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Rear Window Chili

A hundred years ago, when my awesome neighbors moved in, I watched from my bedroom window, doing my best L.B. Jefferies impression as furniture and boxes were carted from truck to townhouse. I spied only one person other than the movers — a dude. I wondered if it was just him, or if that inventory was split with someone else. When the movers unloaded the pink chairs, I knew.

His wife has come to be one of my best friends, and she, being from Texas, has always held Opinions when it comes to chili. I never have, other than being able to take it or leave it. It was never a favorite, probably because those I knew were from school cafeterias, thick and dark, and I’d never taken the time to explore what else chili could be.

Last weekend, I did!

I’d been seeing those commercials for the white chili — I bet you know the one. But when I looked up the recipe, it contained chicken soup. And well, I guess I formed my first Opinion on chili right there because that struck me as Wrong. I searched the Internet and took what sounded good, and threw it into a pot. Here’s what I ended up with.


2 15 oz. cans of white beans in chili sauce
1 15 oz. can diced tomatoes – I used fire roasted from Glen Muir because I love them so
1 small sweet onion, diced
1 small Anaheim pepper, diced (the recipes I read kept saying jalapenos, but I wanted something more mellow that wasn’t a green bell pepper, and this turned out perfect)

2 cloves garlic, cut however the heck you like

16 oz. stock, chicken or veggie – this measurement could easily differ – I used it because it’s what I had leftover/open, and I didn’t want to open a new carton, so depending on how soupy you want things, add more

1 split chicken breast, roasted and shredded – these come two in a pack here (or 5 or a billion), and I roasted both, having no idea how much I’d need, but one was ideal with the beans/tomatoes — also super easy to leave out if you want to turn this vegetarian, or to simply add last if you have one meat-eater and one veggie-eater in the house (Beth and Sean).

Spices – cumin, chili powder, coriander, salt, pepper. I think a couple bay leaves in this would have been wonderful.

I used my Dutch oven pan, heating up some olive oil to sauté the onion, Anaheim pepper, and garlic. I added 1 tsp each salt and pepper to this. As my oil was consumed, here’s where I added a smidgen of stock, letting the veggies cook for 5ish minutes. Added the beans, added the rest of the stock. Brought it up to a low boil, then added the tomatoes and all their liquid.

When I roasted the chicken, I did it the way I do a whole chicken — bones in, skin on. I seasoned with garlic powder and kosher salt. Beyond that, my chicken didn’t have anything special done to it. Shred it up, toss it into the happy pot.

I added my spices at this point; I think I did 1 tsp cumin, 1 tsp chili powder (I wanted to keep it lighter than a regular chili), 1 tsp coriander, and then salt/pepper to taste.

I brought it back up to a boil, then reduced the heat while I made tortilla strips. I cut entirely too many tortillas, put them on a sheet pan, 375 10-15 minutes until crisp.

Would probably also be great with sour cream on it. What isn’t, really.

My awesome neighbors are moving out now — they’re onto the next adventure, and won’t be too far away when all is said and done. I’ll miss them — won’t be the same Rear Windowing new people.

When It Changes

While I looked up to book heroines like Alice and Dorothy, the first heroine to steal my breath on the screen was Princess Leia. Strong, capable, no nonsense.




boushh rotj




One of these things is not like the other.

And for the first time it hits you.

You wonder who put Leia in that get up.

Because given what comes before and after, when a woman has a choice, you know she didn’t put herself in it.

And while she’s strong and kills Jabba in the end, you find your young self thinking about things you’ve never thought about before.

It changes everything forever.

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One Weird Trick to Improving Your Writing!

Death Star Gym © Maximus_W via Flickr

Death Star Gym © Maximus_W via Flickr

Gym and writing have a lot in common. When I glanced at someone else working at the gym this morning, it hit me.

Don’t pay attention to what that person is doing — I don’t care if Andy Weir is over there benching 400 (did Wendig just add twenty-five for him?). Pay attention to your own body, and the work it’s doing; pay attention to your own lift — you can lift more than you think, I swear. Eyes on your own page. Brain on your own work.

But also:

A lot of people are there, but some of them are just sitting.
Plenty of people just sit on the bench and scroll through social media when they should be doing their reps.

