Last Day of 2011 (Updated)

This is my annual post where I sum up what happened in my professional life in that year and look ahead to what’s going to happen in 2012. I do this so I can have a handy record that I can get to in seconds. (Hence the “last day of the year” tag.)

This was not a fabulous year for me but it was a whole lot worse for so many other people around the world that whingeing would be tacky. I’ll focus on the good:

Finally, finally, finally we were able to announce, Sarah Rees Brennan and I, that we wrote a book together, Team Human, which is all about how having your best friend fall in love with a vampire SUCKS.1 We had to keep that secret for well over a year and it nearly killed us. It comes out in July in Australia (with Allen & Unwin) and in the United States of America (with Harper Collins). Oh, and it’s totally a real book and not a hoax despite what that lying minx Maureen Johnson says. See, actual real people have read it!

Sarah Rees Brennan has been crazy busy. Not only did she write a book with me but she also sold a whole new trilogy. The first book, Unspoken, will be out in September 2012. (Yes, she has two books out within three months of each other. Yes, she has superpowers.)

It’s SRB’s best book so far. I loved her Demon trilogy2 but Unspoken is even better. I cannot wait for more people to read it so we can all talk about the fantastic things she does with all those delicious Gothic tropes. Seriously, it’s wonderful and I’m convinced that SRB is going to start a Gothic revival.3 In fact, SRB’s made me want to write my own Gothic, which obviously I will have to dedicate to her. It will have an insane house that . . . oh, actually, I think Shirley Jackson wrote that book. Hmmm. I guess I should update that list of writing goals to include Gothic.

Books out this year

There were no new books by me in 2011. It was the first time since 2005 that I went book-less. Turns out I am no longer capable of a book a year. And to think I once attempted two books a year. It is to laugh! From now on it’s more likely to be a book every five years. Maybe.

Books out in 2012 and 2013

Well, except that I will have a book a year for the next two years: Team Human and Team Human: The Sequel of Awesomeness.

Thank you, SRB, for being the best and hardest working and paitentest collaborator a writer could hope for. Without you it would have been an eighteen year gap between my last book, Zombies versus Unicorns in 2010—another collaborative book—you do all see how my lovely writer friends are saving my career, right? Thank you, Holly Black—and my next solo book in 2028.4

RSI

Often after a new post from me I get a few people saying, “OMG! You’re writing again! You’re all cured! That’s awesome!”

To which, thanks! It’s really lovely to know that my online jibberings have been missed. But, sadly, no, I am not cured. Still with the RSI (Repetitive Strain Injury). Alas and alack. I’m pretty much where I was when I wrote about it a year ago.

What I’m doing is managing the RSI. Figuring out how to get the maximum amount of writing done with the minimum amount of pain, which involves a lot of time and money. I swear I practically have my own staff: physiotherapist, chiropractor, acupuncturist, masseur, trainer, pilates instructor.5

I am extremely grateful to all of them while also resentful of the time it takes to buy me a few hours of writing. It does get me down. On the days when I don’t type I have virtually no pain at all. On the days I do type, even if only for a short while, there’s pain. For some strange reason feedback like that is more conducive to lying in bed feeling sorry for yourself than it is to writing.6

Don’t get me wrong. I’m extremely fortunate. There are plenty of people who have neither the time nor the money to be able to deal with the ailments that are making their life hellish. Whose ailments are far worse than mine, whose symptoms cannot be managed. I know writers who write with multiple sclerosis, while recovering from strokes, with serious heart conditions, with cancer and so forth.

There are people out there getting all sorts of amazing things done despite the most horrendous obstacles in their way. I admire each and every one of them.

Other Things I am Asked About

Q: How’s your 1930s book going?

A: I am still at work on my 1930s novel. Slowly but surely. I even read a small section of it at the lovely Sirens conference I attended this year. The reception was most pleasing. If you ever have an opportunity to go to Sirens—Do. A smarter, more interesting crowd of readers and writers does not exist.

