30 September 2014

La Vieille Ferme 2012 Récolte rosé

Ah, The Old Farm. At least, I’m fairly certain that’s how it translates.

I’ve had both the rouge and blanc from La Vieille Ferme, and actually, I think I’ve had a previous vintage of their rosé. It never hurts to revisit.

The wine was a deep blush color, with a nose full of mineral notes. It was a bit sweeter on the palate than my previous bottle of rosé [LINK], but it was still dry and structured. It had tropical flavors like mango on the front, but surprising notes of cedar on the finish. A yummy wine with some Thai food - it cut through the spice beautifully.

I’m sad to say this might very well be my last bottle of rosé for the year, now that we’re in to fall. Cold weather means red wine to me!

29 September 2014

Lee Kelly's City of Savages

I won an ARC of City of Savages in a contest.

I'd honestly never heard of it before, but it sounded exciting from the jacket copy. It took me a while to get into the book at first. I've never even been to New York, and the city was such a presence in the story. But once I acclimated things rolled along smoothly.

City of Savages alternates POV between Phee (Phoenix) Miller and her older sister, Sky(ler), and their voices are presented in beautiful juxtaposition. Phee is aggressive, assertive, impulsive; her sister is quiet, shy, introspective. But both are dependent on the other; both hold a crucial piece that the other needs. And, when the situation calls for it, both girls can be whoever they need to be.

The story starts with the girls and their mother heading toward Central Park for the annual Census. Naturally, complications ensue. What started as a gritty look at a post-war New York quickly turned dark - VERY dark - with ritual combat, 'whorelords' that run the place, and a surprisingly frank look at violence.

In the midst of all this, Sky and Phee also find their mother's journal from the days just after the war, and its secrets inform the girls as well as the reader. I very quickly cottoned on to the true identity of one of City of Savages main characters, long before the girls did. The suspense of waiting to see them figure it out was exquisite.

City of Savages also presented one of the most unique love triangles I've seen in a long time: rather than one girl torn between two boys, it was two girls after the same boy. The outcome was very rewarding to witness.

City of Savages was brilliant, but it was difficult, too. I don't usually read fiction as dark as this. Not just in violence, not just in human degradation - the dissolution of family, the casual and not-so-casual betrayals that occur, were hard to take in. It was compelling, and I read the entire last act in one sitting, but it was intense and draining for me.

I would gladly recommend City of Savages to anyone who likes dark or dystopian stories. Lots of people are saying dystopian is dead. City of Savages proves there's plenty left to be said on the subject.

28 September 2014


I totally missed yesterday's post. I was at work from early in the morning until late at night with very little access to my computer.

I did, however, read all of Jandy Nelson's I'll Give You the Sun yesterday.


However, it was also heartbreaking. It touched on a lot of the things my own work, Into the Shining Sun, touched on. God, it even had a similar name. But I'll Give You The Sun said so many of the things I wanted to say, and it said them SO WELL.

I'll be honest, I kind of freaked out yesterday, when I wasn't just devouring the book. The feels.

But anyway. Once I'd gotten over that particular brand of story anxiety, I realized, no, there were still things I wanted to say, things that only I could say. And actually, I saw one path to telling them more clearly than ever. It'll mean killing pretty much ALL my babies. Changing genres, even. But, strangely, I feel exhilarated by the idea.

I don't know if I'm going to go that route. Other ideas may present themselves. I think I'm going to finish a first draft of my current work in progress before I go back and try to figure out how to fix Into the Shining Sun. We'll see how well I keep that promise to myself.

Meanwhile, once I've properly recovered, I'll review I'll Give You The Sun in a more coherent way than just OOOH THE FEELS.

I fly to Seattle on Thursday, to visit my friend, celebrate her 30th birthday, and enjoy the Northwest Tea Festival. I already have my book for the plane picked out: Andrew Smith's 100 Sideways Miles, which I've had for a while but been saving for this very trip.

I can't wait. Even though it feels kind of strange, not to be reading Winger on a flight to Seattle instead.

26 September 2014

Laudun Chusclan Vignerons Réserve de la Saurine Vin de Pays du Gard Rosé Blend

A lengthy name for a delicious rosé. As summer winds down, I’ve tried to squeeze in what rosés I could.

This one, from the south of France, was peachy-colored rather than pink, with a nose full of lychee.

It was light and crisp on the tongue, and floral flavors shone through, along with bolder tannins than I was expecting. This was a wine with structure, with purpose, with finesse. It was one of my favorite rosés this year.