And reps are important.
You can work your ass off for two straight months, but ease up for a couple of days and you might backslide. It’s going to take some effort to get back into the rhythm.

It seems like a really good idea —
Until you have to do it. How heavy is this bar? How blank is this page? Shut up and give me ten.

I gave you ten yesterday!
It’s true — I don’t write OR gym every day. Find the right rhythm for both. Even if I’m not wording, I’m plotting. Even if I’m not lifting, I’m mindful of staying active. (Did Andy just throw another twenty-five on that bar…)

The really good work is exhausting
And leaves you soaked to the bone. It’s probably going to hurt. It leaves you knowing you did something — something hard, and something worthwhile. And you’re gonna die either way, so do the work.

That’s snarky, but:
I’m a better writer when I’m in the gym. I’m a better writer when I’m moving. And this fall, I mean to remember that. Don’t pay attention to Andy or Chuck or anyone else. Eyes on my own work, which is pretty damn fine (I can squat 200 now, omg these thighs!). Let’s go.

Thanks to Dean for encouraging bad blog posts.


September Books

I seem to have gotten my fall months backwards, reading about ghosts and vampires in September, rather than October. But somehow, we’ll manage — we read some good things this month, I’m happy to say.

lost-angeles2I started with Lost Angeles by Lisa Mantchev and A.L. Purol. This was an odd reading experience, in that I feel like I’ve followed Lisa’s pinboard for this novel forever, so finally stepping into the world, I felt like I already knew its places and people — and that was amusing as well as comforting. “Oh I know who that is!”

Lost Angeles tells the story of Lourdes Chase, whose been having some experiences she can’t quite explain. When her paths cross with vampire rock superstar Xaine, things only get stranger. Lost Angeles is a super-quick paced adventure that often reminded me of the briefly-lived Vampire the Masquerade television series. If you dig gorgeous, snarky vampires, you are going to love this universe. There’s at least one sequel — Loose Canon — not sure if there are more to come!

10576071Ghosts entered the scene with Delia’s Shadow by Jaime Lee Moyer — an excessively long overdue read. She’s just about to publish book three in the trilogy. I avoided this book for classic writerly reasons: it covers some of the same ground I cover in my work, and I didn’t want it to influence me as I was writing. It’s amusing to discover that even though I avoided it, the works have some things in common. The great hive mind.

Delia’s Shadow is set in 1915 San Francisco; Delia is haunted by ghosts, but one in particular, who would like Delia to solve the mystery of her death if she’d be so kind. Only things get complicated given who Delia is friends with — complicated in the best ways. Moyer has created a mashup here that is part The Devil in the White City and part Miss Fisher’s Mysteries; I loved the dark historical feel to this, and if I have one complaint, it’s only that the romance aspects felt rushed to me.

25010941Ghosts stay front and center with a visit to Wylding Hall, a novella by Elizabeth Hand. This novella is a treat, part The Haunting of Hill House and part The House. Lovecraft, Carter, Borges, there seem to be influences crawling everywhere in this very haunted house. Wylding Hall is a collection of interviews with the members of a folk band who recorded an album at the hall in the 70s; the experience changed each member, for better and worse, and none have been able to shake (or fully explain) what happened within the house’s ancient walls.

This kind of story is 100% my jam. It’s delicious and creepy and layered. It takes you on a slow, deliberate journey and when you get to the final reveal, you realize you knew the truth all along, because Wylding Hall had her teeth in you the whole time — you’ve just grown to rely on the poison, can’t breathe without it.

I also read Hand’s collection, Last Summer at Mars Hill; it collects twelve stories from a variety of places, and while I loved it (Hand is just something magic for me, apparently), it pales for me in comparison to Saffron and Brimstone, which is the collection I like best. It contains The Lost Domain quartet, which is impossibly dear to my heart.

18114292The River of No Return by Bee Ridgway has been in my to-be-read stack for a long time now. It seemed to fit with the ghostly stories I was enjoying — and boy did it ever.

