Fall Soups: Squash, Rice and Chicken

kabocha, cooking, recipes, squash, squash soup

Kabocha squash. Scoop out the seeds and roast them like pumpkin seeds. Creative Commons: Namayamsai LLP

When it comes to fall, I always make up a bunch of soups and freeze them. They’re good on a rainy or cold day, or when I’m tired and haven’t left time to make a lunch in the mornings. I have a great recipe book called The New Soup Bible by Anne Sheasby. There are several editions so the soups tend to be different in each one. They are also British and will list items like courgettes and aubergines (zucchini and eggplant to us North Americans) but measurements are in imperial and metric. Nutrition values are also given, which is helpful when I’m trying to watch my intake.

A couple of weeks ago I ended up making chicken stock because we’d had a Thanksgiving lunch at work. I can’t see a good chicken carcass go to waste and always make stock anytime I have one at home. So I hauled these babies home. I also keep cuttings from onions, celery and carrots to make veggie stock so I added these all in, with a bay leaf and some salt and pepper. I ended up with a lot of stock and a good selection of meat. So I had to make some soups. I’ve made succotash soup, and besides the cartoon Sylvester saying, “Thufferin’ thuccotash,” I actually had  no idea what it was.

Succotash soup is southern American (though it was first Native American) and the essential ingredients are corn and lima beans. The recipe I made is thickened with flour and comes out a light creamy yellow. So hearty is this soup that a serving is 500 calories though I saved mine into smaller containers. I didn’t take pictures of this but I have about four soups to make as  room appears in my freezer. I also made Chicken Coconut soup, with coconut milk, green curry and full on yumminess. I put a touch too much lemon grass in but otherwise, it’s super delicious.

Next I took a recipe for pumpkin, rice and chicken soup. The recipe calls for the following:

  • 3-4 c. chicken stock

    squash soup, fall soups, kabocha

    Stirring kobocha and leeks.

  • 1 wedge of pumpkin
  • 1 Tbsp sunflower oil
  • 1 Tbsp butter (I used olive oil for the oil and butter)
  • 2 leeks chopped
  • 5 green cardamon pods (I used black pods)
  • 1/2 c. basmati rice
  • 1.5 c. milk (I used almond milk)
  • pared orange rind to garnish (I didn’t have oranges so skipped this)
  • salt and pepper to taste (I also added a bit of marjoram)

I wasn’t sure how much a wedge of pumpkin is since pumpkin comes in all sizes. I also didn’t feel like being stuck with a lot of pumpkin so I used a kabocha (Japanese) squash, partly because a friend had brought some to a Thanksgiving dinner and it was tasty. In fact, I ate one quarter of the squash one night with cilantro, lime and olive oil. You can also roast the seeds. I also ate the thin green skin. I’m a proponent of eating skins if they are edible because there are many nutrients that are lost when yams or potatoes (for example) are peeled. These squat green gourds are slightly sweet and more yellowy-orange.

The recipe calls for cutting the pumpkin into cubes and slicing the leeks, then sauteeing in olive oil in a pan. (They called for sunflower oil but I used what I have.) I had pre-cooked the squash in the oven with a bit of olive oil so I cut it up and added it in, with the skin, realizing when I pureed it that it was going to possibly be spotty and not that orange. I also could not find green cardamon pods so I bought black pods. I believe that, unlike the green ones, these are roasted. They had a smokey smell but I tossed them in. Once everything is tender, you add in half the stock and stir.

kabocha, squash soup, cooking

The finished soup, with rice, chicken and squash.

Before pureeing you remove the pods. I forgot and a small one got ground up. I just have a wee Magic Bullet so I had to do batches and the squash/leek paste was so thick I had to add some of the milk at that stage. While this is all cooking, I put the rice on. Again I didn’t have basmati rice but brown and red rice mixed together. Rice is rice for this soup.

I poured the puree back into the pot, added the rest of the chicken stock and chicken, and the milk. This soup was pea-soup thick so I increased the milk to 2 cups. I added the rice but decided that it was still too thick so I added several cups of water. You could make this as thick or thin as you wanted.

The appearance is a little more green and there are slight flecks of green from the skins. The taste is slightly smoky and not like green cardamon at all but I think it works well and is balance by the slight sweetness of the kabocha and the savory leeks. A successful and very tasty soup. Instead of 4 servings, I end up with 8. Nutrition breakdown for 8 servings is: 158 calories, 5.4 gm fats, 15 gm carbohydrates, 12.3 gm protein, 36 mg cholesterol.

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Mysterious Mushroom

puffballs, mushrooms, eating

From Tom Volk’s fungus site. This shows the scleroderma citrinum mushroom

Earlier this summer I was yakking to my neighbor when I looked down and saw a potato colored stone at my feet. It was the size of a small plum and, like the crow I am, I reached down to pick up the interesting stone and in the process recognized it as vegetable, or more accurately, fungus. I exclaimed to my neighbor, “Hey, it’s a puffball mushroom but I’ve never seen one that wasn’t wrinkly and puffing out its spores.”

mushrooms, edible fungus, puffballs

I didn’t get a picture of the full mushroom but you can see how tiny it was, and black inside.

