Weekend Writing Warriors: Sunday 17 July 2016 (character interview for The Clone’s Complaint)

Each Sunday, Weekend Writing Warriors offers a selection of eight-sentence excerpts from writers in multiple genres and forms. Check out the full roster here.

***

I fancied one or two of the Shipwright’s Apprentices when I was in my teens; those handsome long-haired folk from South Continent were less than a decade my senior. Of course I was just one of the children of the house, no one to notice particularly. 

Ironically enough, the household of the Master of the Yard was the one place where no one remarked ritually on my resemblance to the Great Shipwright, even though her portrait stood on the craft-altar in the assembly-room, part of the shimmering curtain of holo-ghosts overlooking the affairs of their mortal descent.

if only I’d known the difference between this house and Temn’s villa … 

If only I’d known what I know now, but I wouldn’t have learned that outside of Temn’s circle. We might bend space and time, but we can’t bend the timeline back on itself. I can’t arrive as a spy from the future with news of disaster.

Just as well, or I’d muck up the very fabric of reality – all for love and temporal continuity well lost.

It’s far too late for Phila, and nearly that late for me.

***

The house where things were different. From character interviews for upcoming project, The Clone’s Complaint (NaNo 2016).

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Weekend Writing Warriors: Sunday 10 July 2016 (character interview for The Clone’s Complaint)

Each Sunday, Weekend Writing Warriors offers a selection of eight-sentence excerpts from writers in multiple genres and forms. Check out the full roster here.

***

Anyway, Yasmin my namesake. To guide me in the right paths, what-bloody-ever.

Yasmin the coffee-farm AI tender. Which meant summers in rural darkness, the only sound besides our own voices the clickety inhuman noise of the agri-bots.

Of course Martisset couldn’t get enough the bots. She followed them around, when she was a toddler (no, I don’t remember that, after all she’s a year older than me, so all I have are the stories) and asked them questions and charmed them. She always got on with AIs, and they followed her and fed her treats and petted her like … like a fosterling.

She even followed them out into the terraced groves to watch them at the harvest one year, and to help,and they explained to her that time out of mind, on the original world, children her size would have assisted in earnest, and never had a life that wasn’t chained to that work.

***

Summer visits on a sentient coffee farm. From character interviews for upcoming project, The Clone’s Complaint (NaNo 2016).

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Muse of Research II: Food As World Building (Heather Rose Jones)

One of the things that draws us inexorably into another world is the food. From Marcel Proust’s cookie that launched a million words to the favorite treats of space station dwellers thousands of years in the future, what we eat both draws us together and marks the boundaries of Home and Away.

This week’s interview is with historical fantasy writer Heather Rose Jones, author of the Alpennia series.

***

Talk a bit about your own practice as a cook and/or baker.

I’ve always been an enthusiastic and experimental cook, but what relates most to my writing is my love of historic cookbooks and re-creating historic cuisines. Both in the context of historic re-enactment and simply for my own amusement, I’ve produced meals based on everything from a collection of Mesopotamian recipes written in cuneiform on clay tablets, to the Roman cookery of Apicius, to participating in full-scale “performance art” banquets in the style of 15th century France or 16th century Italy where everything from the crockery to the table linens to the way the dishes were carved and served was done according to historic manuals. In the last decade or so I’ve joined a growing re-enactment movement of “cooking as performance” where not only the recipes, but the cookware, techniques, and heat sources are historically accurate. Part of the fun of doing background research for my Alpennia books has been inventing a cuisine for early 19th century Alpennia, based on French, English, and other cookbooks of the era.

What do culinary traditions tell you about a culture (real or fictional)?

Food is as much ritual as it is nutrition. Who does the cooking? Where do the ingredients come from? What is locally sourced and what are exotic imports? Do people primarily cook their own meals or is it done by professionals? It sometimes surprises people to discover that ordinary citizens of Imperial Rome did very little home cooking, but rather relied on “fastfood” vendors. In the time and place of my Alpennia novels (early 19th century western Europe), the questions of who did the cooking and how meals were served depended on social class and the size of the household. So my various protagonists have quite a variety of experiences.

Favorite examples of food as world building, in fiction.