Lord Nicholas Falcott is about to die on a Napoleonic battlefield when instead, he finds himself in twenty-first century London. The Guild, a group that tells him “oh this happens, don’t worry, we’ve got you covered; yes time travel is a thing, only you can’t ever go back.” As he’s about to find out, it’s never quite that simple. The Guild appears to be at war with another group of folks, who don’t care how the Guild handles time travel at all.

Layered with his story is that of Julia, who seems to have an affinity with time all her own; she cannot explain it, and in the wake of her grandfather’s death, she’s desperate to, for her nasty cousin has designs on her estate and talents. Eventually, Julia collides with Nick, and it’s a beautiful thing. This book is wonderful — I’ve read a lot of time travel novels, and this one handles it in a new, interesting way.

20580199There is also a companion novella, which is a prequel of sorts, but I would definitely recommend reading it after the novel; The Time Tutor delves more deeply into Alva’s life and how she came to travel through time and become a whore (of sorts). Alva was one of the best things about the novel, so seeing her story expanded was wonderful. The novella seems a little less detailed than the novel, however, and felt extremely brief; it ends at about 80% of the file, the rest being a preview of the novel.

I intended to save Rae Carson’s To Walk the Earth a Stranger for October, but once I picked it up, it would not leave my hands. Our Heroine, Leah Westfall, has the ability to sense gold in the world, be it in jewelry or still in the ground; given that the country’s gone gold crazy, this puts a girl in an awkward position. People might use her for that very ability. When tragedy spurs Leah to act, she finds herself heading West, disguised as a boy — toward the very gold everyone is rushing headlong toward.

walkThis book put me in mind of the best books I read as a kid — girls going on kick-ass adventures will never be boring to me (I laugh at the review on Goodreads which says this book lacked a plot; which book did they actually read?). And girls disguised as boys? Also a constant favorite.The book also tackles a lot of challenging things: Native Americans, how we treat people based on appearances, child abuse, murder, women in history, and just…it’s an amazingly layered work.

This story is wonderful in every way — except the wait we now have for book two (it’s the first in a trilogy).

And LOOK at that cover.

What a great reading month! I wonder what I’ll discover in October…I know Vengeance Road by Erin Bowman is first!



Best Horror, 2015

51i1kXkqTSL._SX330_BO1,204,203,200_I need to be better about tooting horns, especially when they are my own! Every year, Ellen Datlow puts together the Best Horror of the Year anthology, and every year, she publishes her long list of stories that she loved. You can read part one here and part two here!

Four of mine are on that list this year:

“And After the Fire, a Still Small Voice,” Sword and Mythos.

“Migratory Patterns of Underground Birds,” Clarkesworld 92

“Pithing Needle,” Clarkesworld 97

“We As One, Trailing Embers,” Beneath Ceaseless Skies #147.

You can read three of them online, and you can buy the fourth, because Sword & Mythos is a splendid collection!

Seven Shimmer stories were also mentioned, so I’m rather pleased the whole way ’round. Thanks, Ellen. (Some day I’m gonna be IN that book! :D)


tbt ponders kidlit


The other night, Beth asked me what I read when I was ten or eleven ish, and I had this instant image of my room back then: twin bed, chaotic floor (lava!), Raggedy Ann and Andy sheets and curtains, pale yellow walls. Me, sprawled on the bed, legs propped on the wall while I read. My bookshelf was small and contained books I’d outgrown but would never get rid of (not even to this day — though I did send Birds in My Drawer to a dear friend and her kidlet, because some things should be passed along).

Books were not something easily come by (we just didn’t have the money — at one elementary book fair, I tried to steal a book because I couldn’t pay for it (and I say tried because of course I was caught)), so whenever I got one, I usually read it to tatters because I kept going back and back. The books that remain from this time show some wear — if you open some of them, pages will pop out. Charlotte’s Web is especially worn — I’ve since bought a new copy, but have also kept the older one, the one I read countless times, not because of some pig, but because of Charlotte, the spider who was a writer. (And this book contains a fair, of course it does — my how my own writing roots begin to show.)

My holy trinity as a kid was The Wizard of Oz, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. My original copy of Alice did not survive, so well was she read. I loved stories where girls went on adventures — Alice and Dorothy would naturally lead to Nancy Drew, who in turn lead to all those gorgeous Sunfire romances. But first, there was adventure. Island of the Blue Dolphins? Yes, please. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was fine and brilliant, but I didn’t love how the girls turned into blueberries or vanished into the bowels of the factory until much, much later.