But, no, the 1930s novel is not any closer to being finished. Best, really to forget I ever mentioned it. Instead watch the wonderful new US tv show SRB said I had to see: Revenge. The heroine is a wicked Nancy Drew, who’s in the Hamptons to revenge her unjustly imprisioned father and she has ninja super powers and the people she gets revenge on are, like, hedge fund managers. I love her so much!

Q: How’s your garden?

A: My garden is doing great. Thanks!

Well, there was the small matter of the accidental drought when the battery went on the irrigation system. But most of the plants survived. It was kind of amazing. All the native violets laid down and died and then the second they felt sweet, sweet water they sprang up and were green and flowering again. Life, I tell you, it’s a miracle.

Those few plants that died I replaced with passionfruit. Because, well, yum. Also it turns out that passionfruit are like triffids. They move when you’re not looking and grow REALLY fast. Though, so far they have not attempted to eat me.

And the drought made my poor freaked out where-has-all-the-water-gone Tahitian lime tree fruit for the first time. Fruit! On a tree! In my garden! Um, yes, I am excited.

And I am starting to win my battle against the slugs. Apparently, they love corn meal. EVEN THOUGH IT KILLS THEM. Mwahahahahah!:

What? They totally deserve it. They were killing my basil and my poor benighted flowering eucalyptus! I have to KILL THEM ALL. NO OTHER PUNISHMENT IS ENOUGH. And, no, I’m not channelling Emily Thorne/Amanda Clarke from Revenge because she would think that merely ruining the slugs was sufficient. SHE WOULD BE WRONG. THEY MUST ALL DIE.7

Slugs and accidental droughts aside, my garden is one of the great pleasures in my life. We use the herbs daily. Currently, thyme, rosemary, mint, bay leaves, majoram, oregano, kaffir lime leaves, sage, basil and parsley. There are native bees and rainbow lorikeets sipping from our grevillea flowers. It looks and smells amazing. Every time I get stuck I walk out there breathe deep, kill a few caterpillars, smell a few flowers, chew on some mint and everything is just fine.

Happy new year, everyone! Here’s hoping 2012 will be what you want it to be.

Update: I forgot to put my usual disclaimer at the bottom of this post, which led a few folks to write and suggest I use voice recognition software. So here it is:

This post brought to you by demonic voice misrecognition annoyingware. Apologies for brevity, wrong word choices, weird syntax and occasional incomprehensible swearing.

  1. Pardon the truly terrible pun. []
  2. Because, well, Sin and Mae and Jamie and Nick. And SRB even got me to start liking Allan by the end of the final book. []
  3. Yes, that was another bad pun. []
  4. Which is when the next total eclipse that can be viewed from Australia takes place. Clearly, it will be the best year ever. []
  5. I will say this: Damn, am I fit! []
  6. Crap. I said I wasn’t going to whinge. Sorry! []
  7. Also, Emily/Amanda is way too classy TO SHOUT IN ALL CAPS. []

Muhammara Dip

After I blogged about our feast of Turkish cooking, I had a few people demand recipes. To them I strongly recommend getting a copy of Classic Turkish Cookery by Ghillie Başan. We’ve now tried multiple dishes from it and they’ve all turned out delicious.

MuhammaraHowever, there’s one recipe that wasn’t in that book: muhammara (walnut and roast red capsicum) dip. For that I had to google. I’ve now made it a bunch of times so this recipe is my take on the half a dozen or more recipes I found online.

5 or 6 big red capsicum (bell peppers)
2 cups of walnuts
approx half to 1 cup bread crumbs (1 pull two slices of bread out of the freezer, which defrost almost instantly, and then crumb them. Don’t use packaged bread crumbs. You can also leave the bread out altogether. Go easy on the liquids in that case and you’ll probably need more walnuts.)
garlic (I use A LOT.)
1 tbs pomegranate molasses or pomegranate juice
1 tsp kirmizi biber (a Turkish spice mix made from chilli peppers. So far I haven’t been able to find it in Sydney so I use half cayenne pepper and half sweet paprika.)
1 tsp ground cumin
juice of half a lemon (if they’re super juicy)
salt
pepper

I make it using two mortars and pestle, a large and a small one. Most people use a food processor. I’ve not used a food processor in, like, a million years, so you’re own your own if that’s how you want to do it. I’m sure you’ll know how.