I love when historic writers get the “feel” of the food right. There’s a delightful episode in one volume of Lindsey Davis’s “Marcus Didius Falco” Roman murder mystery series where Falco is given a present of a fresh turbot — a rather large and awkward fish — by someone important, showing the difficulties he goes through to cook and serve it with the honor it deserves, because it would be unthinkable to refuse the gift, but dealing with it is completely outside what his household can manage. As another example, it may sound silly, but I like the way food is used in the Harry Potter books to help establish the sense of a world that’s like our own but just shifted somewhat into the peculiar.

How do you use food as world building in your own fiction? What kind of questions do you ask about cuisine,food-centered ritual, etc?

I’ve written a couple of essays on food in Alpennia (such as this one: http://hrj.livejournal.com/489370.html). A good example would be the way I use three different cuisine-related themes to show differences in social station in The Mystic Marriage. The protagonists from my first book, Barbara and Margerit, have the money and social standing to do extensive entertaining and we see them using their household as a gathering point for their circle of friends. In contrast, Jeanne de Cherdillac doesn’t have the resources to throw fancy dinner parties, but she uses food–whether an intimate dinner at home or a picnic lunch–as a way of creating social illusions, particularly in her courtship of Antuniet Chazillen, who falls at the lowest end of the culinary ladder. At the beginning of the book, when Antuniet is down on her luck, we see her making choices between eating and buying a new crucible for her laboratory. It’s relatively easy for me to come up with concrete details for the upper class meals, because I envision Alpennia following French styles, so I can simply use French cookbooks of the time and every dish I mention is one I actually have a recipe for. It’s been a bit harder to invent a more home-grown middle-class cuisine for Alpennia, but I’ve come up with a type of duck soup that’s a traditional dish.
What’s the most interesting thing you’ve learned in your culinary research?
Oh, goodness, that’s a hard question because there are so many fascinating things! I think the most interesting thing I’ve learned is how complex, subtle, and delicate historic dishes can be. You need to throw out any Hollywood notions of how people ate in historic times. There’s a recipe in the Roman cookbook attributed to Apicius that explains how to flavor a sauce by stirring it with a bundle of fresh herbs. The 6th century Byzantine writer Anthimus explains at great length how to produce the perfect soft-boiled egg. I think his explanation is more detailed than the one in The Joy of Cooking. The variety of ingredients for an Elizabethan salad would put a modern salad bar to shame. I could go on and on. One needs to approach historic cooking as if it were simply one more global cuisine. It will be very different from what you’re used to, but it will be delicious.
Almost impossible question, but try it anyway: favorite recipe? most interesting recipe?
I have a number of favorites that I make over and over again. Here are a couple of them:
Pisam Farsilem (a loaf of peas) – Classical Roman (Apicius)
Cook split peas (I usually use half green and half yellow for the visual interest) until they form a very firm mush then set aside.
In separate batches, prepare the following:
1. Cook pork belly in broth with minced leks and green coriander and chop it finely
2. Cook tiny meatballs in broth
3. Cook some chicken in the same broth and shred it
4. Cook some sausage and chop finely
5. Boil a small piece of pork in water with leeks
6. Roast some pine nuts
Now grind together pepper, lovage, oregano, and ginger with some of the broth from the pork belly to make a sauce.
For the next step, the original recipe will end up baking the result, but I generally don’t have an oven available so I just assemble the dish and serve it cold.
Take a deep mould and line it with cheesecloth then begin putting your prepared ingredients in in layers, starting with the pine nuts, then peas, then alternating the meats with the peas in thin layers until the mould is full with a layer of peas on the top.
Turn the dish out onto a plate and remove the cheesecloth.
Pour the sauce over it and serve in thin vertical slices so each serving has a little bit of every layer.
* * *
Another favorite that I enjoy cooking using historic techniques is the following:
Smale Byrdys y-stwyde (Small birds, stewed) – 15th century English
This was probably originally meant to be done with songbirds, but the smallest birds I can get commercially are quail, so that’s what I usually use.
“Take smale byrdys, an pulle hem an drawe hem clene, an washe hem fayre, an schoppe of the leggys, and frye hem in a panne of freysshe grece ry3t wyl; than ley hem on a fayre linen clothe, an lette the grece renne owt; than take oynonys, an mince hem smalle, an frye hem on fayre freysshe grece, an caste hem on an erthen potte; than take a gode porcyon of canel, an wyne, an draw thorw a strynoure, an caste in-to the potte with the oynonys; than caste the bryddys ther-to, an lete hem boyle to-gederys y-now; than caste ther-to white sugre, an powder gyngere, salt, saffron, an serue it forth.”
Thinly slice the white part of a leek and brown it in a little butter in a metal skillet.
Transfer the leeks to an earthen pot.
Sear 6 coturnix quail on all sides in the skillet, using the same butter, then add to the earthen pot.
Add about 1 cup of wine with about 1 teaspoon cinnamon.  (Have more wine available in case you need to add more.)
Simmer over a low heat until the birds are nearly fully cooked.
Add cloves, mace, pepper, sugar, ginger, salt, and saffron to taste to the pot, top off the wine if necessary, and let it simmer a while more until the sauce reduces to a thick syrup.
 But possibly the most exotic thing I’ve ever served was a roast peacock, served with its skin draped over it to look alive
Favorite books about cooking, food preparation, gardening, foodways and food history.
It’s very difficult to choose! (I own over a hundred historic cookbooks, though I haven’t cooked from all of them.) For the sheer oddity, I’ll offer Textes culinaires Mésopotamiens – Mesopotamian Culinary Texts, translated and edited by Jean Bottéro (Eisenbrauns, 1995), which I mentioned above. And for the unexpectedly varied cuisine I like The Book of Sent Sovi – Medieval recipes from Catalonia, edited by Joan Santanach and translated by Robin Vogelzang (Barcino Tamesis, 2008) which contains a great many vegetable dishes, which are often less popular in medieval cookbooks. The book I’ve used most often for brainstorming Alpennian cuisine is The Art of French Cookery, by A. B. Beauvilliers (1824, available from Google Books) which, in addition to having the advantage of being written in English (saving me a great deal of work), includes a great many suggested menus for formal dinners of various sizes.
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Weekend Writing Warriors: Sunday 3 July 2016 (WIP Ship’s Heart)