At eleven, I was gifted with my first copies of Tolkien; I loved The Hobbit, but couldn’t wrap my head around Lord of the Rings. I absolutely wanted to load myself into a barrel and float down a river with those hobbits. Around the same time, I also got the boxed-set of Narnia. I have a very specific memory of reading The Voyage of the Dawn Treader in my grandparents’ RV, as we drove across Washington State. I was in the bed above the front seats — feeling like a princess in a tower because I was reading in a moving vehicle.

What do all of these books have in common so far? Male authors. In fact, every single book pictured up there has a male author.

The women authors I remember include: Judy Blume, Louise Fitzhugh, Beverly Cleary, Laura Ingalls Wilder (talk about girls having adventures!), and when I was older, Francine Pascal.My reading probably followed a predictable path — when I graduated from the Sunfire romances, I went straight into First Love by Silhouette, and Sweet Valley High (some of those I do still have!). Girls were still having adventures, but now those adventures also included kissing.

Blume was especially dear to me — most of those books did not survive, but I clearly remember throwing their tatters out when the time came. I sobbed, because I knew they wouldn’t be easily come by again. Imagine how much of a revelation ebooks are for a person who grew up like this. Imagine how treasured a friend’s book becomes — I have friends who write books? It still blows my mind.

And I write books? Of course I do — I couldn’t do anything else.


Under Mountains in the Moon

the gorey moon

I haven’t been able to read Sunny Moraine’s new story, “It Is Healing, It Is Never Whole” in Apex yet. This upsets me, because I typically dig Sunny’s work.

dividerLast night, I stood shivering after coming out of the pool. Water sluiced off goose-bumped legs even after I wrapped my towel around me. It’s cold early this year; the trees have been dropping their leaves for a month already, stressed after a strange summer of rain. It’s almost like the sky knows — this summer hasn’t been right, too much rain and not enough sun.

I closed the gate behind me and headed toward home, but a neighbor appeared on the path. She’s new and doesn’t know many people, yet we’re vaguely familiar with each other, given that she lives by the pool and I am in the pool most summer nights more than I’m anywhere else.

She came out to let her dog nose around the grass — away from the dead squirrel, thank you very much. Rabbits scurried.

“Did you ever hear about that woman?” she asked me.

I knew before she pointed; she pointed toward the building where I live, and said, “so many sirens — two police cars and an ambulance and the fire department?”

“Oh. No fire department.”

“Then you did hear.” She looked eager — for gossip, or maybe just to understand something that happened in her new neighborhood.

dividerIt was two months ago now; two months since D died under a strange set of circumstances.

She was not the first friend I lost this way; two others went before. They chose guns, one publicly, one privately; D’s weapon was drugs. Specific reasons I’ve never been partial to fiction about suicide. It’s different when you see it from the non-fiction side. When you’ve talked at length with the person who is no longer here. When you’ve tried to help them out of the pit they find themselves in. When you know you simply can’t.

I told the new neighbor quietly, as her dog, mostly blind, rooted around in the grass, crinkling leaves with every step. Just the basics — she only wanted to know what happened. Not that D was someone who loved to read and paint. Not that D was generous to a fault, that she loved my bean and corn salsa, that she spent countless hours stretched on a lounge in the corner of this very pool. Not that D told me to look after her elderly cat should anything happen to her, and that I was unable because the police carted the cat to the vet and the vet– Well. Sometimes, you don’t get there in time. I still expect D to be crouched on her porch, trying to hide her cigarette every time I walk past. And every time I walk past, I touch her fence.

No one else lives there yet; it’s still her fence.

dividerI keep coming back to Sunny’s story. I’m not certain of the first part of the title — is it healing? Probably. I once had a friend who told me that to get over things, we have to bind our wounds tight and carry on as if they aren’t there. But a wound doesn’t heal well that way and even if it’s going to scar, if needs to heal.

The second half of Sunny’s title is true: it is never whole. It can’t be. This is true of many things, though; a body learns to adapt without what it has lost. There may always be that space, but a body adapts. We keep on.