I was intrigued. This little beast was firm and a light tan, like a new potato, with a wee tendril root at its base. I said I was going to eat it, to which my neighbor looked dubious. Oh, don’t worry, I assured him, puffballs are edible if they’re not sporing. But really, what did I know? I used to work upgrading hiking trails and got totally into trying to find edible plans. Chicken of the woods, those ripply fungi that grow on the sides of trees, were supposed to be edible and taste like, yes, chicken. But the ones I found were always woody and not the tender young things needed for chicken fungus.

calvatia cyathaformis, true puffball, cooking mushrooms

What do you do with a wee shroom? You fry it up in some garlic oil.
Hope it doesn’t kill you.

Being not a total idiot (or perhaps I was) I took the shroom inside and cut it open. I was very surprised by the black texture. Most puffballs are a solid white/cream mass, just like the outside of a button mushroom. My photos aren’t that good but it wasn’t solid black, more like what it would have looked like if you paced it tightly with black poppy seeds. Well, black guts! There was no way I was going to eat this without reading up more. Was it bad? Was it a truffle?

Neither, though truffles do have black interiors but look completely different.. It is indeed a puffball  earthball, of the variety Calvatia Cyathiformis, most likely scleroderma cepa. It’s hard to find pictures on the internet and most say that scleroderma are poisonous though I found a book on Amazon that says they’re edible.  The mushroom was very firm, and had no smell.

The puffball earthball was so small I thought I’d do a taste test and used mildly flavored garlic olive oil. I fried the slices for about then minutes and the color turned a bit more brownish. The texture remained firm, not like button mushrooms that can turn really soft. I survived with no ill effects. This was my first wild mushroom, picked by me, and it seems the internet lead me astray! Now I want to point out that I did several hours research before even contemplating cooking it. After all, I’ve seen The Forsaken and Clint Eastwood’s fungus embroilment. I didn’t want a repeat. Probably because it was so small it hadn’t developed its toxins yet, but I can tell you that after another two hours of searching on the internet that I can’t find the sites I read originally and that there aren’t a lot of great pictures. The skin was not scaly, there was no root and only a tendril. It wasn’t bitter at all but tasty.  The scleroderma cepa is used as a soil inoculant and while I don’t know what that means, it means any soil put in the yard could have carried these spores. So don’t eat these guys. Don’t try this at home kids. And just so you know, my neighbor’s gingko tree has been dropping apricot colored fruit but I will not be trying these even if you can eat up to five before you might be poisoned!

calvatia cyathiformis, frying mushrooms, cooking, wild mushrooms

My first taste of a wild mushroom. I wish I had more.
I’m glad I didn’t become one.

So maybe I am stupid after all. :-/ (Thanks to Hillary for pointing this out.)

 

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Edgar Allan Poe and Crowdfunding

Poe, macabre, dark fantasy, horror, Gothic fiction, Edgar Allan Poe, crowdfunding

Poe themed coffin art by AhtheMacabra. There are only four and two are claimed.

I have to mention this particular crowdfunding because I just love it. There are many projects out there from books to gadgets and many add perks that entice people to donate. Not only do you often receive the item that the crowdfunding is for but you also get extras. With publishing it’s a hard numbers game. Costs of printing and distribution are set. So you have to add those costs into a cover price but if you go too high no one will buy your book. (For the purposes of this blog, book means paper and/or ebook.)

Publishers have to pay their staff and if they’re small or independent presses that staff might include unpaid interns or no one but the editor and possibly another dedicated soul or two. Those publishers have to pay their writers and while no book would exist without the writer, we are often at the bottom of the pay pile. I do not agree with publishing “for the love” as it’s called and believe that if you’re publishing a book for the love you should still pay the authors for their labor. Because of this structure, often paying everyone hinges on selling enough of a book. The publishers must market and sell and promote in as many ways as they can and a great amount of money can get caught up in marketing alone. These days the business models include the authors also trying to market themselves. And of course, there is crowdfunding, where you get a more direct piece of the pie and can buy into projects you might never have seen otherwise.

mystery fiction, Gothic fiction, fantasy anthology, Nancy Kilpatrick, Caro Soles

The anthology nEvermore! will collect tales from authors of mystery, murder and the macabre.

So I come to nEvermore! Tales of Murder, Mystery and the Macabre. Editors Nancy Kilpatrick and Caro Soles have come up with a great idea. The anthology will contain many tales. The indiegogo campaign says:

Poe is the father of the modern detective story.  And his genius at writing dark, supernatural tales and poems is legendary.  Poe wrote at a time when genres didn’t exist.  Readers wanted a good story; how it fit on a bookstore shelf didn’t matter.  We want to recapture that sense of excitement and discovery of short fiction. 

nEvermore! will bring together mystery writers who include a slash of the supernatural and dark fantasy/horror writers who slip across the shadows and touch on the mystery genre.  This will be a  “big book,” an homage to the glorious, Gothic style of the master, Edgar Allan Poe, bringing Poe-inspired fiction into the 21st century.  A book that will revive and refresh all of us who love to read short fiction! Help us create this unusual anthology.  Be a part of it!

poetry, Gothic fiction, Edge Publishing, horror, fiction crowdfunding, fantasy anthology

Living Dead Dolls of Poe and Annabell Lee, with coffin, raven and death certificate.

