Daughter of Atlas Update

 

An update on the status of my brand new, shiny book!

I got my first Amazon, review, check it out! Thank you, James Butler!

I’m working on producing a paper version of the book at CreateSpace.  I bought an ISBN and everything!  The PDF manuscript was designed by my dear friend and editor, Charlie Brown, and my book cover creator, selfpubbookcovers.com, is creating a full, wraparound cover for the paper version. It should take about a week, and then about a week to get the proof from CreateSpace.

In the meantime, my dad mentioned my book to one of his pals, and she recommended it to her book club!  Isn’t that amazing?  You never know by who or how your book may reach someone.  I’m grateful for the positive response I’ve received. Makes me want to keep writing.

 

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My First Lesson

 

So here is my first lesson as an indie author:

Check your title on Amazon first to make sure it is unique enough!  There are at least five other things on Amazon with some variant of the title “Daughter (or Daughters) of Atlas.”  Who knew?

Check it out, here are the search results:

https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=sr_pg_1?rh=i%3Aaps%2Ck%3Adaughter+of+atlas&keywords=daughter+of+atlas&ie=UTF8&qid=1497884544

At least mine is first, for now. That’s something.

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Big News! (Finally)

 

So I have some news. Big news! I finally stopped screwing around and published my Atlantis novel, now called “Daughter of Atlas,” as an Amazon e-book!

Check it out!

 

DoA Cover

So what I need you to do now, if you ever read or critiqued it, is to jump onto Amazon and leave a little review. Reviews are the driver of success on Amazon. It’s doesn’t have to be long or detailed, it just has to be an actual written review. It would help me out and be a real vote of confidence in me. Thanks so much.

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I’m Doing Panels at Contraflow V This Weekend

Today Contraflow starts, our local science fiction convention, and this year I’ve put myself forward, and I’m going to be on a couple panels. Here’s my panel schedule:

Saturday, 2 PM — Dreams and Creativity

Saturday, 9 PM — Writer’s Block: Myth or Madness

Sunday, 11 AM — Cultural Appropriation or Building Diversity: An Exploration Of Issues Involving Real World Cultures In Fantasy and Science Fiction

Brandon Black must have written that last title, I think. 🙂

I’m excited about “Dreams and Creativity,” because two of the five stories I’ve sold, were based on dreams I had. So I have some stuff to say about that.

If you’re going to the con, some see me. I’ll need your support.

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My Report on Blue Apron

 

A while back I posted on Facebook that we were going to try cooking dinner at home with the Blue Apron meal delivery service. Ever since I did people have been very curious about what it’s like and how it’s going. So I thought I would write a report on our Blue Apron experience so far.

I decided to do this for our health — due to weight, blood sugar, blood pressure issues of creeping age, my husband and I just need to eat better, which ultimately means cooking at home and controlling our own food. Not eating out at restaurants, fast-food or takeout, and not eating heavily processed prepared foods. But the problem has been, I hate cooking. Absolutely despise it — I loathe every single thing about it. I hate shopping for food and planning menus. I hate the actual activity of cooking itself — chopping and preparing raw food, juggling all the dishes so they come out at more or less the same time, cutting and burning yourself, running back and forth like a chicken with no head. I hate the cleanup afterwards. I hate that cooking is so much work, all that preparation and labor, and in about 15 minutes it’s all done and eaten, and you are left with the cleanup.

I needed something to simplify cooking for me so it wouldn’t be so overwhelmingly hateful. So we decided to try a meal delivery service. What these services, like Blue Apron or Home Chef, do is deliver you all the raw ingredients to home cook a meal, plus the recipe, once weekly in a chilled and frozen box. On the Blue Apron couple’s plan you get three meals a week for two people, for twenty dollars a meal, planned out using seasonal ingredients, and delivered right to your home. It’s kind of a subscription, in that they have a meal plan that they send you if you don’t choose, but you can choose some limited options. You choose three of six meals offered a week, but you can’t choose just anything. Some meals automatically go together, because of shared ingredients or economies of scale. Like, if you choose Meal X, you can also choose Meal Y, but not Z. You can skip a box if you don’t like what’s offered, for as many weeks as you like, and can cancel anytime. They offer omnivore, pescatarian, and vegetarian options.