1) Roast the capsicum. I do this by pre-heating the oven to 200C. I cover a baking tray with foil then oil it with olive oil. I put the whole capsicum on top and roll them in the oil and put a small hole in each one. (It’s never happened to me but a friend swears they can explode.) It takes about an hour. When they start to blacken, take them out, and put them in a large saucepan. Cover it with a clean, dry tea towel and stick the lid on top. When they’re cool you’ll find it’s easy to de-skin, de-seed and de-string them. As you pull the roasted capsicum free of that stuff, tear it into tiny pieces and place it in a bowl. You’ll find it tears easily. You can even squish it if you like. But basically you want it in as many small bits as you can.

When you’re finished you’ll find you’ve got a fair amount of liquid. I put all the capsicum bits into a large strainer to collect even more liquid and to drain the capsicum. This liquid can be used later to moisten the bread crumbs. The lemon juice is also good for that.

2) Bash the crap out of the walnuts in the big mortar and pestle. Have your assistant (mine’s called Scott) bash the garlic with some salt in the wee mortar and pestle until it’s practically liquid.

3) When the walnuts are near dust add the roasted capsicum bits and pound them.

4) Now it’s time to add three quarters of the breadcrumbs. (You hold back a quarter just in case it becomes too sloppy.) Moisten them a bit first. Most recipes say to use water, but I think that dilutes the intensity of the flavours, so I use either the capsicum liquid or some of the lemon juice. Bash away at it.

5) Next add the near-liquid garlic, the pomegranate molasses (or juice), and the cumin and chilli. Mix it together with a spoon. If you feel like it, pound remaining unpounded bits of capsicum or walnut. But don’t stress, part of the beauty of using a mortar and pestle is that you don’t get an absolutely uniform texture. It results in a better taste and mouth feel.1

6) Taste it. Add salt, pepper and more lemon juice until you think the balance is right. Mix it together with a spoon.

7) If it’s too liquid add the remaining bread. Bash the bread into the mixture. Repeat 6)

Last) Serve and eat! So far I’ve eaten it on bread, on carrot sticks, as a condiment with the main course, and off a spoon out of the fridge.2

You can add the ingredients in any order you like. The above is just what I’ve found works best for me. (I’m sure you food processor barbarians throw the lot into your evil machines in one go.) Though you do have to roast the capsicum first. The proportions are up to you as well. Depending on who I’m making it for I’ll use more chilli than I’ve suggested here. Make it a few times and figure out what you think works best.

Hope my directions make sense. You can tell I don’t make a living writing cook books, can’t you?

Enjoy.

Happy new year!

  1. Yes, “mouth feel” is a real term. I did not make it up. []
  2. Don’t tell Scott about that last one. []

Sydney Christmas

This year Scott and me hosted the family xmas at our new digs. This is the first time in my entire life it’s been held anywhere but at my parents’ place. Made me feel very grown up indeed.

Because of our recent Istanbul sojurn we went with a Turkish feast. Here’s me and Scott putting the finishing touches on the main course patates bastisi (potato casserole) and çingene pilavi (gypsy salad) and part of the mezze (first course) haveuç köftesi (carrot rolls with apricots and pine nuts):

xmascooking

And here’s the mezze spread on the table. The dishes are aci domates ezmesi (chilli tomato paste), yoghurt with garlic and lemon juice to go with the carrot rolls, kisir (bulgur patties) which you squeeze lemon on (see the wedge on everyone’s plate), humus (which my sister made), and muhammara (walnut and capsicum dip):

mezzespread

The meal was powered by garlic (it was in every single dish—even dessert! Just kidding! Or am I?) and our mighty mortar and pestle (two of them: one huge, one wee). All the recipes come from Classic Turkish Cookery by Ghillie Başan, which is dead good.

Hope you’re all eating and drinking as well as we are!

In Istanbul

I have fallen in love with yet another city. Istanbul is glorious. We have met with our lovely agent here, Asli Ermiş, who took us to meet our publishers, Omer Yenici at Epsilon (who will be publishing Leviathan) and Ilgin Toydemir at Artemis (who will be publishing Liar and already publish Midnighters). They in turn took us out for fabulous lunches.