As with most crowdfundings, you donate different amounts and receive different or more perks. The perks here are wonderful and unique. For writers, there is a writing contest to be included in the anthology. For $50 you get “Descent into the Maelstrom,” which includes a nEvermore ebook, a free download of The Raven by Masochistic Religion, and entry into the writing contest. Only three stories will be chosen and there are 100 spots in the campaign. For $125 you get one of the coffins pictured above (each one individual and only four were made), an ebook and the music download. These adorable Poe dolls are rare and only one set is available for $250, under “Premature Burial,” which also includes an e or print book and the music download.

For other writers, you can pay $1,000 to have a full-on critique of your manuscript and face to face time (or phone depending where you live) with Nancy or Caro. This is a fair price (plus you get the book and the download as well). As a copyeditor, I have easily charged this to copyedit a novel manuscript, though copyediting is somewhat different than critiquing. Who are Nancy Kilpatrick and Caro Soles?

Nancy Kilpatrick is an award-winning author and editor known for her dark fantasy/horror and mystery stories.  She has published 18 novels, over 200 short stories, 6 collections, 1 non-fiction book, and has edited 14 anthologies.  She has worked for major publishing houses and small presses and some of her fiction has been translated in several foreign languages.  Poe’s works have been a lifelong passion and she is thrilled to have this opportunity to create an anthology that honors this exceptional author of style and genius.
Poe, the Raven, nevermore, Caro Soles, Nancy Kilpatrick, horror

Quoth the raven, I have to have my nails done. You know you want them.

 

Caro Soles is best known for founding the Bloody Words Mystery Conference to highlight Canadian mystery writing. She received the Derrick Murdoch Award from the Crime Writers of Canada, was short-listed for the Lambda Literary Award, and inaugurated the Bloody Words Mystery Award several years ago.  She has published 11 novels and many short stories and has edited several mystery anthologies.  She writes and reads mysteries, teaches writing at George Brown College and loves a good ghost story.

Nevermore, the Raven, Poe,

nEvermore! a Poe-inspired anthology. Support the crowdfunding and get the book.

There are many other perks in this crowdfunding campaign, from Poe lunchboxes, action figures, stamps, band-aids and air freshener as well as raven books, nails, magnets and plushies. Some items are very limited so check it out now. New perks will be arriving as others sell out. So how fun is that? Support authors, get an awesome anthology and other fun items. Go here. On for two more weeks. It’s definitely a win-win.

 

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Writing: Marketing at Cons

Literaryliaison sent me this question:

cosplay, fantasy conventions, fans, SF, marketing writing

Dressing like this might get you the attention of an editor. Creative Commons: Florian Fromentin, Flickr

This year, I will be going to my first con. My sister and I will be dressing up as characters from The Hobbit, but we were wondering if a con is a good place to market fantasy. Have you had a lot of success in the past? Do you dress up as one of your characters? We thought that might be a creative idea.

I thought I’d actually write a post about cons and marketing your writing. First, there are three “world” cons. There is World Fantasy Con, World Horror Con and Worldcon. All three move from city to city and sometimes country to country. The first two are what is called a professional con. These conventions are mainly for the publishing industry. The industry is composed of writers, editors, artists, agents and publishers. Therefore your percentage of professionals to fans ratio is very different than Worldcon or any other fan cons. While fans may attend WFC or WHC, they are small in number. But yet, there are still fans but in this case those fans are writers of differing degrees, from the new writer with a first story to sell to the seasoned pros who come to mingle, be on panels, check in with their agents and publishers in person.

Professional cons tend to not have any fan tracks. There will be no gaming, no movies going on, no costume contest, etc. Therefore, there will be no costumes. What has been a somewhat snobbish view in the publishing industry is that if you show up at a pro con in costume you’re just a fan and not really a writer. I don’t agree with this and it’s my pet peeve that WFC is held around Hallowe’en every year and they don’t do costumes. Except last year, in Brighton. I’m also not all knowledgeable in this and it could be attitudes are changing. Those of us that go to the pro cons might affect weird contact lenses, flamboyant clothing and jewellery. I’ve been known to wear a pink brocade tricorn hat. It’s not a costume; it’s my clothing. ;) It’s sort of a subtle way of circumventing the costume rule.

Now I should say I’ve only attended one Worldcon and that there are other very large conventions in various cities, such as Dragon Con in Georgia or Comic Con. The last, while more comic oriented is huge, filled with media stars and people wearing cosplay. I don’t know what writing/pro tracks they have but the norm is costuming.

fantasy authors, writers, professional conventions, World Fantasy Con

Do you think George R.R. Martin cares what you’re wearing? No. But he might not buy your novel either. Creative Commons: dravecky

You could always do a combo at the cons. Definitely dress up, have fun and, if you can manage it, do go as one of your characters. While agents or editors might look askance, or be drawn to your outfit, the other fans will eventually be your reading audience and they count. Writers won’t care. Maybe editors won’t care, especially if you’re wearing one of the skintight outfits of female superheros, or the bare-chested brawny male hero version. Also if they have panels to do with writing and marketing fiction, attend them, even in costume. These panels can give you a wealth of info and you might get a chance to talk to an editor or agent and see what they want. Sometimes there are publisher parties. Another good place to chat with editors and find out what they’re looking for.

