Dare: Encroach

This is cross-posted (again, and rather late) from my live journal, and is again based on one of Angela Goff’s wonderful Visual Dares. Comments welcome either here or there. Enjoy!

Everyone else had their eyes covered, and some were carrying slices of onion. Nadia refused. She had no intention of hiding. One of the boys behind her actually had an old-style gas mask that might have belonged to some English or German great-grandfather, and he made to hand it to her.

“Take it! You’ll need it if they start spraying tear gas.”

“Not if. When,” a granny walking behind her muttered. Nadia shook her head at both of them.

“I’m not afraid! Thank you, but no.”

The boy shrugged and dropped back behind her. As Nadia strode on, the granny reached up and patted her shoulder. “Brave girl! Is this your first time?”

“Yes.” Nadia felt the breath catch in her throat, for she saw the soldiers in front of her, by the wall. Her soldiers. Her people. Would they really fire tear gas, and worse? Would they shoot at peaceful protesters? 

It’s the writing! (a belated movie review, cross-posted from my live journal)

Mowgli red flower

That was going to be “It’s the writing, stupid!” Not that any of us is stupid! But, when we see a film, how much thought do we give to the writers? I finally want to rave quietly about the recent Jungle Book. There was so much about that film that was excellent! Many people have pointed out many of these things: the excellent animation, the child’s performance (which, okay, had its rough spots, but which was generally completely natural and believable), the voice cast, the music, the pacing, and so on. Only a few people that I know of mentioned the writing. And it is the script all these other things depend on. You could have fine actors, excellent animators, good musicians, excellent sets and camera work and so on. Yet, without a solid story, you could still have a bad movie.

 Now, I’m of the generation that remembers the “original” animated Jungle Book. And I’ll tell you something. When I saw it as a small girl, I liked it. I even liked it a lot. I didn’t love it, and that’s because I knew and loved the book. The cartoon simply wasn’t anything like the book. The new movie does justice to the book, as well as the cartoon.

Visual Dare - Hesitation

benoit-courti-deep-black01

This is another of Angela Goff’s visual dares. I gave it as a prompt to the writing club, and people came up with wonderful things! Here is mine (crossposted, at last, from my live journal)

Isn’t it strange? Those were the letters I pulled from the scrabble bag. Exactly those. I took eight, instead of seven, and then I just stared. It was like the angel Gabriel speaking to me. I froze.

“What’s the matter, Grandpa?” Mercy said.

Joe said, “You’ve got an extra letter.”

“So I do. So I do.” I took the “t” from “wait” and put it back in the bag. Then I set the other letters face down on my rack. “Just a moment, children. I’ll be right back.”

“Where you going, Grandpa?”

“Bathroom, probably,” young Joe said to his sister. “Can I see your letters?”

“No!”

“But I can help you, see?”

“No! Look at your own letters!”

I stepped into the den. The children’s voices were cut off when I closed the door. For a moment, I stared at the phone. A string of ten numbers—I thought I’d forgotten, but my fingers remembered for me. The phone rang and rang, with the echo a phone makes in an empty room. I was about to hang up when I heard the click of someone lifting the receiver. An old phone, like mine. An old man like me on the other end. “Gafferty residence,” a voice said. A man’s voice, hoarse and quiet, and behind it the gasping of an oxygen pump. “Who’s this?”

Claddaghduff (for my grandfather)

This is another result from a prompt in writing club. My sister liked it and thought I should share it with family and friends. I posted it to my live journal on Father’s day, and now I’m finally posting it here.

horses Claddaghduff


By the ocean,

The horse races,

His shoes striking

Wet sand.

Shells gleam

In the sunset.

The strand shines.

An old man,

Astride,

Reclaims his youth.


“It was a dark and stormy night”

This, too, appeared on my live journal, and I’m finally posting it here. An exercise from writing club in May. I had a lot of fun with it, and I hope you’ll enjoy it, too!

It was a dark and stormy night.

“Sturm und Drang. Yet again, Sturm und Drang”, thought the man sitting on the floor in front of the legless piano. “God damn!” he muttered to himself. “I just saw lighting, but I can’t even hear the thunder. No, not even that!”

But then a sharp crack and a sound like tearing filled the room. The man smiled. He wasn’t deaf, after all. Not quite.