In Istanbul we have eaten.

A lot.

Borsa
First course at Borsa restaurant.

baklavaci
A baklava shop, which sells many sweet and wondrous things. Yes, we bought and we ate.

EgyptianMarket
The Egyptian spice market.

amenities
I am of the school that finds Turkish Delight delightful. In fact, even Scott liked the Turkish Delight here and he claims to hate it on account of its grandma soap taste. The Turkish Delight in Istanbul is the best I’ve ever had.

Ciya
Ciya, my favourite restaurant so far. So many things I’d never tasted before in my life. All of it really good. If I could live at Ciya, I would. A multi-course meal for the two of us cost under forty USD (that’s together, not each). And we ate an INSANE amount of food, and drank mulberry and other fruit juices of wonder.

FourSeasonsBrunch
Brunch at the Four Seasons. This is the dessert station.

Once again my apologies for not posting or responding to mail and comments. We are too busy eating and seeing the glorious sights. This is the first real holiday I’ve had in a long time and I’m enjoying it muchly.

Hmm . . . is it lunch time yet?

Who Hates Chocolate? (updated x 2)

A while back a bunch of us bonded over not driving and then about hating coffee. It was a beautiful thing to be able to share about the annoyingness of our mild oppression. Why is it so many people who love coffee can not cope with those of us who don’t and feel the urge to force the stuff upon us?

It’s not quite as bad with chocolate. No one feels the urge to force it on me but their horror at my hatred is if anything even more excessive. Chocolate lovers cannot conceive of people who do not share their passion. They look at us as if they have just found out that we enjoy killing babies. They doubt our humanity. You should see their faces when they discover I like white chocolate. “That’s not chocolate!” they proclaim in contempt. Well, der, you idiots, that’s why I like white chocolate because it doesn’t taste anything like the nasty real stuff.

I feel the need to bond today. Who here hates the taste of chocolate? I know I’m not alone.

Warning: All declarations of chocolate love will be deleted. No one here cares.

Update: I have now deleted five comments from people trying to educate us poor chocolate haters on how it’s just USian chocolate that’s bad and if only we’d try other chocolate. There are several problems with that statement:

  1. See the warning above: This is a thread for haters of chocolate—we don’t care about you chocolate lovers. Go away! You have the rest of the internets to fun free in.
  2. You’re assuming we’re all USian. I, for one, am not.
  3. Even if we were USian you’re assuming we haven’t already been hit by this argument A MILLION TIMES OVER1 and been given chocolate from other countries only to discover that even when it’s from Belguim or Switzerland or some other country that’s supposed to make the world’s best chocolate it still tastes like death and we still hate it.


Update x 2
: Have now deleted more than 40 declarations of chocolate love. Youse lot are worse than the coffee lovers. But by all means keep them coming cause deleting your comments is the funnest thing ever. Tee hee.

  1. I’ve heard it about Australian chocolate and English chocolate. []

The Wonder of Cassandra Clare

The third and final book in Cassie‘s trilogy, City of Glass, came out recently and it’s been selling like you would not believe. She’s at no. 12 on the USA Today list, which means hers is the twelfth fastest sellling book in the entire country. Not just for YA, not just for fiction, but for ALL books. Isn’t that incredible?

Her trilogy, The Mortal Instruments, is no. 4 on the New York Times series list. Also a very hard nut to crack because they count the cumulative sales (in the previous week) of all titles in a series. There are only three books in Cassie’s series but some of the other series have four or seven or more books. So cheating!

Go, Cassie!!!!!!

City of Glass is my favourite in the trilogy but I cannot tell you why without spoiling it and, trust me, you doesn’t want that. Go forth and read. Though make sure you read the first two cause otherwise the third one won’t make sense.

If you want to congratulate Cassie on her phenomenal success and you live in New York City then today you can. She’ll be appearing at

Books of Wonder,
18 West 18th Street
New York, NY

with

Beth Fantaskey, Lisa McMann & Elizabeth Scott

In other news New York City remains cold and Houston continues warm. I am not sure why I came back here. Especially as the Mexican food is so much better in Houston. If I could I would move into Hugo’s and live there.