If you’re self-publishing, use every gimmick you have to spread the word. Bookmarks, free giveaways and dressing as one of your characters is a good way to make people aware. These days, there are thousands of books and authors, and not everyone who is successful writes great works. Some have good publishers, agents and marketing. Marketing matters, even for people with large publishing firms.

I’ve not dressed up as one of my characters but then I haven’t written a character that I look like at all, but it’s a great idea. If you do happen to go to World Horror or World Fantasy, you might tone down the costuming because you’ll stick out like a sore thumb but with all other cons, you’ll be part of the fun. I do hope though that a good editor or agent would not miss the opportunity to find a great writer just because of a costume. Good luck!

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Writing, Readings and Cons, Oh My!

ChiSeriesVancouverPoster-web-2014This weekend is VCon, Vancouver’s SF and fantasy convention. I haven’t gone in a few years but I will be attending this year and will be on a panel about Finding Your Muse, tomorrow at 1:00 pm. I have a reading at 7:00 pm where I will read from a story that was long listed for the Stoker Award. And on Saturday I will be on a panel about the role of religion in speculative fiction. If you’re not doing anything come on down and experience the breadth and depth of convention fun.

I should also mention that my poem “Family Tree” has come out in the collection They Have to Take You In, edited by Ursula Pflug. “The Collector” came out earlier this year in Cemetery Dance. My story “Pearls and Swine” will be coming out in the New Exile Book of Canadian Noir, and Our Lady of Redemption, plus an article “Universal Monsters” will be out in Nameless Magazine sometime in the near future. And check out this interview with me at the Reality Skimming blog, by Christel Bodenbender.

On Tuesday, Oct. 7, I host the Vancouver ChiSeries. The Chiaroscuro Reading Series started in Toronto and is held quarterly in Winnepeg, Ottawa and Vancouver. I have a great lineup of authors. You can attend for free, listen to the readings, peruses the books for sale and ask questions of the authors. The Cottage Bistro is a nice little venue at Main, near 28th St. and offers drinks and food as well Easily accessible by bus and lots of street parking. Now read below to see who is coming.

SF, free readings, Vancouver, ChiSeries, CZP

Paula Johanson is a writer, teacher and editor.

For over twenty-five years, Paula Johanson has worked as a writer, teacher and editor. Among her twenty-nine books on science, health and literature for young adult readers the most recent are Love Poetry: How Do I Love Thee? (Enslow Publishers), Fish: The Truth About The Food Supply (Rosen Publishing), and the science fiction anthology Opus 6 (Reality Skimming Press). Twice she has been shortlisted for the Prix Aurora Award. An accredited teacher, she has written and edited curriculum educational materials. Recently she completed an MA in Canadian Literature at the University of Victoria.Twitter: @ PaulaJohanson

publsihing, ediucation, SF, writing, Canadian authors

Lynda Williams teaches, writes and is starting a publishing company.

Lynda Williams is the author of the ten-novel Okal Rel Saga and publisher of Reality Skimming Press. Lynda holds two post graduate degrees, manages an e-learning team at SFU and teaches part-time for BCIT in introductory web development. She is also editor for the Collidor project to create an SF web app magazine. http://okalrel.org/reality-skimming/

Alma Alexander’s life so far has prepared her very well for her chosen career. She was born in a country which no longer exists on the maps, has lived and worked in seven countries on four continents (and in cyberspace!), has climbed mountains, dived in coral reefs, flown small planes, swum with dolphins, touched two-thousand-year-old tiles in a gate out of Babylon. She is a novelist, anthologist and short story writer who currently shares her life between the Pacific Northwest of the USA (where she lives with her husband and two cats) and the wonderful fantasy worlds of her own imagination. http://anghara.livejournal.com https://www.facebook.com/pages/Alma-Alexander/67938071280

Secrets of Jin Shei, fantasy, ChiSeries, CZP

Alma Alexander is the duchess of fantasy, or maybe a lost nation.

Come out and meet some of the writers, and chat with us. We’d like to see more of a community that appreciates SF, fantasy and dark fiction. The next ChiSeries after this one will be in January so this is the last one of 2014. Starting at 7:30 pm.

And one more thing, Nancy Kilpatrick and Caro Soles are editing an anthology called nEvermore! It’s an homage to the glorious, Gothic style of the master, Edgar Allan Poe, bringing Poe-inspired fiction into the 21st century. nEvermore! brings together mystery writers (who already include a slash of the supernatural in their writing) and dark fantasy/horror writers (who currently slip across the shadows and touch on the mystery genre).