Each Sunday, Weekend Writing Warriors offers a selection of eight-sentence excerpts from writers in multiple genres and forms. Check out the full roster here.

***

Even in training exercises, her teacher said, Martisset moved with the atmosphere like a skilled rider with a wild horse, recognized that the planet had a mind of its own, and respected both its lawful and its wild aspects.

But then the metaphor was apt; at thirteen, Martisset had ridden with the adolescents in the South Continent horse-festival. She still remembered her giddy joy at seven years old, riding with the five-year-olds, tied to her mount in what was a barely controlled stampede. She was older than her South Continent kin but hadn’t had as much equestrian training, so she rode with the young ones.

A few summers with Yuki-Iskri’s kin, and she’d picked up a lot. Mostly because she wanted to, and because it felt like flying, joining her will to the horse’s intent, and forgetting her own awkward self.

She wasn’t going to be a racing-rider; she was too tall and gangly for that. But she learned archery, and she rode in the ritualized parade that was a distant descendant of a steppe-cavalry maneuver, charging and then turning in apparent retreat to shoot arrows back at an invisible enemy.

The hits were recorded by the herd-elders, conversing with the same satellites that tracked the fisheries of the True Ocean and the weather-systems turning overhead.

***

The skillful rider knows the mount has a mind of its own. From work in progress, Ship’s Heart (NaNo 2015).

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The Muse of Research: Math and Other Marvels (S. L. Huang)

One of the great pleasures of reading is hanging out with folks whose storytelling game is totally different from my own. S. L. Huang writes the action-packed adventures of a mathematical mercenary-superhero, Cas Russell, whose style of math and narration alike are totally different from mine. (I’m a geometer by inclination; Cas and her creator both incline to the algebraic end of things.)

Today is the release date for Plastic Smile, the fourth volume of the Russell’s Attic series. The first three books are available here as a box set, and at time of writing are for sale at an irresistible price so new readers can get up to speed.

***

Talk about your nonfictional obsessions! (could be academic training, stuff you like to read about, topics that pique your curiosity)

Everything!  Okay, that’s a bit of an exaggeration.  But I love learning about pretty much anything, even fields like linguistics or neurobiology or business that are eons away from my own studies.

But my primary area of nerd enticement is mathematics, particularly logic and complexity theory.

How do they find their way into your fiction?

My novels are what I term “mathematical fiction” — novels about fictional mathematics the same way science fiction is about fictional science.  My main protagonist is someone with mathematical superpowers, because if you could do math — any sort of math — really, REALLY fast, then what couldn’t you do?