Boxing Day

I love Boxing Day.1 It is the most excellently lazy day ever. Right now I have my feet up, watching the beginning of the Boxing Day test, while eating my brekkie of mango, banana, sheep’s milk yogurt and granola. (We ran out of passionfruit. Get some more tomorrow.) Is there anything better than this? I don’t think so.

I have high hopes for this series between Australia and South Africa. The first test was splendid. Every day (except the last) was full of reversals and much excitement. I didn’t see the series in India so this is the first time I’ve seen the Aussies up against a team that can beat them in ages. It’s most excellent. If only we had a better captain. Ponting’s a great cricketer but I’m deeply unimpressed by his captaincy skills.

Mmmm. Boxing Day, cricket, mangoes, laziness. I’m home, aren’t I? If it were up to me I’d never leave.

Hope you’re all having a marvellous day wherever you are and whatever day it is. Hope you are having as much relaxing fun as I am!

  1. I know the date stamp for this post says Xmas Day, but it’s not. I was too lazy to change to east coat aussie time from east coast usian time. []

Fruitz I has them

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Look at my pretties! Two different kinds of mango and passionfruit, mangosteens, sugar bananas! I couldn’t figure out how to fit the yellow and white nectarines and the peaches into the bowl as well. Or the box of black cherries.

Mmmm, summer home in Sydney. Happiness. Ain’t nothing else I want.

I believe I’ll help myself to another mangosteen. Or am I in more of a peach mood? Or how about those rambutans? Decisions, decisions . . .

The best thing

The best thing about being home—other than hanging out with my family—is the fruit. So far I have gorged on cherries, lychees, mangoes, passionfruit, sugar bananas, nectarines, peaches and . . . wait for it . . . mangosteens!

Mmmmmm.

My life is perfect.

In which I am naughty

I have a mountain of work, admin, packing, and correspondence to catch up on, but instead I am reading through my new favourite blog, Cake Wrecks, which I discovered via an old favourite blog, Jenny Davidson’s Light Reading. I’m sure all of you have been enjoying it for years. What can I say? I am slow.

So far it has led me to many pleasures but few top the delight of the world’s worst Dalek cakes. I confess that I laughed so hard I cried.

Then it led me to this. The making of the most incredible cake I have ever seen:

Apparently it took twelve days to make. Wow. Just wow.

On the road again

Lessons learned today:

  • Beef jerky on it’s own is not enough to keep a girl going all day.
  • Also never diss a hometown boy just before visiting his state. I don’t take a word of that back, but let’s just focus on Deanna Nolan’s awesomeness instead, eh? Plus, really? It’s news to the folks of Michigan that some do not appreciate Bill Laimbeer? I find that very difficult to believe.
  • I am not yet ready to talk in detail about the new book (the one set in the 1930s). At the appearance tonight I started to, but then I got a weird feeling all over, and my mouth closed. How weird is that?

I am now an expert on what clothes travel well and what don’t. I have enough outfits with me for a thousand appearances and it all fit into one teeny tiny suitcase. I am now a packing genius!

If you’re in the Grand Rapids, MI area here’s where I’ll be tomorrow, or, er today:

Wednesday, 1 October 2008, 4:00PM
Pooh’s Corner
Breton Village
1886 1/2 Breton Rd. S.E.
Grand Rapids, MI

Hope to see some of you there!

I do not like junk food

My imminent tour—I get on a plane to California in a matter of hours—has left me contemplating the one bad thing about book tours: junk food. Sometimes while going from school visit to book shop appearance there’s little time for eating and the options available are limited to substances I would rather not eat.1 I does not like the junk food.

I have nothing against anyone else consuming it, but me, I does not want to. My lack of junk food love never used to be a problem back home. But here in the US many people are personally insulted by my dislike of lollies (candy) and McDonalds and soft drinks and fake-cheese flavoured products. I do not like Crispy Creme or Dunkin’ Donuts. They taste like donuts. Donuts do not excite me.