It’s crowdfunded to support the authors and has some great perks. Some rare Poe stamps, four one-of-a-kind mini Poe coffins, steampunk Poe necklace, glass tile magnets, the book and more perks to come. And for writers who want to join this anthology, there is a contest. Only three stories will be selected to join the other authors in this anthology. Check out Descent into the Maelstrom for contest and writing rules.  Personally I would love any of the perks. It’s an awesome concept and worthy of supporting on several fronts.

About the editors: Caro Soles is best known for founding the Bloody Words Mystery Conference to highlight Canadian mystery writing. She received the Derrick Murdoch Award from the Crime Writers of Canada, was short-listed for the Lambda Literary Award, and inaugurated the Bloody Words Mystery Award several years ago.  She has published 11 novels and many short stories and has edited several mystery anthologies. 

Nancy Kilpatrick is an award-winning author and editor known for her dark fantasy/horror and mystery stories.  She has published 18 novels, over 200 short stories, 6 collections, 1 non-fiction book, and has edited 14 anthologies.  She has worked for major publishing houses and small presses and some of her fiction has been translated in several foreign languages.  Poe’s works have been a lifelong passion and she is thrilled to have this opportunity to create an anthology that honors this exceptional author of style and genius.

So check out the crowdfunding perks and sign up to get yourself some special Poe stories and items. And come out to VCon and to the ChiSeries readings. You can’t get too much of a good thing. October is the official month of bats and pumpkins and things that go bump in the night and slither quietly by day.

 

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Art: To Offend or Not

This last week in Vancouver a mysterious life-size statue appeared. It’s not far from my place but I missed seeing it. Let me first describe the area. Clark Dr. is the truck route in and out of Vancouver. If you’re coming over the border from the US it’s one of the routes that lead you into the city on the east side. Clark and 4th Ave. are a juncture with a major road going west into the city. The SkyTrain station tracks go over the top and a college campus is nearby.

East Van cross, Ken Lum, red devil statue, public art, art statements

The East Van cross sits at Clark Dr. and 6th Ave. Photo credit: vancouverisawesome.com

Riding high above the tracks is the East Van cross by artist Ken Lum. I’ve already written about my opinion of this cross in Ho Hum, Ken Lum. At night it glows white against the evening sky. Overall this is a blue-collar, industrial area filled mostly with cars zooming by. People don’t linger here. There are no coffee shops or funky places in which to hang. There’s an autobody shop, an auto glass shop, a few warehouses. Nothing special. So I suppose every piece of art adds something to a dreary commuter route.

Now, this other statue I mentioned wasn’t commissioned by the city or through some high-end artist. In fact it’s very much like the graffiti that adorns the walls near by. It was made and placed by the unknown artists who feel a need to make a comment or change the streets of our city.

red devil statue, East Van, Clark Drive, Angelo Branca

The area where Christopher Columbus and a red devil once rested. Photo credit: http://www.allele.com

The area where the statue was erected has had a bare podium for years. It supposedly once held a statue of Christopher Columbus to honor Angelo Branca, a prominent Italian-Canadian judge who had once been a middleweight boxing champion. East Van has Vancouver’s largest Italian population. Around 2000, that stature disappeared and ended up in Hastings Park, supposedly rescued from a bad location. And it is a bad location. People don’t go to this area for a picnic, while I’m sure drug addicts do go there. So this odd, Stonehenge-like park was empty for years.

red devil statue, naked devil, East Van, guerilla art, East Van cross

The devil is in the details.

No one knows who erected the statue or when, but a life-size red devil appeared in the last few weeks. It was very red, very identifiable as the classic red Satan and was wearing nothing but a very large erect penis. Suddenly, this unknown un-park (which I remember with the Christopher Columbus statue and barren for years) was a place of pilgrimage. Tourists and locals came by to take pictures and view the goods. From the SkyTrain, if anyone wasn’t looking down at their phones, they probably got a good view of the lil devil.

Was it just a prank, an idol placed by Satanists, guerrilla art? I think it was much more than that and a statement. I’d already stated that to place a piece of blatantly religious art such as the East Van cross, whether hearkening back to early neon art history or East Van heritage or not, was offensive in its own way when we live in a much more multicultural and multi-religious world. But if we take in this somewhat cliché, a bit tacky, definitely bawdy sculpture of a devil, we have a piece that could also be considered offensive.

red devil statue, East Van, Christian symbolism

The cross overlooks the devil, a piece of art that completes a set in Christian iconography. Pic from gangsters out blog.

Perhaps the unknown artists wanted to show that what is offensive to one may not be to another. And when you look at it in another light, these two pieces of art actually complement each other. Yes, they do. They are both Christian iconography. The devil’s right hand is making a devil horns symbol but it is also pointing up…to the cross that stands above and to his right. Salvation and damnation; what could be more Christian and recognizably so? To me, having the devil standing there actually made the cross less offensive and kind of balanced the piece with more depth about a particular religion and its recognizable symbols. However, the city didn’t see it that way and took it down.

While I never liked the cross, I do believe certain types of art are meant to provoke thought and discussion. The devil brought that out and truly lived up to the reputation of a devil; he sowed unrest, disturbed the piece, was ribald and drew attention. Here’s to the unseen artists who thought to complete Ken Lum’s sentence.