I've mentioned before that I don't, as a rule, seek out rosé wines, but this summer I stepped way outside my comfort zone and was rewarded for it. It just goes to show you, you have to keep tasting, keep trying, and never get complacent.

25 September 2014

A Crisis of Confidence

I had a very surreal experience last night. I had spent the last two hours of the night writing - first, on my aforementioned project to type up the entirety of Noggin, and then on my new manuscript.

I had just gone to bed, and I was overcome with this feeling of supreme inadequacy. Like nothing I wrote would ever be as good as the books I have read and loved.

It was a very strange feeling. I've spent long enough dealing with crazy brain chemistry to be able to stop and examine my feelings, even as I was living them. Where did they come from? Why just then, as opposed to when I was actually writing? Was it my dinner, failing to agree with me? The aftermath of the sugar cookie I had eaten for dessert?

Was it whiskey? I had a whiskey sour that night. Incidentally, don't make a whiskey sour with Crown Royal Maple whiskey. Not a good idea.

I finally fell asleep, and had a night of pretty bizarre dreams - involving, as I recall it, some sort of airborne adventure in the skies of London, a food court where a bunch of literary agents hung out, and several of my coworkers.

I woke up this morning feeling fine. Not just fine, but actually, buzzing with ideas. Good ones. At least, they seem like good ones.

I don't know what to make of last night's weirdness. Perhaps everyone has those moments. But it seemed good to me to examine it.

Also, I may or may not have had no better ideas for a blog post today...

24 September 2014

One Man Guy by Michael Barakiva

I chose this book based purely on its cover, which is a cheerful yellow with little cut-out people on it. And the novel was cheerful. It was nice to see a coming out story that was handled so beautifully and so quietly.

One Man Guy tells the story of Alek Khederian, an Armenian-American teenager who just finished his freshman year of high school and got forced into taking summer school to bring his grades up. While he’s there, Alek meets Ethan, forming a friendship that quickly deepens into first love.

Not all coming-outs need to be fraught and dripping with tragedy. Not all gay kids get bullied. Not everyone gets kicked out by their parents. And it was very refreshing to read about a teenager who accepted himself, and his first love, with equanimity.

I also enjoyed the view into Armenian culture Guy provided. I’m of Iranian extraction myself, and though we’re Middle Eastern and they’re Mediterranean, a lot of the cultural values are the same - the emphasis on the family unit as a whole rather than on the individual, the importance of food and traditions, the crazy curly hair. Yes, I used to have a great bushy head of Persian hair before Persian-Pattern Baldness kicked in.

I could see my own family and cultural dynamics in play when Alek dealt with his parents, with their Armenian friends, with his brother. I saw bits of myself and my cousins in Alek and his brother, bits of my dad and my aunts and uncles in his parents.

One Man Guy was honest and loving and fun. It was satisfying and heartwarming and I thoroughly enjoyed every page of it.

23 September 2014

A Writing Exercise (Part 2)

Last week I posted about the writing exercise I'm doing: typing up an entire book, namely Noggin by John Corey Whaley.

I'm about a third of the way done, and I've learned a lot. Some of it relates to my own story and how I'm telling it, but some is more general: observations about writing that should be obvious but aren't until they're quantified. I'm going to share some of those.

1. Dialogue. You can get away with a lot fewer dialogue tags than you think you need. Based on my own writing, I can probably use 30-50% less and still be fine. Normal humans can track dialogue just fine with only a few tags, especially if one speaker includes the name of the person they're speaking to in their dialogue. For example:

"Adib, you twit!"

If Adib and John Doe are the only ones in that scene, then it stands to reason John Doe is the one who said it. Unless, of course, Adib is prone to talking to himself or speaking in the third person in general.

Which, technically, he is. So they tell him.

2. Overused Words. My overused words are just and suddenly. I didn't realize it until I put my manuscript in a word cloud. After finding that out, I went through and got rid of almost ever instance of those words. But you know what? People use those words in every day life. Leaving some of them in adds verisimilitude. We're not all so precise that we can avoid using them. So I am going to relax a little and try to be more natural.

That's it for now. Everything else is much too personal to share. But I hope to have more gleanings in the future.

22 September 2014

American Gods by Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman’s American Gods had been on my list for quite some time, and even when I put a hold on it at the library, it STILL took a couple months for my turn to come up.