Though I have pretended to like Crispy Creme so as not to offend hosts who were showing them off to me. How could I do otherwise when they were acting like I was about to experience the most delectable culinary sensation of all time? Only to find myself biting into a donut.

I have been made to try many of my friends’ junk food obsessions: Pop Tarts, Twinkies, Snowballs, Cheetos (turns out they’re the USian version of Cheezels and every bit as disgusting), and many others I forget the name of. They all have one thing in common: they’re really really bad. They taste of chemicals and have the texture of Styrofoam. I’m sure my friends enjoy them. And that’s nice for them. But I am no longer going to try another single thing from those particular “food” groups. I don’t care if it’s your favourite thing in the whole world—it ain’t going in my mouth.

I am not insulting you by refusing to eat these vile substances. Really. I am being nice. Cause if I don’t eat them then there’s all the more for you. Enjoy!

And here’s hoping I get to enjoy real food on my tour.

  1. How do I know this? From accompanying Scott on his tour and from hearing tales of other people’s tours. []

I can make herbs grow?

I’ve been experimenting with growing herbs in pots in my teeny tiny NYC flat. So far only marjoram works. All others die. Well, okay the chervil died. But it died horribly without ever giving so much as a sprig of useful chervil.

The marjoram has thrived. It is the best plant ever. Magical even. I cuts away more than half the plant to add to the eggs in the morning by evening there’s more than enough to flavour my pasta sauce. Magic, I tell you!

My sister says that rosemary is also dead easy to keep alive. I cook with rosemary a lot so I may give it a whirl. Do any of youse lot have green thumbs without actually having a backyard? (Or front yard for that matter.) I have window sills. That’s it. Other than rosemary and marjoram what else do you think I’ll have a shot at keeping alive?

Thanks!

And so does wombat excrement!

No, not really. I just wanted to type “wombat excrement”.

I’ve had some complaints about not changing the poll. The reasons for that are that:

  1. I’ve been really busy. This book ain’t writing itself!
  2. I’m waiting for a clear winner. Seriously, ugg boots, lingerie as outer wear, formal shorts, pregnancy dresses and tops on the non-pregnant, and low riders are pretty much neck and neck.
  3. It’s my favourite poll. I would miss it if it were gone.

I’ve also been cooking. The farmer’s market at Union Square has gotten good again after its hideous nothing-but-gourds winter doldrums.1 The spring garlic especially is making me really happy. Also I have discovered garlic scapes. Yum. I’ve been frying them with tomatoes and serving on bread with soft boiled eggs and whatever greens looked best at the markets. Yummiest breakfast ever.

Anyone else a farmer’s market addict? What’s best where you are? And what have you been doing with it? I mean other than just plain eating like I am with the strawberries that are just coming in. Delicious!

  1. Yet another reason not to be in NYC in winter. []

Giving thanks

So today is a big ole USian holiday where at some point you’re all supposed to give thanks for all the stuff that’s making you thankful. It’s called—wait for it—Thanksgiving. We have no equivalent in Australia. Though we do have, Australia Day, where we commemorate the successful invasion of Australia by white people. As you can imagine the indigenous population consider it to be a day of mourning.1 The USian Thanksgiving has an equally complicated history.

But all that aside, I love the idea of a day given over to thankfulness. Here’s what I’m thankful for:2

  • That paper cuts heal quickly.
  • My iphone. I kisses it!
  • That the cold of this evil Northern hemisphere winter won’t actually kill me if I stick to my cunning plan of staying indoors.
  • That cricket exists and is being played right now even if I don’t get to see it.
  • The fingerless mittens with hoods that Cassie gave me. Another tiny defense in the face of this rampaging malign Winter. Yay!
  • The talking Elvis pen that Libba gave me because, hey, it’s ELVIS! and also because it’s so much cooler than Maureen’s lame High School Musical toothbrush. I win!
  • That there are two Australians in the house (yay, Lili and Sarah!) to lessen my homesickness and so we can all follow the election back home together.

What silly little things are you all grateful for?