Inside the box are recipe cards, the fresh produce in the top section, and what they call “knick knacks” — the spices, liquids or other components you need to make the meal. And they really do send everything, in just the size you need it — pats of butter, tiny bottles of vinegar, flour for frying batter, uncooked pasta, even eggs. The only thing Blue Apron expects you to have on hand is salt, pepper, and olive oil for frying or sautéing.

In the bottom of the box, packed among cold packs, are the meats. Often when I get my delivery they are still comfortably frozen. I have not had an issue with spoiled meat yet. Some eggs broke, and a batch of arugula was spoiled once. But if you receive spoiled components, just email Blue Apron and they will credit you back some money.

One good thing about the service is that they only send you exactly what you need for each meal, so there is no problem of food waste. If the recipe calls for one carrot, you get once carrot. One tablespoon of soy sauce, that’s what you get. This I especially appreciate, as we always had a problem with food waste — if a you buy a whole bunch of carrots or head of lettuce, two people are hard pressed to eat it all before it starts to go bad.

Getting Blue Apron practically eliminates shopping and menu planning for me. Someone else plans the menus, and the food is delivered right to me. When I’m ready to cook, I know what I’m making, and the food is right there in my refrigerator. Such a weight off my mind! Sam always used to tease me after work every night by demanding, “What’s for dinner?” Now I know. Or if I don’t feel like cooking, I can make it the next night.

After looking at the websites of several of these meal delivery services, I decided on Blue Apron, because all the recipes are freely available on the website, and I could see exactly what was getting. I also liked the variety.

So far — it’s been a few months — it’s working well. We have liked everything we have eaten so far, and I am finding the cooking manageable. I still don’t like it — unfortunately Blue Apron does not address the one thing I hate most about cooking: chopping up mounds of vegetables. But I just have to power through. I understand some other meal services send you pre-diced vegetables and meats, but that is probably more expensive, due to the added labor costs, and also not as healthy — veggies and fruits begin to oxidize and lose their nutrition once they are cut. I wouldn’t want to go that route. So I am just going to have to continue to gut it out. Blue Apron does have little videos on their website showing you how to prep various foods — they really are coming from the position that their customers know absolutely nothing about cooking, and are lucky to posses one pan, one pot, and one knife. These videos have actually helped me. I know how to “supreme” a citrus fruit now. And I learned you can cut a plank out of the bottom of a round vegetable like a carrot, to make it sit flat on the cutting board and make it easier to chop. Who knew?

It takes me about an hour to cook a Blue Apron meal. It takes me a while to chop all those vegetables. An experienced cook would take much less. It’s still time out of my day, but I’m doing it for my husband, for our health, so for now it is worth it.

So, how about the food? What you are cooking? How is it?

It’s good. There hasn’t been a meal yet that we actively disliked. I think the quality of the ingredients is good. Blue Apron buys from organic, smaller, and artisanal suppliers as much as possible. Eggs are cage-free, the meat is raised without hormones or antibiotics. The vegetables are fresh and seasonal — the recipes have fresh corn right now, for example. And we like the variety — so far no meal we’ve received has been the same, although they tend to fall into the pattern of a protein, a veg, and a starch. So, some kind of meat (if you’re not on the vegetarian plan); potatoes, rice, or pasta; and some vegetables. Fresh herbs, citrus fruits, and custom spice blends lend flavor. I am getting a little bored with pan-frying some meat and sautéing veggies every night, so I have ordered more noodles, sandwiches, and pizza in the coming weeks, for variety. I order a vegetarian meal occasionally. Sam moans, but he eats them, and it’s good for him to eat vegetarian once in a while.  Also it’s convenient to have something ready to cook, if you forget to defrost something the night before.

One thing we do like is the variety. We’re not the kind of people who can eat the same thing day after day or week after week. So far no two meals we’ve cooked have been the same. I read on the BA website that they don’t repeat recipes on the different plans at all in a year. We love that. On delivery days, Sam runs to the door to see what’s in the box. We have tried many vegetables we have never had before — Swiss chard, bok choy. We are eating way more vegetables than we ever did before, which is good.