I’ve always found Neil Gaiman’s works fascinating and thought-provoking, even if they’re well outside my usual reading. It’s not that I don’t like them - I do - but they aren’t as rewarding to me at the level of pure escape and enjoyment.

But from a literary perspective, there are few things more rewarding. Neil Gaiman is a master of his craft, and it shows.

American Gods operates on the premise that human beliefs form gods and give them their power, and that the gods brought to America by its settlers - Odin and Thoth and Czernobog and all the rest - were gradually being supplanted by America’s ‘new’ gods of media and celebrity and drugs. Even belief in a story could birth a god, like Davy Crockett - or belief in a conspiracy, like the “men in black” (not to be confused with the movie of the same name, though they did dress similarly).

The story follows Shadow, a recently-released prisoner, as he gets shanghaied into helping Wednesday (those who know the origin of the day’s name will not have a big surprise here who it is) gather the old gods to fight. It’s in large part a road novel, traveling all over the United States, visiting various parts where Gaiman found something particularly inspiring to write about: the House on the Rock, for example, and its World’s Largest Carousel.

Interspersed with the narrative (or sometimes intertwined) are stories from America’s past, as settlers brought their gods with them.

American Gods got pretty trippy at times. There were chapters where I had no clue what was going on. There were chapters where I was convinced nothing was going on, until it turned out all these little daily occurrences which seemed inconsequential were in fact essential to the plot.

There were times when American Gods rambled, and that’s where it lost me a little. I think Gaiman has a different relationship to American than I do: he is able to appreciate its vastness and its splendor more, since he is from England. But I grew up with it, and I have to be reminded that there are a lot of people who can drive from one end of their country to the other in a single day. America is big and vast and still mythical.

Did I like American Gods? Yes, very much so. And I drew a great deal of inspiration from it. And I’d recommend it to anyone who asked. But I would warn that person that they’re in for quite a ride.

21 September 2014

Nerd Level: 9000

My favorite board game is Fantasy Flight's Arkham Horror. It's based on HP Lovecraft's Cthulhu mythos, and you run around the board with the other players ("Investigators") trying to seal gates and prevent some sort of Ancient One (like Cthulhu, or Yog-Sothoth, or whoever) from spilling into Arkham and ending the world.

Usually, you lose. Seriously. More than half the time, you lose.

I'm not the only nerd who loves this game. Someone even nerdier than me made a program called Strange Eons to make your own pieces and cards for Arkham Horror. So yes, I used it. Yes, I made super-nerdy Investigators to use...like Captain Picard. And Optimus Prime.

And yes, I still lose more than half the time, but oh well.

Today marks the culmination of a year's worth of Arkham Horror League games I've been playing with my friends. I've no doubt we'll lose again. It's Arkham Horror, after all. But losing can be just as fun as winning if you're doing it with friends.

At least, until you lose all your Sanity, get Lost in Time and Space, and then Devoured by the Ancient One. Which will probably happen.

20 September 2014

Really Struggling Here

I am drawing a total blank today on what to post.

I think it's important to accept that we can't always meet our goals, or at least not as well as we want to. I am posting today, even though I can't think of anything to post about.

And yet, the act of trying anyway brings something to mind. I came across a post by Hillary Bell while surfing the blogosphere today, wherein she recounts a story she read about the lady who invented Spanx. You can read the post here.

The post is about embracing the power of failure, using it to learn and grow. That's something I've always tried to remember, though it's certainly not easy. I certainly have days when I feel like everything I've done is turning to shit. When I feel like I can't ever succeed.

But I remember the encouragement I've received along the way. I remember the passion I have for what I do - whatever it is I'm doing. Whether it's hitting the bag at boxing or lifting weights, whether it's editing a video for a client or working on my own stories - and yes, there's a lot of failure there! - I remind myself why I'm doing what I'm doing. It's because I'm passionate about it. Because I want something out of life. And I'm going to keep trying until I get it.

So, I guess I did write a post about something. Go me go!

19 September 2014

Chappellet Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2008

Wow! I had forgotten how bold this wine is. I bought several bottles of this vintage, and this was my last.

Even after six years, it was still tight and crisp, with a dark ruby color and a nose that took a while to reveal its splendor. But oh, what splendor!

The wine had strong notes of inky black fruits and plentiful licorice notes. I wish I'd had a great meal to enjoy it with - it would have been amazing with some braised short ribs, or a nice filet. But it was beautiful on its own, too.

I wish I could remember more about it, but I was drinking it while watching American Horror Story: Coven with my friends. I didn’t get to make any more tasting notes, because I was very distracted by Racist Kathy Bates becoming best friends with Precious and going for drive through fried chicken.