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The Chi Reading Series

ChiSeriesVancouverPoster - July 2014The truth is I’ve been far too busy to blog of late and so my blog has been suffering badly. My day job became overwhelming and has eaten all of my energy. I’m hoping that will change soon. So, in trying to keep a toe over the threshold and into the world I’d like to mention that I’m still hosting the ChiSeries Vancouver, part of the Chiaroscuro Reading series started in Toronto some five or so years ago by Sandra Kasturi and friends. In Toronto, where the wild things are, and there is an abundance of culture and population, the series has run successfully every month.

Cov_TheDoorThatFacedWest_large

On sale at the reading, as well as A Parliament of Crows, and Of Thimble and Threat The Life of a Ripper Victim

Last year, along with Ottawa and Winnipeg, we launched in April, and ran quarterly, with readings in July, Oct. and then in February. The next one would have been May but EDGE Publishing was bringing dark fiction author and vampire aficionado Nancy Kilpatrick in May so we did a reading with Nancy, which included  Rhea Rose and me reading as well. With these readings we had several hurdles to get beyond. One was the venues brought some challenges, and with the new reading for this July 22nd we will be moving to the Cottage Bistro at 4468 (or possibly 4470) Main St. The Cottage Bistro is known for hosting live music as well as several other reading series and is happy to have the ChiSeries on stage.

This is an exciting and very central venue so I’m hoping that many people will come out and enjoy the tales. ChiSeries is free and the readers are TheIncomingTidepublished authors of speculative fiction and poetry. This includes science fiction, fantasy, magic realism, mythical, dark fiction, horror and all subgenres in between. This July, we have guests arriving from Oregon: Alan M. Clark, Kirsten Alene, and Cameron Pierce.

Some people might recognize Alan’s name. He has been a well-known and award-winning artist in the dark fiction genre for a number of years. He was this year’s emcee for the World Horror Convention, as well. His paintings range from thoughtful to disturbing and he has created illustrations for hundreds of books, including works of fiction of various genre,s nonfiction, textbooks, young adult fiction, and children’s books. Awards for his illustration work include the World Fantasy Award and four Chelsey Awards. He is the author of thirteen books, including seven novels, a lavishly illustrated novella, four collections of fiction, and a nonfiction full-color book of his artwork. His latest novel, The Door That Faced West, was released by Lazy Fascist Press February, 2014.

bizarre fiction, fantasy, US authors, ChiSeries, readings in Vancouver

Kirsten Alene’s book will be available at the reading.

Writing couple Kirsten Alene  and Cameron Pierce live in Portland, Oregon. Kirsten’s books include Japan Conquers the Galaxy, Unicorn Battle Squad, Love in the Time of Dinosaurs, and the forthcoming short story collection, Rules of Appropriate Conduct from Civil Coping Mechanisms in 2015. Her work has appeared in such places as Amazing Stories of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, Bust Down the Door and Eat All the Chickens, Innsmouth Magazine and The Magazine of Bizarro Fiction.

Cameron Pierce’s ten books include the Wonderland Book Award-winning collection Lost in Cat Brain Land, Our Love Will Go the Way of the Salmon, and the forthcoming novella The Incoming Tide. His work has been praised by The Guardian, Cracked.com and many others. Cameron is also the editor of three anthologies, most recently In Heaven, Everything Is Fine: Fiction Inspired by David Lynch, and is head editor of the popular indie publisher Lazy Fascist Press.

The reading runs from 7:30 until about 10;30 pm on July 22. Come join us or leave me a message here if you’d like to get onto a mailing list for future events. If you’re interested in the other ChiSeries events in the other cities, check out the Facebook pages and the website:  http://chiseries.com/

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My Excellent Birthday Adventure

steampunk, the Drive, Vancouver, East Van

Steampunk often involves gears, bolts and brass. From: http://www.bloodyloud.com/steampunk-jewellery-jm-gates/

Last week, it was my birthday. I’ve lived in Vancouver for years, and in the same neighborhood, yet there are many places on Commercial Drive, or The Drive, that I have never visited. I decided this year that I would choose to wander The Drive and try to hit five places I have yet to enter. I was going to start at noon and have friends join me as they could.

My first stop was the Time Travelers’ Bazaar at the Britannia School. Being no more than a five-minute walk from my place, I thought I knew where it was. However, Britannia is a huge complex that includes the school, daycare, library, skating rink, pool, courts and other buildings. Even if you know your way around it’s not easy to find the right spot. I went toward the cafeteria but all the doors were locked. I ended up picking up three other souls wandering as lost as me. Luckily one of my friends had come from another direction and found his way in.

The Bazaar was just for the day and everything from Steampunk jewellery to hats and bonnets, guns, masks, fascinators, fabric and sundries. I wandered in there fro about a half hour but with three friends trying to find me and coming from various directions, I headed to the Drive and told them which corner I’d be on. We went north for a couple of blocks and found the Windjammer Restaurant. I said they’d only been there a couple of years and someone said no since the 70s. I do know my hood well enough to notice when something goes in. It turns out the cafe has been around since the 70s but used to be on Main until about three years ago. Eight of us didn’t fill it up but definitely gave them a Sunday boost. Fish and chips are the specialty with choices in cod, halibut and salmon, plus poutine and a few other dishes. The special was two moderate pieces of cod, with fries and cole slaw for $6. The meal filled us and tasted fine. I don’t know if I’ve ever had stellar fish and chips. but the ones in England last year were better. These were fine and worth the price but nothing to write home about.