Ludwig turned to the piano and began playing the storm.

The Transit of Mercury (crossposted from my livejournal)

Today, by great good luck, I saw something remarkable. The local astronomy club set up telescopes for viewing the transit of Mercury across the sun. After a solid week of raw, rainy weather, we had a brilliant day. There was a strong wind – the guys told me the wind had actually played havoc with the telescopes – and scarcely a cloud in the sky. I got to the field about a half hour before the viewing period ended and got to look at or through three of the scopes.

images

 The first one showed the silhouette of what was happening; a rather blurry image cast on what looked like grey vinyl or canvas. The second gave a very good view, with the sun looking very orange. What I took for Mercury was actually a sunspot; the sunspots are a good deal bigger than the planet! But then I came to the third scope.

 This blocks out all light but Hydrogen 2, I think the guys told me. Through it, the sun looked very sharp and clear, and a very dark orangey red, like a blood orange. Like a blood orange, it had crinkly skin – or seemed to. Mercury was also very sharp and clear; a perfect little black circle towards the bottom of the sun. And – in this scope, I could see two solar flares! They looked almost like permanent features, like waterfalls, and they were huge! Bigger than Mercury. One of the guys said a single solar flare can be as long as five times the diameter of the earth. I couldn’t believe I could actually see them.

“Steering the Craft” - crossposted from my live journal

I am now reading Ursula LeGuin's Steering the Craft, and have shared a couple of the writing exercises with my creative writing club at the library. One of them was to write something completely without punctuation. This is what I came up with. 

i love the rules of grammar because they tell me what i can do with words i know how to shade my meaning by using the subjunctive and once upon a time i even knew what a gerund was but i cant say im like hunpty dunpty words dont alway do what i want.

Another Telakan Recipe:

Mulled Ale

 

Here is another Telakan recipe, this one adapted from the recipe for glühwein. It makes two cups.

depositphotos 4002661-Hot-mulled-wine-with-oranges-anise-and-cinnamon

 Ingredients: Water, juice of one lemon or equivalent amount of orange juice*, 1 to two tablespoons sugar, 3 or 4 cloves, ½ teaspoon cinnamon, a dash of nutmeg, one 12 oz. bottle of beer.

Squeeze the lemon or measure about ¼ cup orange juice into a small saucepan. Add an equal amount of water, the sugar, and the spices. Bring to a boil and simmer for about five minutes, till you have a thin syrup.

In the meantime, open the beer and warm it gently. You can do this in a glass measuring cup in the microwave, or in another small pan. Don’t let it boil! 

Pour the warm beer into the syrup and stir. Cook it gently, without letting it boil, for about a minute, until it’s quite hot.

It’s important to use a large enough saucepan – one that will hold at least 2 quarts, or 2 liters – because the beer will foam quite a lot. Share out the mulled ale and the foam between two mugs. Enjoy!

*If you use a lemon, as I did when I first made this, you may find you want to use a full two tablespoons of sugar. This drink comes out quite tart. If you use orange juice, you won’t need as much sweetener. Honey would also be very good in this drink. It’s a work in progress: try it and let me know what you think

A Recipe from my fictional world-

Kassin Harbor Bean Stew


Ingredients:

1 lb (about 400-500 grams) dried beans, or two large cans.

4 shallots, 2 sweet red peppers, I yam or sweet potato, ½ to 1 bulb fennel.

4-8 oz  (100 to 250 grams) salt fish (I’ve used both pollock and cod.)

1-2 tablespoons olive, canola, or good quality oil,  4-6 teaspoons curry powder, at least 2 teaspoons cumin, ½ teaspoon ginger, ½ teaspoon cinnamon, a clove or two, hot red pepper, salt, and black pepper to taste. You may substitute an onion for the shallots, green pepper or celery for the fennel, and you may add 1-4 cloves garlic if you like it. The fish is optional, too; you can substitute ground meat or simply make a vegetarian version.

bean stew


Method:

If you are using dried beans, it’s a good idea to prepare them in advance.  Pick them over, soak them overnight or at least 8 hours, and rinse them. Then put them in a large stock pot with water to cover by about an inch, a bay leaf, and a couple of peppercorns. Bring to a slow boil and simmer, stirring occasionally, for about an hour or until tender. Drain and rinse and set aside.