18 September 2014

A Writing Exercise

I've undertaken a writing exercise suggested by the inimitable Janet Reid in one of her QueryShark posts: I am writing out an entire book to absorb the good writing in it.

More accurately, I am typing it out. Word for word, into my computer. But not in Word, because Word makes me mad. I'm doing it in Pages '09, because that's my favorite word processor (I'm still mad at Pages '13 for the time being).

What book did I choose? John Corey Whaley's Noggin, which has one of my favorite voices. It was a tough choice between it and Andrew Smith's Winger, but I decided on Noggin because it was a little nearer to what I was trying to accomplish in my own work.

I'm doing 10+ pages a day, so that works out to one month of this project. I'm five days in now, and I've already gotten some great ideas, worked out some problems I was having, and more than that, I am appreciating this story - which I loved - even more.

I'd recommend this exercise to anyone who wants to improve, or who is simply stuck. Sometimes you just need to try something new to get out of a slump. This is working.

17 September 2014

Argyle Brut

What a surprise this wine was! I got this bottle as a gift last year and had been saving it for the proper occasion. That occasion arose when the new series of Doctor Who premiered, and my friend and I got Thai carryout and watched it. I paired the Brut with Thai in hopes that it would cut through the spices.

It was quite the match. I was well pleased with myself.

The wine itself had a nice peachy color, with a toasty nose and plentiful bubbles. There were a few hints of lemon curd in the otherwise dry taste, and I’m pretty sure I got a hit of melon on the finish.

It was refreshing but bold and a perfect accompaniment to my fried rice. Amazing!

16 September 2014

The Magical Negro

Yesterday I had the great fortune of listening to a presentation by Effie Brown (producer of the upcoming film Dear White People) about growing up African-American, about the power of otherness in creativity - both as a source of inspiration and a source of frustration - and the usefulness of rage in finding the conviction to get across your message.

One of the most fascinating takeaways from the presentation was Brown's discussion of the Magical Negro. For those unfamiliar with the trope, think of Morgan Freeman in The Shawshank Redemption or Michael Clarke Duncan in The Green Mile. Actually, Steven King has several Magical Negros, god love him. There's ones in The Shining and The Stand as well.

Further reading on the concept introduced me to more specifics on the concept: that the character is essentially a plot device, that they often exist only to teach the (white) main character the lessons they need, and occasionally to sacrifice him/herself in service of same. The links between the concept of the noble savage the magical negro abound.

Being (half) Persian I can't help think about how Persians are perceived in fiction. When we are perceived at all, that is. Excepting, of course, the usual Middle Eastern Terrorist stereotype, I can't think of a lot of Persian characters in general. But Middle Easterners are often Exotic Spice Merchants or sometimes Haggling Businessmen. Generally we're villains. Or comedic relief.

I don't know where I was going with this. Just thinking aloud, I suppose.

Blog posts can't all be gold, right?

15 September 2014

Premeditated by Josin L McQuein

I’d had my eye on this book for some time, from reading about it over on QueryShark, but working on my new novel (a thriller...ish) made me want to delve into the genre more, so I finally had a good excuse to read it.

It’s a brilliant premise: girl goes undercover at a private school to ruin the life of the boy who drove her cousin to attempt suicide.

But within that, there’s so much more. I didn’t expect it to be so, for lack of a better world, normal. While Dinah is plotting to destroy the life of Brooks Walden, she’s also a normal teenager, going to a new high school. Her snap judgments of her classmates, her sardonic assessment of her teachers, her deep relationships with her two best friends - these things all read so true. 

It was like a perfect slice of life. Except with, you know, REVENGE.

All thrillers need a good twist, and this one was no different. McQuein did an awesome job peppering in clues and red herrings, and I was pleased with myself when I put the pieces together well before Dinah did. It didn’t feel like I’d broken the novel - it felt like I was rewarded for being a careful reader.

Reading Premeditated, I got a lot of great genre knowledge in general, and some specific ideas for my own novel that I think will bear delicious, thrilling fruit.

I’m so glad I read it and I was sad when it was over, and though I won’t spoil the ending, I will say that it was well-earned and poignant. I loved it.

14 September 2014

The Gunfighter

I've been feeling kind of...blurgh...today. Kind of depressed I think, or maybe I'm coming down with a cold. Not sure yet. But I don't have a lot of brainpower to think of a good topic for today's post.