It’s the last weekend to swim this season and I’m going to take Sunny’s story to the pool. I’m going to let some things go, and I’m going to keep on.


August Books

Every birthday, I treat myself to a stack of books. I find it amusing that people often have trouble gifting me with things, because there are so many books I don’t yet possess. When in doubt, a book is an absolute joy.

waspWhen I saw Archivist Wasp by Nicole Kornher-Stace publish this past spring, I knew I wanted it; it looked epic and mythological (and look at that cover!), and felt tied to the next novel I plan to write. In fact, in many ways, it was extremely on point for the book I mean to write, and I’m not sure how I feel about that. I’m torn about this book over all.

On the one hand, it presents an amazing strange and broken world, where ghosts roam and the living don’t know how the world came to its end. On the other, it felt like a very predictable journey to me, which is perhaps a downfall of being so well acquainted with mythology. Archivist Wasp is very true to many classic tropes and journeys and explorations. That doesn’t make it any less engaging for certain readers — so maybe I am not its ideal reader. I was captivated by the destroyed world, by the journey Wasp undertakes, and yet something was naggingly unfulfilled for me with this book. I am still not sure I’ve pinpointed it, either. Some of the language is beautiful, while other sentences are clunky and ill-formed. Our Heroine comes beautifully full circle, and yet —

Perhaps it comes down to a thing I learned from James Patrick Kelly at the ConJose writer’s workshop: thou shall not infodump in thy dreams. We wrote it on the white board; it must be so.

This next trio of books was also highly uneven for me. I look at their covers and get dizzy over the idea of these stories (except for that awful thing Our Heroine is wearing on book two). Werewolves in London! Steampunk! Magic! Sign me up.

crownkeyOh, swoon. And book two even deals with Egyptian hi-jinks! Hieroglyphs branded onto hearts, oh my gosh. But within these covers, I found clunky writing galore. Chiefly in the Crown & Key world, women seem to exist to be a) prostitutes, b) dead, or c) dead prostitutes. These dead women exist to motivate our hero Simon. They are also held to strangely perfect physical ideals, and Kate has…expressive hips, which Lisa Mantchev tells me only Shakira actually has. If only Kate had been Shakira in disguise…

exprissivehipsI wonder if, even with their historical bent, these were just too urban fantasy for me. There’s no real depth; characters experience huge emotional swells and ebbs over the course of a few blunt lines. There was one character I found myself interested in: Penny Carter, who creates fabulous weapons and machinery for our protags to use. I would have loved more about her and her work.

The last book in my August stack is one I am also rather at odds with — my months are tending to have themes after all, aren’t they? I picked up Gutshot by Amelia Gray because of the cover and the cover alone. I am not familiar with Ms. Gray’s work beyond this volume. The book is published by FSG, which also did Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach trilogy, which I had many a swoon over. I really love their design work!

gutshotGutshot contains thirty-something short stories, some of them very short indeed. Flash-length stories abound, likely one reason I eye this book with caution. But the other, larger reason is this: these stories are damn odd and often damn uncomfortable. These stories do excessively strange things, which I both love and loathe.

As writers, we always hope our writing makes readers feel something, and in this, Ms. Gray is only successful. People are stranger than we know — stranger than we can know — and she exposes that beautifully here, making her reader shift as they read, looking for comfort not found in the book. Comfort fled the moment the reader opened this book, and may not return until long after its pages are closed.




I’ve been catching up on House of Cards S3. In one episode, Frank plays game on his iPad — a quick search told me he was playing Monument Valley; a quick search also told me I would love it. Ambient music, shifting Escher structures, and rules that only made sense once you looked at them from an entirely different angle.

Being that I’m starting work on the next Folley & Mallory project (#4), it was the perfect time to invest in a new video game. Who needs distraction more than the working author who is looking to avoid all those blank pages? Right.

screenshotThere are many beautiful things about Monument Valley, though the first one I’m going to note is the thing most people complain about: it’s short and sweet. Monument Valley is, in many ways, like a short story — ten perfect levels. It has a companion volume — eight expansion levels — and also four more that are labeled a “dream.” But those few levels do much more than many longer games, so it’s perfect for play, for inspiration, for escape.