I love integrating what I learn into my fiction in all respects.  In fact, I would say learning new things is a way I brainstorm!

Any story inspired by something interesting (nonfictonal) that you learned?

Every story.  I can’t think of anything I’ve written that doesn’t have nonfictional elements of brainstorming at its base.  It ranges from my firearms knowledge making it into any story that uses guns, such as in Russell’s Attic or “Hunting Monsters,” to the thrust of my third novel being inspired by a mathematical paper.

What’s the interplay, for you, between project-specific research and writing?

There’s a lot of crossover.  I research for specific parts of books as they come up, but often I’ll be reading a scientific article and think, “Oh, I HAVE to put this in a book!”
a nonfictional detail that saved your story/characters/setting from being boring/stereotypical or otherwise not up to your artistic standards

This is a fascinating question, because I very often have the feeling of additional learning swooping in and saving me from cliches.  Sometimes it’s one of my knowledgeable betas reading a chapter and catching me in a Hollywood-ism that wouldn’t actually be true in real life — such as medical or engineering details I never thought to check.  Sometimes it’s a personal experience, like when I worked with the Hell’s Angels on a movie set and rewrote some references to a biker gang.  Sometimes I fall down a rabbit hole doing research and end up rewriting the entire way I thought the plot would go.

What kind of nonfictional info are you addicted to?

I’m always particularly fascinated by any learning that enhances my understanding of how the universe fits together, whether it’s physics or sociology.

What new topics are on your horizon for further reading?

I’m currently working my way through the physics book The Theoretical Minimum.  I’d like to get back to my logic and complexity studies a bit more, and I’m always reading new and fascinating articles that cross my Twitter feed.

My lament is that I don’t have more time to read and learn . . . and that my memory isn’t big enough to hold the entire world’s knowledge!

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Muse of Research II: Food As World Building (Lev Mirov @thelionmachine)

One of the things that draws us inexorably into another world is the food. From Marcel Proust’s cookie that launched a million words to the favorite treats of space station dwellers thousands of years in the future, what we eat both draws us together and marks the boundaries of Home and Away.
The first interview in this new series is with my writer-brother Lev Mirov, whose practice as a historian of material culture, an innovative cook, and a gluten-free baker informs his fiction in fascinating ways.
***
Talk a bit about your own practice as a cook and/or baker. 
I do about 60-70% of the cooking at home, and all of the baking. I bake gluten-free and mostly vegan, because of foodsensitivities, which I’ve been doing for about 5 years. I cook most of the meals in the house, though not all of them; my wife is also an incredible cook and makes amazing curries. Among the things I do the most, I make my own blends of flour in baking, and rebuild recipes from the ground up to make them gluten-free, kosher, or egg and dairy free.

What do culinary traditions tell you about a culture (real or fictional)? 
The food people eat tells you about a lot of different factors. It tells you about what kind of ecological and economic climate people live in — what food grows locally? What food can they import in? What technology do they have for cooking with? A chickpea-and-rice eating culture is going to be substantially different from one where the staples are beef and rye bread.Food also gets served, as well as cooked, and how food is served tells you about what a culture values. Do people eat alone? In a group? Quickly, or in long, protracted meals? Of course, a single society contains a lot of meals, cooked by all kinds of people at all different levels of class and training.

Favorite examples of food as world building, in fiction.
The classic example is probably Brian Jacques with Redwall, which I grew up on, and the Shire in Middle-earth, where foodplays an important part in establishing the cultural norms. But I love the use of food and eating as magic in Catherynne M Valente’s “Palimpsest”, and in her short story “Golubash”, which is themed around a wine tasting menu. In the latter case, the history of wine growth and shipping becomes the lens through which to see for a culture war.