So instead, I'm sharing a funny. The inimitable Janet Reid shared this video today and it made my day. So I am sharing it with you, if you're out there, or with myself, so I can find it again easily.

Nick Offerman is awesome.

13 September 2014

Gundlach Bundschu Tasting

This past week I got to attend a tasting of wines from Gundlach Bundschu, hosted by Jeff Bundschu and featuring 6 wines from 2011 and 2012.

First of all, Jeff Bundschu was delightful, just a really awesome guy to meet and very knowledgeable (of course) but very personable and fun as well.

The tasting started with the pre-tasting wine, 2012 Gewurztraminer. It was yummy, floral, with quality closer to a dry Riesling than a sweet one. It had 0% residual sugar and came from 40-year-old vines.

2012 Chardonnay: It was heady, with lots of minerality and sharp acidity. I got some sweeter notes, like raisins and dried fruits. It was aged in half new and half neutral French oak. Not over-extracted, but not austere like a Burgundian Chardonnay. Very nice.

2012 Pinot Noir: Oaky, mellow and dry, with a light body and herbal notes. Very Old World in style. Opened up nicely to reveal red fruits.

2011 Mountain Cuvee: My favorite of the night. Bursting with raspberry and cherry flavors, and a nose that made me think of candied fruit peels. It had great structure.

2011 Merlot: I think my glass might have had a little soap left in it or something, because the wine smelled soapy to me at first, and that threw me off a little. It was dry, earthy, and leaned a little too heavily on the tannins for my taste. It was very Bordeaux-like, and I bet it would age well.

2011 Cabernet Sauvignon: Unusually sweet nose for a Cabernet. It had nice black fruits. It made me think of blackcurrant jam like my aunt makes. Lean, not heavy. It was very nice.

I loved my Gundlach Bundschu tasting and can't wait to try more (and to drink the bottles I went home with!)

12 September 2014

The Believing Brain by Michael Shermer

I’m pretty sure this book ended up on my list after reading about it Scientific American, but it’s been quite a while so I can’t say for certain.

The Believing Brain examines the neurological and psychological origins of beliefs - not just religious beliefs, or political beliefs, though those are covered, too - but rather the epistemological underpinnings of our lives.

In other words, how we decide to accept anything as true.

Shermer had a real talent for translating pretty complex science into something that was approachable and, in fact, pretty fun. I enjoyed the book quite a bit, though I found it lacked the compelling narrative of a book like Columbine.

One of the best takeaways from the book was this quote by Shermer, repeated more than once, and it sums up his thesis quite succinctly:

Smart people believe weird things because they are skilled at defending beliefs they arrived at for non-smart reasons.

The book is divided into several sections, examining how and why we form beliefs, then delving in to more specific kinds of belief, such as religious belief, belief in the paranormal, and belief in conspiracies. Another major section - and one of the most valuable - was a examination of cognitive biases and how they tie into belief. While I’ve read up on cognitive bias before, this was a fascinating angle to look at it from: how our belief-building structures feed in to those biases.

A chapter on political beliefs exposed what I think Shermer’s biases might be, as he made his case for his own libertarian viewpoints perhaps stronger than I think was warranted in an otherwise neutral book. It seemed like a really hard sell and I wonder how much he was aware he was doing it.

The final few chapters explored how science and belief intersect as it examined our changing view of the nature of the cosmos, and how science gradually shifted beliefs, from Aristotelian to Copernican models, and from the view of deep-space to being full of nebulae within our galaxy to the revelation that they in fact showed entire other galaxies millions of light-years away from our own.

Shermer’s examination of the scientific method was one of the most eloquent I’ve yet to read, and it may have been the crown jewel of the book.

Actually, after having sorted my thoughts out on the book, I find I liked it even more than I realized. I’m very glad I read it (even if I did have to interrupt it for a few days to read Noggin and The Magician’s Land).

11 September 2014

Loss Aversion

I spent the last two days doing graphics and video for an investor conference, something I do several times a year. One thing I hear - over and over again - is this nugget of wisdom:

Investors feel the pain of loss twice as strongly as they do the elation of gain.

That's not new knowledge, of course - loss aversion is a well-studied psychological phenomenon. Its study is used mostly in marketing and finance, but I have found something similar holds true for writing.

I've been writing seriously (though non-professionally...so far) for the better part of 8 years now, and I've gotten several projects in shape to share with people. Sometimes it's friends, sometimes it's family, sometimes it's with other writers (via online communities, such as WriteOnCon). I've noticed that loss aversion dynamic come into play with my interactions with people.