Some of the meals are weird and awkward — like the Cod Kedgeree, which was kind of like fried rice with fish, given a weird licorice-y flavor by fenugreek in the spice blend. But none of them have been bad enough that we couldn’t eat them. A lot of subscribers had trouble with the recipe for Brothless Ramen with Pork, because it wasn’t clear in the recipe as printed that you had to boil the noodles separately before putting them into finish with the pork. Reading complaints on the BA website, I was able to avoid that pitfall, but at the end of the day, no matter how you try to gussy them up, ramen noodles are still ramen noodles. We were not fans of that recipe. Some meals we have absolutely loved, though, like Salmon with Walnut Pesto and Chicken Adobo. Mostly, we like that there is something new and different to try three nights a week.

So let me list what I like and what I don’t like about Blue Apron:

What I like:

Convenience: I don’t have to shop or plan menus and the food is delivered right to me at my home. It couldn’t be more convenient.

Fresh produce: This is good. We are eating way more vegetables than we ever did for a long time. Sam was raised in a vegetable-hating family, so I never cooked them very much even when I did infrequently cook. But one needs vegetables to eat healthily. We have been exposed to things we never tried before — we had a recipe with hen of the woods mushrooms a couple weeks ago. (They taste just like regular button mushrooms, sadly.)

No food waste: This is huge to me. When I was struggling to cook as a young wife, we wasted a ton of food. It’s hard to buy portions at a grocery store for just two people. And my long stretches of not being able to stand cooking meant a lot of food we bought with good intentions went to waste. Blue Apron only sends us exactly what we need, everything from butter to meat. Nothing goes to waste. This is better for us and for the environment.

Portion control: Blue Apron meals run 500-700 calories, which isn’t exactly diet, as I understand it, but it’s a hell of a lot better than what we would usually eat at restaurants or as takeout. Part of how they do this is portion control — tiny little steaks or chicken breasts, half a cup of rice, filling up on green vegetables like collard greens. It’s going to take some getting used to — we’re used to huge restaurant portions, fried food, and stuffing ourselves. But it’s a better way and I appreciate it.

Variety: This is also a huge factor in Blue Apron’s success for us. I have a co-worker who cooks at home all the time, who makes a pot of spaghetti sauce or a giant meatloaf on Sunday, and then eats that for dinner every night for a week. Works for her, but I could never do that. It would drive me insane.  We can’t eat the same thing day after day. We need variety. Blue Apron has great variety. You won’t get the same meal twice in a year. You do get the same components — we have been getting a lot of collard greens lately — but prepared in different ways. The recipes showcase cuisines of different cultures, too — tacos, udon bowls, tagines. It’s fun to try new things every week. This is one of the biggest parts of Blue Apron’s appeal for us.

What I don’t like:

Waste:  Not food waste, but the excess packaging.  As I said, Blue Apron only sends you what you need — two tablespoons of butter if you need it, in a little plastic tub. Two tablespoons of soy sauce, in a little plastic bottle. Half a cup of flour in a plastic tub. That’s a lot of plastic! Excess packaging is something I worry about a lot, and try to avoid in my purchasing decisions. It’s unavoidable with BA. They say all their packing is recyclable, and I’m sure it is, but I don’t have much confidence in the curbside recycling program of my own city. I strongly suspect that they are just selling off our “recycling” to a landfill in another state. It’s the kind of thing our government would do. So, all the stuff may be “recyclable,” but that certainly doesn’t mean it’s actually being recycled. That’s why it’s better to eliminate it at the front end.

I did realize, the other day when I was cleaning mushrooms for a recipe, that if I had bought them in a grocery store, they would have come in the exact same kind of little plastic basket that they were in. So the packaging may not be quite as egregious as I feared at first. But those little tubs of butter and sauces! So wasteful! I comfort myself with the hope that the food waste we are avoiding is a net gain for the environment and the food industry. But I don’t really know that it is. Perhaps in the future Blue Apron will require their subscribers to be a little more self-sufficient — only send fresh meat, dairy, produce, and spices, and let the customers provide pantry staples like flour and vinegar on their own. Or they may offer a two-tier pricing plan, one for noobs and one for more experienced cooks. Right now, the packaging waste is something that bothers me, but I just have to live with it. I hope it’s balanced out by all the other good things Blue Apron provides us.

So, is Blue Apron a good value? Would I recommend it?

That depends.