How do you use food as world building in your own fiction? What kind of questions do you ask about cuisine,food-centered ritual, etc?
Food tells me a lot about the history, culture, and peopling of an area. Who lives there, what the landscape is like, who they are descended from, what the local climate is like. What taboos the culture has; their attitudes towards their bodies, towards death, towards other animals and the environment. Food also tells me who people trade with, who they’ve come in contact with; we are, as eaters, sticky thieves, who pick up dishes from everywhere we go, we fall in love with food we encounter and we take it with us. A thing I like to know is what food and drink characters routinely consume; these foods define the “norms” of their life, where they grew up, where they live now.
For worldbuilding in secondary-world stories, I tend to be pretty liberal about “if I can think of a reason the food is here, they’ll eat it”. Historically, I try to get away from food “everyone knows” we ate (no medieval turkey legs!) and focus on recipes attested in history, and the chains of connection that tell us about that food and why it was important enough to preserve that way. I think a lot about the whole-systems of food; for most of European history we have eaten humoreally,food has been our medicine, and so I am always trying to sort out what holistic systems food plugs into. Cultures that think spices are medicinal, for example, will use them very differently than cultures that feel strong flavors are dangerous for the health. People have always been very concerned with what they put in their bodies, so I learn a lot about a society knowing if an individual character is vegetarian, if they have a strict diet, if they’re allergic to milk, if they can’t help themselves around sweets, if they drink too much coffee.
What’s the most interesting thing you’ve learned in your culinary research?
I love the intersection of food and medicine beliefs, so I’m inclined to say some of the things I’ve researched about food and medicine are “most interesting”. I made a thesis out of ritually eating food as magico-medical practice, so when I find these sorts of things, they tend to loom large for me. Food is magic, in a very literal sense, and the food we make to make ourselves feel better is a very powerful magic.
In a personal sense, while doing research for something else, I learned that the beef stew my father made growing up is so different from local varieties because it’s based off a Spanish method of stew-making popular in the Philippines — I love the moments that food research connects me to people in my own historical tradition. That moment is always really special. I love the sense of eating something that my ancestors before me also ate.
Almost impossible question, but try it anyway: favorite recipe? most interesting recipe?

Favorite recipe:
How to quantify favorite! A recipe I make the most? A recipe I always devour?
A recipe that ties me back to my roots and makes me circle around the world isn’t so much a recipe as it is a common cooking method. When I was growing up, sometimes my father would call my mother and tell her he was having a bad day. My mother would make one of two dishes to comfort him: chicken adobo, or hamburgers on rice with brown gravy.
This recipe for chicken adobo is pretty close to the one I have always made, though I don’t do any marinading. The chicken pieces go into the pot whole and I cook them down until they shred easily or fall off the bone. It’s a reassuring one-pot comfort food when I am feeling sad or homesick. I eat it with rice and peas, and I feel connected deep in my bones back to the world that made me.
Most interesting recipe?
The sticky, tricky thing about recipes is if you understand how to read between the lines, they’re all interesting. The blandest 50s recipe tells you about the world it came out of; a book of recipes is a key to unlock the past, in a lot of ways. I am very fond of Soviet cookbooks (and retrospectives about Soviet cookbooks) because I am always trying to unlock how the past lived, and these kinds of histories are always intensely personal, which is the kind that appeals to me the most.
That said, the history of these medieval Egyptian gingerbread cookies is pretty fantastic, a hit with everyone who eats them. No denying they are more storied than your average cookies. The original recipe is here: http://handsonjewishholidays.com/es/2013/08/duvshaniot-israeli-rosh-hashanah-honey-cookies/
Favorite books about cooking, food preparation, gardening, foodways and food history.
This question is basically fatal for me. I have a house full of cookbooks and am always collecting more. But here’s a brief list of some favorites:
Culinaria Russia (about much more than Russian foodways, though!) http://www.amazon.com/Culinaria-Russia-Ukraine-Georgia-Azerbaijan/dp/383314081X
A Drizzle of Honey (the history of Spanish Jewish foodways)
Sheherazade’s Feasts (medieval food from the Arab world)
Art, Culture, & Cuisine (ancient & modern food as culture)
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Weekend Writing Warriors: Sunday 26 June 2016 (WIP Ship’s Heart)

Each Sunday, Weekend Writing Warriors offers a selection of eight-sentence excerpts from writers in multiple genres and forms. Check out the full roster here.

***

The refectory was another puzzle: bright and airy, as if there were no need to keep shelter overhead. Everything on Karis felt flimsy, all verticals and clear glass, when Yasmin thought of spherical sections and cross-struts as the shape of shelter. Hull breach, the curse word of her childhood, had no such meaning here. They opened windows and let air circulate through rooms, dined in a vast hall with no section seals to partition in case of disaster.

It was hard to wrap her head around that notion. She shivered whenever air touched her skin. At home, that would have been the last thing she ever felt. Here, it was perfectly normal.

***

Full-body culture shock of planetary life, for young people raised in a terraforming dome. From work in progress, Ship’s Heart (NaNo 2015).

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