Monument Valley is the story of Ida, a lost princess who is looking for something she can’t quite name. She works her way through a series of broken, changeable, and forgotten monuments, to discover what that something is. In much the same way a writer will look at a new project, or an editor a new issue of their magazine. A problem is presented and must be conquered; sometimes that victory means you have to look at something in an entirely new way.

Sometimes, you have to turn a problem entirely around and over before you discover its solution.

screenshot3Though the game is brief, the puzzles can take time; solutions and exits are not readily apparent. My favorite level (I think) is called The Oubliette, in which you are introduced to new game mechanics — even in the expansion levels, it’s a game that is always evolving, especially when you least expect it.

You have to constantly look at the screen with fresh eyes, with a new perspective. Being a tablet/mobile game, it’s easy to turn your device over and around, but not always so easy to see those new angles and passages. Much like a short story — what you need is often right in front of you, even if you can’t see it.

Pieces must be moved, exchanged, and moved again. Landscapes must be turned upon their heads.

What Monument Valley asks the most of you is patience. If you have the patience to explore these sacred geometries , you will find remarkable things; if you can route yourself around the squawking monsters, you will be rewarded. Not with gems, not with gold. Those aren’t the treasures Ida is after; she discovers much better things. She discovers exactly how her heart may be broken, and put back together.

screenshot5Much as with stories, one must sometimes backtrack, and return to ground already trodden. Much as with stories, one must undo what they’ve already done, so that they can turn the proper corner, so that they can get to THE END.

And much as with stories, when you reach the end of Monument Valley (absolutely not pictured because spoilers), it may not be a thing you expected or planned.

I got chills at the ending of this game — it’s so perfect for all that comes before and yet I never saw it coming.

Monument Valley tells a perfect story, sets a perfect mood, carries you away. It gives you a protagonist with a problem in need of solutions. It gives you an ever-changing landscape, fierce monsters, flooded rooms, steampunk dreams, waterfalls, rock cliffs, true friends, certain death, shrieking eels — wait. No. There were no eels, shrieking or otherwise — and the princess is not a bride, and though she never speaks a single word, she has a story worth hearing.



Blow the Moon Out


Lebanon, Kansas, 1957. By Francis Miller

The woods were not lovely, though I would grant them both dark and deep as we wound our way closer to Philadelphia to see Jackson’s Unreal Circus and Mobile Marmalade. It was the best of all possible worlds: Halloween had come and gone, but the weekend stretched ahead and with it, a chunk of treasured, unsupervised adventuring.

Four young girls, wandering through the woods, toward a far-off circus. Toward the future, though they don’t know it.

In “Blow the Moon Out,” (August 2015, Giganotosaurus) we travel to 1957 — as much an alien world as you may ever encounter. Here,the sunlight looks the same but everything beneath it is different, transformed. You think it’s an iPod, but it’s a transistor radio; you think the US is winning the space race, but Russia is sending a dog into the stars. You discover that things taken for granted can no longer be so — what is good and legal and right in our world is not. Women are not in possession of their own lives, their own bodies.

Four young girls, running from things they fear, into things they do not know. Four young girls who are each part me, and each part possibly you. The girl who wants to go to space. The girl who has run away from home. The girl who doesn’t understand her own body. The girl who cowers from men, because the one man she should be able to unquestioningly trust has broken her family with his very own hands.

9e947255547c3347bd10cfb449f9ad25This is a story about Laika — and don’t we all have a Laika story. It’s a story about being shot into space and having no idea if you’ll survive. (Of course you won’t — survival isn’t the point, is it?)

It’s a story about love and hate, about peace and war. A story about things we know and things we cannot admit. A story about becoming who we have always been, and allowing others to accept us for that.

It is a story about running away to join the circus, and perhaps discovering we’re already in the circus. About finding — and accepting — our place and the things we have done.

Of course I made a playlist, and of course I made a pinboard. My thanks to those who had a hand in this one, even if they don’t know it:

Stephen King and Margaret Sanger and Ellen and Charles and Joseph and Hem and Elvis and Laika and Robert and Alison and Scott and James Dean and Dean Dean and Paul Anka and my grandparents and my mom.

Especially if they don’t know it.