If you are on a tight budget, or are trying to feed a large family, then no, ten bucks a head for dinner is NOT a bargain, it’s exorbitant.  But if you’re like my husband and me, childless professionals with disposable income, then yes, compared to the rest of our lifestyle, it is.  We can easily spend more than twenty dollars a meal on takeout or a restaurant.  Quite a bit more.  Heck, if two people go to McDonald’s these days, it’s about seventeen dollars.  So for us, this is very reasonable, a savings even, and we are getting much better food.  It is definitely worth it.

I have to add here, that this would be working much less well for me, if my husband were not washing the pots and pans every night.  I told him, if we try this, you have to do your part, and he is.  I plate the food and serve it and just walk away from the kitchen, and he cleans up.  If I had to that too on top of the cooking, I’d be much less enthused.

So we are liking the meal delivery service so far, and it looks like we will be able to stick with it.  I have some coupon codes for free meals to try, for Blue Apron and also Hello Fresh, if you are interested.  Email me, and I’ll forward you the codes.

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These past few months I have said, as bad as he is, Donald Trump would probably make a less worse President than Ted Cruz. But given the events of this weekend, I don’t think that anymore.

Donald Trump is genuinely dangerous. He is emotionally unstable. He feeds on this violence and chaos like a vampire, and then bald-facedly denies it when he is pressed on it. He will actually sit there on television and say he does not condone violence, when he has said at his rallies that he would like to “punch [a protestor] in the face.” That he would like to see them “taken out on stretchers.” He has offered to pay the legal bills of any of his supporters who are charged with assaulting protestors. (Of course, he actually won’t if it comes to it, because he is a coward and a liar.) And then he has the nerve to be interviewed on live TV and say he disavows violence. It’s one of two things — either he is so emotionally erratic he doesn’t realize what he is saying when he makes these threats, and so denies them with a clear conscience, because his hold on reality is so slim. Or else he is a stone-cold pathological liar.

Doanld Trump has no character. He has no internal moral compass. He says or does whatever will make him look good or feel good or aggrandize himself at any given moment. This has been obvious to me from the start. He doesn’t have any grand scheme. He’s just playing things along. He responds to stimuli directly in front of him, like an amoeba.

Ted Cruz, as creepy and awful as he is, at least is not emotionally unstable. We know what he is, a Christian Dominionist. We know what he wants to do, turn the US into a theocracy, with a Christian version of sharia law. At least he is predictable. We have an idea of how he will govern, and can plan accordingly.

Ted Cruz also, as far as I know, is the only other Republican candidate who has chastised Trump for fomenting violence. This doesn’t happen at any one else’s rallies, he said, not mine, not Marco’s, not Hillary’s or Bernie’s. So some props to him. He isn’t a complete psycho after all. Maybe only 90 percent psycho. Or at least, he knows if you play with fire you are going to get burned.

There is no telling what Trump will do if he gains the Oval Office. Can you imagine this thin-skinned bully with the nuclear launch codes? He’ll be like General Bat Guano in the movie Dr. Strangelove. If Kim Jong Un makes fun of his short fingers, he is liable to start World War Three. He is a danger to the country and the world.

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“Dances with Noble Savages” and the Origin of this Hoary Old Meme.

So I was hanging out at my friend Dennis’s and we were watching some old movie on TCM, something about the Boxer Rebellion in China I think, one of those crappy movies from before the era of political correctness (or even common sense) full of white people playing fake Asians.  Yellowface.  Ugh, that’s the worst.  So we were talking about Asian themed films and Dennis asked us, “Did you see THE LAST SAMURAI?”

Yes, we’ve seen it (my husband and I, not the royal we here).  It was a beautiful movie — every scene was perfectly composed and gorgeous.  “But,” I said, “it was that same old story, the civilized white man goes and lives with the native people and absorbs their simple native wisdom and becomes their hero.  DANCES WITH SAMURAI.  God, why do we keep telling that story?  The ancient Romans probably had stories about centurions going over the wall and becoming one with the Gauls. That story is decrepit!  Why do we keep telling it?”

Well, I think I’ve figured it out.  Maybe this was obvious to everyone and I was just being monumentally obtuse, but I think I figured it out, on Saturday night when I was watching another movie: EXODUS: GODS AND KINGS.