I find I'm always twice as unhappy when I hear negative criticism as I am happy when I receive positive criticism.

That's not to say one is more valuable than the other. Criticism is how we grow and improve. Writing is a very subjective business, but the more insight you get from readers, the better you can be - even if better means sticking to your guns, holding to your convictions, and saying "Screw it, this is my story and I'll write it how I want."

But the dark side of criticism is how easily it can mess with your mind. A few bits of praise and you can be flying high as a kite, but as soon as one person says they don't like it, your kite gets tangled in your sister's line and down it goes (okay, maybe if you don't kite next to your older sister this hasn't happened to you).

I'm not saying you should stick your head in the sand and avoid criticism. And you definitely shouldn't avoid sharing your work. But it's good to remember that the crushing feeling will go away. Life is full of good news and bad news. We can't control what other people think. All we can do is keep trying to get better.

And also, not give in to our limbic system's impulses. Seriously. Stupidest system ever.

And lastly, go taste some wine. Which I am doing tonight: a bunch of different wines from mouthful Gundlach Bundschu. The only thing that could make their name better is some umlauts.

10 September 2014

More about Winger (Spoilers)

l can't get it out of my head. Sometimes a book just sticks with you. I keep thinking about the ending. Like I said: Spoilers.

We've all heard stories of gay bashings, seen the news, read about it in books and magazines. Hell, I did a production of The Laramie Project back when I was in high school. It was my first lighting design. It was pretty decent for someone who had no real idea what they were doing and had just been handed their first gel book.

I digress.

Ryan Dean spends so much of the book making mistakes, and throughout it, Joey is there to tell him when he's in the wrong, to tell him to get his shit together, but also to defend him, to praise him when he does good. He's a great friend to Ryan Dean. And Ryan Dean is a great friend back, treating him like any other friend, worrying about him, defending him, and displaying an amazing amount of empathy for a 14-year-old straight guy. Ryan Dean knows being friends with Joey makes him a target, and he's ashamed of himself for even thinking it. He shouldn't be ashamed. We can't always control our thoughts, only our actions. And Ryan Dean's actions are nothing to be ashamed of.

What happened to Joey really haunts me. That our last glimpse of him was with Ryan Dean, goofing off after the dance - Ryan Dean pretending to be an iPod, singing like a goofball - makes it all the harder. Ryan Dean finally did get his shit together, just like Joey always told him. But Joey never got to see it. Joey was brave and kind, but the world didn't care.

Andrew Smith has written before that he's not a big believe in the It Gets Better campaign - because in his experience it doesn't always get better. That's so true. But even if it didn't get better, Winger shows us how to move forward, and how other people's lives can touch us so deeply, no matter who they love.

Winger's ending is going to be with me for a long time. The copy I read came from the library, but my own copy should arrive in another day or two. I expect to have a long and rewarding relationship with it.

Winger might just be my favorite book this year.

09 September 2014

Winger by Andrew Smith

Sweet mother of crap, how did I go this long without knowing about Andrew Smith? The first I heard of him was Grasshopper Jungle. But he may very well be my new favorite author. Grasshopper Jungle was great, but Winger was just amazing. It absolutely lived up to every bit of praise I heard.

Winger tells the story of Ryan Dean West, a 14-year-old junior at a private school for rich kids. He lives in the dorm for bad kids, because he’s too smart for his own good and has poor impulse control. He plays rugby - left wing - which is where is nickname Winger came from. He has a huge crush on his friend, Annie. But he’s a 14-year-old boy with the crazed sex drive to prove it.

Ryan Dean (he has two first names) feels like someone I’ve known all my life. I understand him so perfectly, which is kind of surprising to me, given how different he is from how I was at that age. I was introverted, shy, and medicated. Ryan Dean is bombastic, athletic, and can’t stop thinking about sex.

But he’s just as confused about growing up as I was. He’s just as uncomfortable in his own skin. I think that, more than anything, is a unifying experience of growing up. Not knowing who you are or who you’re supposed to be.

Winger had a brilliant cast of supporting characters: Ryan Dean’s friends from his old dorm, Seanie and JP; the aforementioned Annie; his roommate, Chas, the bully from the rugby team that no one likes, and his girlfriend, Megan, who has the hots for Ryan Dean; and Joey, the gay captain of the rugby team.