Commercial Drive, Vancouver cafes, food, burgers

Cannibal Cafe specializes in meat and is one of the newest restaurants on the Drive.

We crossed the street at Venables and then moved south along the Drive, wandering in and out of shops I’ve been in before. But part of the adventure was for my friends as well. Some people left, others joined and we continued along the way. The second place I wandered into that I’ve never really noticed much before was the Mr. Pets. It’s a large pet store across from Mark’s Pet Stop near 3rd and Commercial. I tend to support the little guy and usually stop in Mark’s but I was looking for special kitty kibble to help my cat who doesn’t jump too well. The shop has everything from cats to canaries (supplies) though I could hear a few birds. I actually didn’t explore the full store but bought the kitty treats.

Having eaten late and feeling still full we just stopped for a drink at the Cannibal Cafe with decorations above the prep area of plastic knives and cutting instruments covered in fake blood. They have beer and cider on tap and specialize in hand-ground meaty burgers plus smoked meat, salmon and turkey, and of course poutine. While we only drank, a friend says the burgers are good. Prices look reasonable and I’ll come back some night for a bite.

head shop, bongs, Smokers Corner, the Drive

This creature is for smoking. Found at the Smoker’s Corner

We were now into late afternoon. We stopped in front of a store’s window display that held strange blown-glass fish monsters. It turned out these were bongs for smoking your favorite substance. The head shop is called The Smoker’s Corner and only one friend and I were brave enough to wander in and look at all the artistic glass pipes. The weirdest gadgets were gas masks with long, clear green or pink tubes. I guess it meant you could get stoned and get your fetish on at the same time. None of us smoke but it was an adventure in weird pipes, to say the least.

I also popped into the long-running Dr. Vigari Gallery. It’s not new to me but the location is so it counts as half a bonus point. The last place on the Drive that was new to me was the Mediterranean Specialty Foods. The Drive is known for its Italian flavor, sporting many coffee shops, the Portuguese Club, old Italian restaurants now revamped, stores specializing in pasta, olives and salamis and El Sureno, another ethnic food store. I’ve been in all the others and somehow missed this one. It was a treasure chest, with bottles of different oils and vinegars, olives and peppers, pasta and spices lining the shelves like a caravan of goods. Definitely a cornucopia for the foodie. I’ll be going back here the next time I’m shopping. There are more oil than all the other shops put together. I also have some friends who like to play with their food so this place will be great for gift shopping.

food, olives, oils, the Drive, Commercial Drive, foodies

Mediterranean Specialty Foods. Owner Jack Elmasu. From Montecristo Magazine

That was the last official stop and since it was Sunday all of the shops were closing. What else to do on a birthday tour? Why, stop somewhere else to get a drink. We stopped at the Dime Roadhouse, a remade restaurant where one of the old pasta restaurants lived for years. I’ve only been there twice before and the sound was so loud you had to scream. For whatever reason; perhaps the better than expected good weather, being a Sunday, everyone was hungover…the noise was at a lower level and we could actually talk at normal level. A few more friends joined as others left. We ate dinner there. The Dime’s food runs no more that $4.95 for a dish. You don’t get massive portions but I had butternut squash risotto with goat cheese and it was enough and fairly tasty. You can’t go too wrong. Another friend had nachos for one; again, a good enough size. And if it’s not enough, order something else. Since I had been at the Dime before, it doesn’t count, but I’d not been to the bathroom there before. :)

For a Sunday Birthday adventure I got to show some of my friends more of my hood and after a very long time of living there I found new places. It was low key and great day out.

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Shitty Poetry Month

poetry, poems, shitty poems, CZP, Chizine Publications, contests

In a send-up of the WWW belt and poetry month, you can vote for the worst poet.

In a send-up of all those poetry months, (and of course you know April is National Poetry Month) the folks at Chizine Publications decided to honor “Shitty Poetry Month.” There are many abysmal poems that fill the ether and the void and in fact, probably a lot of them should be voiced instead of being put into books and sent around the world. The vanity presses are famous for taking every piece of drek to mar a monitor and putting them into a lovely hardcover book, that they then charge you, the writer of terrible poems, to buy and give to all your friends so you can say, “Look! I is a writer.”

Yes, it’s that terrible and terribly fun. With tongue firmly in cheek, we were all asked to write terrible poems. It’s the last week of the contest, where each week you could vote for the worst poem. The four finalists will be pitted against each other, where you, brave reader, can vote for the worst poem of the year. I’m afraid to say my poem was not terrible enough. (What a relief!)

You can also read just how awful we can be when we just spew out whatever comes into our minds. Yes, poetry actually takes work. I’ve been working on some poems for year and years, to get them just right. Which reminds me, I have sold poems to On Spec and Burning Maiden. It will take a while for them to come out, which I will of course announce here.