Yeah, Moses.  Moses is the archetype of this story.

You know the story I’m talking about.  It has shown up endlessly in big-budget Hollywood films in the last couple decades — most notably, DANCES WITH WOLVES and AVATAR, but also THE LAST SAMURAI and a horde of lesser imitators.  I haven’t seen it, but people tell me Disney’s POCAHONTAS is the same story.

A disenchanted white man leaves civilization and goes into the wilderness, hoping to find .. something  — peace or surcease or a way to forget his troubles.  Sam Worthington in AVATAR is literally trying to leave his crippled body behind with a Na’vi avatar.  Same idea though.

And in the wilderness, he discovers the native people, and becomes enamored of them.  He lives among them and studies their ways, which are so much more authentic and meaningful than those of his own decadent civilization.  He falls in love with a native woman – usually the chief’s daughter, of course.  He becomes one of them, these noble savages.  But more than that, the becomes the best of them, their leader, their prophet, because of the synthesis of his civilized sensibility with the humble wisdom of the natives.  Toruk Makto.  The chosen one.  (Can you tell how fucking sick I am of this storyline?)

So, Moses.  Think about it.  Moses was a prince of Egypt, the most civilized, the greatest nation on earth at that time (and for thousands of years.)  But he renounced his princedom and went to live with the desert nomads, the Hebrews, the slaves.  The noble primitives.  He lives as one of them, takes a wife from among them, has children that he raises as Hebrew.  But, with this “Mighty Whitey” trope as they call it on TV Tropes, he is, as described, the best of them, the very Prophet of God.

And he leads his people against impossible odds into battle with their enemies, the Egyptians, who hold the Hebrews in slavery.  This time it’s mostly a spiritual battle, with the plagues and all, but it’s still a battle.  And wonder of wonders, he wins, and leads his people to the Promised Land.

Do you see it?  It’s so obvious to me now, I can’t believe I never noticed it before.

So clearly, this is one of the root stories in Western civilization.  No wonder we keep retelling it.

But in the modern telling, we have subverted this trope, and not necessarily in a good way.  In the Moses story, the tale is really about the Hebrews; it is their origin story.  Moses comes to deliver them.  The slaves are freed from Egypt and given the Law and the covenant at Mount Sinai.

But in the modern American versions of this story, the people come to save the hero.  The civilized man is purified and uplifted by his adoption by the natives.  Kevin Costner escapes the trauma of the Civil War among the Lakota.  Sam Worthington’s consciousness is actually transferred into a Na’vi body in AVATAR.  The story is about his salvation, not the people’s.  Kevin Costner can’t save the Lakota in DANCES WITH WOLVES.  No one can.  But they save him.  Tom Cruise resolves his alcoholism and his PTSD while living with Japanese samurai — it”s he who is the Last Samurai, not Ken Watanabe or any, you know, actual Japanese person.

The protagonists of these movies undertake the Hero’s Journey into the “special world” of the native people, and they do the usual Hero’s Journey things, overcoming challenges, acquiring allies, facing their great ordeal.  But at the end, they don’t go back to their “ordinary world” (Western culture)  with the wisdom and the skills they have learned.  No, instead they stay chilling with the native people and their required native honey in the Special World, having abandoned their home, and thus failing in the whole basic task of the Hero’s Journey.

It’s the same story as the Moses narrative, but the emphasis is changed.  The emphasis is on the individual, not the people, on his personal salvation, not the benefit of the community.

So it becomes a tale of self-indulgence and white privilege, not heroic sacrifice, and that is probably why I dislike it so much.  That people in Hollywood feel the need to compulsively retell this bastardized version of this story is not a good thing.  I suppose you could just attribute it to laziness and sloppy storytelling, but I think it’s deeper than that.  Obviously we feel the need to purge ourselves of the corruptions of modern, Western, industrialized society.  And rightly so.  But we’re doing it in these stories by co-opting the lifeways of indigenous, often oppressed people — even if they are imaginary ones, like the Na’vi in AVATAR.  That is wrong, and it won’t give us what we need.  No hero lives forever in his private Idaho.  The hero has to come back, else the quest has failed.

I guess modern culture is what you get when the hero fails in his quest.  That would explain a lot.

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