What moved me most about Winger was Ryan Dean’s honest internal monologue about Joey. He likes Joey as a friend, and isn’t afraid to get branded as gay for hanging out with Joey.

Well, not too worried, and he’s honest enough to admit being ashamed when he does think about that.

Ryan Dean is amazingly empathetic to Joey, starting a fight with football players twice his size when he thinks they’re picking on Joey, worrying about him being lonely, and, in general, treating him like a normal person. Which he is.

I’m sure it’s no coincidence that both Winger and Grasshopper Jungle feature gay best friends of the main character. Ryan Dean shows readers a beautiful example of acceptance and friendship. I wish it had been around when I was growing up.

Beyond his friendship with Joey, though, Ryan Dean gave me hope. He makes mistakes - a ton of mistakes - throughout the book, but he never stops trying. He learns from his mistakes. He makes amends. And that, more than anything, is what makes him so brave to me.

It’s no spoiler to say that Winger takes a dark turn at the end. People talk about how heartbreaking its ending is. It’s absolutely true. I felt like I’d been punched in the gut.

Ryan Dean will stay with me for a long time. I got Winger from the library, but as soon as I finished reading it I ordered a copy from my local independent bookseller.

08 September 2014

The Magician’s Land by Lev Grossman

It’s unfortunate The Rolling Stones’s “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” has become so cliché, because I’m going to reference it anyway. Sometimes you really do get what you need.

That idea was at the heart of The Magician’s Land. Though Land is the richest of the Magicians Trilogy, it also feels, somehow, the most focused.

Quentin has grown up. He’s 30 during the action of The Magician’s Land. Interestingly, I just turned 30 this year myself, and I easily slipped into Quentin’s shoes, more so than I had in the previous books. That sense of thwarted ambition, of age finally catching up to you - those are feelings I understand all too well.

Land picks up Quentin in medias res as he’s preparing for a criminal enterprise, after his exile from Fillory at the end of The Magician King. The Quentin we thought we knew would have been floundering, whining, but this new Quentin accepts necessity and does what needs to be done. Right from the start, this new Quentin means business.

Even as Quentin embarks on a new journey, the narrative picks up on Eliot and Janet in Fillory, as they are given a dire warning that the end of Fillory is near.

There’s so much I’d like to get into that I can’t without giving away huge plot points. Old friends (and enemies) resurface; some things we thought were ends were only beginnings. There was heartache. There were answers. And there was the realization that not all questions can be answered.

A few last reflections I will share...

The nature of magic in The Magicians Trilogy was always elusive, but here it’s explored more fully, including a beautiful internal soliloquy by Quentin toward the book’s end.

The struggle of growing up - of becoming who you are - is at the heart of this book even more than it had been in the overs, and it’s exquisitely illuminated.

These books get called “Harry Potter for Adults” a lot, and unfairly so. But the fact remains, that’s the easiest way to get the idea across quickly. But one thing these did share with Harry Potter: a satisfying ending.

Going in to this book, I was a bit afraid. I loved the previous books, but the endings always left me a little heartbroken, a little unfulfilled. This one did not. Like it or loathe it, this ending was well-earned and satisfying.

07 September 2014

Bacon Brittle (Part 2) - Lessons Learned

Today I made Bacon Brittle.

The recipe I used came from here:


A good recipe, definitely, though I had to make some substitutions, namely using Crown Royal Maple Whiskey instead of a maple Bourbon. I know, I know, one could argue that there is no difference. I guess it depends on who you ask.

Also, it turned out my candy thermometer wasn't working properly. Thankfully I had an infrared thermometer which saved the day. I'm pretty sure I overcooked the candy a little bit and it's very hard now, but still good.

Next time I am going to try making a softer version.  I have several ideas on that front (the most delicious being the addition of two cups of peanut butter folded in at the end), but we'll see how it goes.

All in all, a successful and delicious first run.


06 September 2014

Bacon Brittle (Part 1)

Today I assembled the ingredients I need to attempt to make Bacon Brittle. I am not doing it until tomorrow because I need to borrow a candy thermometer from my mom.

I am taking a me day to catch up on some reading. Tomorrow I plan to write about the results of the Bacon Brittle. Hopefully they will be as delicious as I expect.

05 September 2014

Estancia Zinfandel 2011

Another budget find at the grocery store. I love Zinfandel, and this one struck my fancy.

Estancia’s 2011 was a nice, deep plum color, with a nice body to it. Its nose was very tight and green, though, with notes of freshly mown grass and toast. It seemed promising, but too young to tell for sure.