In the meantime, entertain yourself with some shitty poems. And if you’re not familiar with CZP, they put out very good books in the dark fiction world. They also won a British Fantasy Award last year. http://www.chizine.com

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Book Review: The Warded Man

fantasy, epic fantasy, Peter Brett

The Warded Man was released in the US in 2009, Harper Voyager imprint

The Warded Man by Peter V. Brett came out in 2008 in the UK (as The Painted Man) and 2009 in North America. It’s the first of the Demon Cycle. Yes, there are spoilers.

This fantasy takes place in world that once had the age of science but something happened and demons from the core (of the world) materialized every night, bent on destroying humans. Small villages and hamlets use wards on posts and homes that keep the corelings at bay. Everyone knows how to ward, but some are better than ever. If a ward is drawn wrong, or gets marred, it leaves a way in for the corelings to destroy everything. Larger towns have warded boardwalks  so one can cautiously get place to place but pretty much the night is owned by the corelings.

The “free” cities are encircled by huge stone walls, with the streets lined with stone. Everything is warded with sigils by the guild of warders, and demons rarely get in. But still people only very carefully venture into the night. This leads to an isolated society, where travel more than a day is difficult and people must ask for succor in another place before the sun goes down. The centuries of isolation has lead to various places jealously guarding the wards they use, as opposed to sharing. News and merchandise must still get from town to town and this is left to Messengers and Jongleurs. The jongleurs bring the news and tales and a respite from the terror, with their songs and acrobatics. The Messengers are combinations of merchant, knight and postman and hardened souls used to the vagaries of the night world. They carry portable ward circles, warded shields, weaponry and a host of scars.

The elemental air, rock, wood, sand, water and fire demons. While the wind corelings seemed similar to pterodactyls they are terrifying creatures of nightmare. The story begins with eleven-year-old Arlen, a good warder who witnesses the coring of his mother. The subsequent search for healing lead him on a journey to one of the free cities where he apprentices as a warder and messenger. Over ten years pass in the span of Arlen’s life as he hones his skills, faces betrayals and alienates himself from humankind in his relentless search for the old battle wards and artifacts, and his vengeance against the demons.

Leesha is a young girl, unjustly marred by a braggart fiance and spiteful mother. She apprentices to the extremely old, cranky and mean herb gatherer Bruna. Leesha’s gains independence and eventually travels to help neighboring towns. But she runs into her own hardships and terror when she returns to help her village and the Warded Man rescues her and Rojer.

Rojer lost his family at a young age and was raised by a drunkard jongleur. With his damaged half hand he’s never very good at juggling but is a passable acrobat and plays a mean fiddle. On the road with his master they meet calamity and then Rojer meets Leesha. He has found that the sound of his fiddle can repel the demons and Leesha knows how to make a burning liquid that can injure the previously thought indestructible demons.

While these two have their own threads as they grow and learn their strengths and fears, Arlen is the main focus.He ends up in desert city Krasia, the only place where they actively fight to repel the demons. Arlen hopes to pass on his discoveries of the battle wards but is betrayed by a culture where he is considered an outsider.

Overall I found the story engaging and it kept me reading. The action is clear, but I would have preferred descriptions of the characters to come more as part of the story as opposed to exposition. But the exposition is light. Most of the logic for the warding works. Demons can’t go through stone but can go through wood. The wards have to be in a circle to work on buildings, but you can repel with a ward on an object such as a shield. The battle wards were lost because the demons had been expunged and people forgot. I just don’t quite see how three centuries can go by where people put wards on shields but never put them on swords or spears.

There are two aspects I disliked about this book; one is endemic in many medieval fantasies. Game of Thrones suffers from it as well, even if Aria and Brienneare are exceptions. But they are exceptions in a patriarchal world where women are still chattels and brood mares and expected to be good and silent wives. In many cases, these worlds are styled on our own history, if given different trappings such as species, magic or geography. But I’m getting heartily sick of the role of women always being virgin, mother, whore or sacred warrior (Joan of Arc anyone?). In this way it’s still a man’s world. While Leesha and Bruna are strong women, they don’t step outside the traditional roles. If exploring a patriarchy and the liberation of women was the goal, then this would have been more acceptable.

The other aspect I really hated was the Krasians. They’re a desert nation who put no god before the Creator and the Deliverer is his prophet, where their women are veiled head to foot and outsiders are considered dirt. They eat figs and dates and dress in baggy pants. Medieval Middle East, with not even a veil to disguise it. At this point I threw up my hands. Do terrorists always have to be Middle Eastern? Yes, there are plenty of white-skinned bad guys in this book, but the thin veneer of our world’s cultures made me sigh in exasperation. I knew what the second book was going to be about. The betraying Krasians steal the magic spear and decide to take over the world, delivering people from demons but changing them into believers of the new faith. And the Warded Man must stop the holy war.

I find it annoying to have our world with just a touch of different icing for fantasies. I liked the book well enough and the overall premise of battling these corelings, but I don’t think it went far enough. I’d be tempted to read the second book but I’m not dying to. I saw enough of this world to feel I had a complete story. I’d give The Painted Man three and a half wards.

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