Hunger is a Mountain - a writing prompt

Patricia Dunn, author of “Rebels by Accident”, came to our creative writing class last spring and did some really neat writing prompts. This autumn, I tried her method again. One of the prompts was “hunger is a mountain”. This is what I came up with.


Hunger is a Mountain

(A Writing Prompt)

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(This is Blueberry Mountain, or Mount Cardigan) 

What does this mean? How can a mountain be hungry? It grows and dies so very slowly, and when does it ever eat? What feeds it?

 I can’t imagine being in a mountain’s skin. One of the old, metamorphic mountains of New England. Every summer, hordes of tourists and locals climb through its green, damp woods and cross its streams. They are hungry, as the wild creatures are hungry, for the little dark berries that grow on the bushes ringing the mountain’s bald crown. They call it Blueberry Mountain.

 The mountain is generous. It feeds the foxes, the chipmunks, the squirrels, the porcupines and birds and deer and people.  The people climb up hopefully and walk down again carrying buckets full of blueberries. Then they eat. They eat blueberry muffins, blueberry dumplings, blueberry turnovers, blueberry pies, blueberries with cream and ice cream. They eat blueberries fresh and frozen and canned. And every time they eat, they think of the mountain and how they’ll go back the next summer and pick blueberries again.

A Tour Guide to Sekkess

I went to the Unicorn Writer’s conference on Saturday and had a lot of fun. One excellent class was given by Paul Witcover. He asked us to write a tourist brochure for an imaginary setting, and this is what I came up with.


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For those who love the wildest wildlife in our part of the galaxy, Sekkess can't be missed. The gentle, generous and intelligent Sekkessians will be sure to make your stay comfortable. You will live in houses among the treetops, with a clear view of the greenish sky and Sekkess' one small moon. You will hear birdsong and rushing rivers and feast on leni fruit and other delightful Sekkessian cuisine. But the high point of your stay will surely be your first view of a dragon. Sekkessian monitors, or dragons, are three times the size of the monitors on terra, with gorgeous iridescent  scales. To view a hunting monitor is an extraordinary experience you will surely never forget. Be sure, however, to attend to your Sekkessian guide at all times and enjoy the dragons from a safe distance. Beautiful and unique though they are, Sekkessian dragons are wild animals and they can be very dangerous. You will be perfectly safe if you stay on the treetop paths or inside your mobile viewing dome. 

A few random books that influenced me

The books we love most passionately are often books we discover in late childhood or adolescence. Books we read at that age can have an enormous influence on us, too, can’t they? This isn’t a comprehensive list, by any means, but I’d just like to note down here a few books that influenced me.

 The first couple of titles will be no surprise at all to anyone who knows me.

 1.   The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien. Of course! I’m one of many thousands of people who have lived in Tolkien’s world in their imaginations. As to The Hobbit, I’d like to point to an extraordinary review on Goodreads . It is by Matt, who wrote it on August 26, 2008, and it beautifully sums up just how extraordinary a book The Hobbit actually is. Here is the link to his review.

 

2. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, by C.S. Lewis. Now that I’m an adult, I can see why some people don’t like Lewis, and Till We Have Faces has supplanted this one as my favorite Lewis novel. But I still love Lucy and Edmund Pevensie, and I would still love to visit Narnia!

C.S. Lewis and Current Events

 

I’m very troubled by what’s happening in the world generally, and in the Middle East in particular, and I’m struggling to understand it. I am posting this now because it is Holy Week, and I think that’s relevant to my understanding.

 Amidst all the trouble and bloodshed, a few facts do stand out:

 1.     ISIL did not exist a few years ago, before we bombed Libya and invaded Iraq.

2.     Al Qaida was not present in those countries either.

3.     Also, it’s quite true, as far as I know, that Qaddafi, Saddam Hussein, and Bashar Al Assad are or were tyrants. Still, this much can be said for them. Before the invasions and bombings and (in Syria) civil war, their countries were secular states in which all the “peoples of the book” lived in relative safety. Christians and Jews were not persecuted; in fact, as I remember, some Christians had positions in Saddam Hussein’s government. Nor did various Muslim sects carry out attacks against each other.

 So why are these countries being destroyed? Why are republicans in the U.S. now also trying to start a war with Iran? Don’t we all have troubles enough?