On tasting, the wine was full of cherry and leather notes, but the alcohol was overpowering, and the wine itself was too young. It did improve as it opened up, and I bet it would have been good after a couple years. As a young-drinking wine, it didn’t do it for me.

04 September 2014

Kameron Hurley on Genre

Author Kameron Hurley has been making the rounds on the blogosphere for her new book, The Mirror Empire. I've not had a chance to read it yet, but I'm looking forward to it. Meanwhile, she wrote this excellent post examining the limitations of genre in today's writing world:


In it, she talks about the challenges she faced getting work published that was a mish-mash of several genres. Given my own genre struggles, I found it a valuable and enlightening post.

Actually, pretty much all of Kameron Hurley's blog tour has been great, but this one really hit home for me.

03 September 2014

Grace Slick's Dreams

One of my favorite albums ever is Grace Slick's Dreams. I first heard it a few years ago when a friend was playing it, and it's haunted me ever since.

First off, Grace Slick's voice is just freaking amazing. No doubt about that.

But the entire album is full of beautiful lyrics and stirring music, from the beautiful piano in the title track to the amazing flamenco-style guitar of "El Diablo" and everything in between.

I have Dreams on heavy rotation in the car, at work and at home. A look at my iTunes stats shows only three songs have more play that "Dreams": "Dogs," "Coming Back to Life," and "High Hopes" by Pink Floyd.

Now, if iTunes counted all versions of the same song for the purposes of Most Played counts, there would be more Pink Floyd tracks up there, but that doesn't change the fact that I listen to Dreams A LOT.

Someone uploaded the music video for "Dreams" onto YouTube, and I've put it below. Enjoy!

02 September 2014

Dopamine For The Win

I've blogged before about how the internet affects our neurotransmitters, and it's still an alarming thing to me. Last night I shared an observation on Twitter that got 7 favorites.

And each time, I was like "Hey! The world noticed me!"

And each time I had to remind myself "Hey! Those people don't even know you." Indeed, only one of them was someone I'd interacted with before.

There's something about the Internet. It's insidious.

(Just like the Federation...)

Couldn't resist quoting DS9 there. Sorry. Nerd alert.

But seriously. It's so easy to fall into the trap of caring too much about what goes on online. It's good to get distance.

Now, I'm off to tweet about having just written this blog post.

01 September 2014

Noggin by John Corey Whaley

I loved this book so much. I actually read the whole thing in a single 24-hour period. Total reading time was about 6 hours, spread out over a couple sittings when I could steal the time to read.

First off, the cover. Brilliant. Funny but not overly so. Just really captured the whole tone of the book - ridiculous but also somehow very human. It captured that youthful energy really well.

The premise: genius. 16-year-old Travis Coates dies, gets head cryogenically frozen, then reattached to new body five years later and revived. Great.

There were twists and turns, there were deliciously formed characters, including another excellent portrayal of an LGBT character. There was a really heartbreaking and honest moment early in the book that earned a “Holy shit!” from me - in a good way. I don’t want to spoil it, though.

And the book even took place in Kansas City, my home town! Though I did have a bit of a beef when there was a Christmas scene and not one mention was made of the Plaza Lights. Still, John Corey Whaley did an admirable job recreating my hometown on the page. My favorite part was when Travis sees the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts for the first time, and describes it as side-by-side spaceships that are melted into the ground, more or less.

Honestly, it’s boobs. But I digress...

What stood out more than anything, though, was Travis’s voice. Travis made me laugh and he broke my heart. He’s the kind of guy I would have loved to hang out with when I was in high school. He was every bit as real, as vivid, as Austin was in Grasshopper Jungle, and I found myself enjoying it every bit as much.

Noggin spoke very deeply to me, and I imagine it did to others as well. Beneath its speculative exterior, it was, to me, about two things:

First, what it’s like to be uncomfortable in our own skins. Travis experiences an extreme version of this, since he’s literally in someone else’s skin. But the worries he has are honest and real for all of us.

Second, the experience of lost time. Travis fights so hard to get back the time he lost. Most of us don’t lose it quite so thoroughly as him, but we sometimes fight just as hard - and, as was the case with Travis, it’s not always the best thing for us or for those we love.

I went out and bought Grasshopper Jungle after reading it from the library, and I happened to pick up Noggin at the same time, because I just had a feeling I would love it, and I was right. I’m so glad to have it in my collection.

I hope, rather selfishly, that one day my own novel will have a place on a shelf with such a great book.