  1. I’m one of those weird people who thinks there are things to mourn and celebrate about that day. As in, yes, Australia was invaded and taken over from the people who were already living there. And, yes, the early settlers of Australia were also brave and resilient making new lives for themselves a billion miles from home in a very inhospitable place. And, yes, the indigenous population were astoundingly brave resisting them against such overwhelming odds. My country bares the scars to this day. []
  2. Settle!—I’m not going to get too wet about this. []

Pumpkin

I’ve been cooking with pumpkin a lot of late.1 Mostly butternut because I loves it. But also spaghetti cause, well, weird! And I’m starting to experiment with pumpkins I’d never seen before. The US is the land of gourds. But I’m running out of ideas.

Here’s the thing though: I do not have a working oven or grill. All I have is gas burners on top of the stove. I can boil, I can steam, I can fry. I cannot bake or grill.

Thus far I’ve made pumpkin stir fry, pumpkin curry, lots of different pumpkin salads,2 steamed pumpkin with herb3 garlic butter, pumpkin mash, pumpkin soup, and pumpkin fritters. I’ve discovered that pumpkin and maple syrup are a match made in heaven.4

Anyone got any other ideas? But PLEASE no recipes requiring an oven or a grill. Pumpkin pie and scones are not a possibility in this particular New York kitchen.

Thank you!

  1. Note for USian readers, Australians do not use the word “squash” to refer to anything pumpkin-like. Squash is a soft vegetable that bears no relationship to any gourd. []
  2. Thai, Moroccan, and out-of-Justine’s brain []
  3. marjoram, chives, parsley []
  4. I’m sure you North Americans already knew that. Australia is not really the land of either pumpkin or maple syrup. []

Tomatoes

The tomatoes right now are unspeakably good. I went to the Tompkins Square farmers’ market this morning and bought eight different kinds. Yum. They’re so sweet and flavouresome they don’t need dressing. Just salt and pepper and a squeeze of lime and you have the best tomato salad ever.

They also had the first cape goosberries (husk cherries) of the season. Heaven! And the fresh garlic keeps on. I think I’ll do a stir fry tonight of kale, lebanese cukes, garlic and onion. (All bought at the market.)

Even though I’m locked in working my arse off on the UFB and can’t remember the last time I talked to a real human being (other than Scott) I’m still eating well! Sometimes I think cooking is the only thing that keeps me sane.

Matter of taste

Someone just told me I’m wrong about Bring It On being the best movie of all time. Excuse me? If I say it is then it is! This is my personal list of the best movies of all time. I cannot be wrong about it.

I’m not saying there aren’t other best movies of all time. There are! The Princess Bride is one. Rififi is another. Not to mention Out of the Past and Lagaan.

I am also not wrong about mangosteens being the best fruit.

Or The Wire being the best television.

Or Emma and Hellsing and anything by Osamu Tezuka being the best manga.

Or zombies being the best monsters.

And cricket absolutely is the best sport.

So nyer!

Though, of course, I reserve the right to tell you that your choices of best movie etc of all time is completely wrong. Because I am blog overlord.

Quessies for New Yorkers

Anyone know where I can buy preserved lemons (Morrocan style)? (Yes, I know I can get them online, but I like to shop in real life with actual people. I also know I could make ‘em but I ain’t in the mood for sterilising jars.)

I’m also looking for Thai herbs like pak chii farang and pandanus leaf. And, yes, I’ve tried Chinatown. Couldn’t see ‘em anywhere and no one knew what I was talking about.

And how about plain old chervil? (The places round here haven’t even heard of chervil. Is there some strange USian word for chervil I don’t know about? I googled and came up with chervil being chervil. So how come no one knows what it is?)

I’m in the East Village and am hoping not to have to travel too far to get these essentials.

In Sydney these are readily available so I’m cranky with NYC right now. I am hoping that they’re easy to find here too and it’s just that I don’t know where to find them. Otherwise I will start kicking NYC. Also pouting. Lots of pouting.

RW2: Jetlag, my favourite fruit, and signing etiquette

Pt wants to know how to cope with jetlag. I have but two pearls of wisdom:

    1) Be very very rich and fly first class. On those rare occasions I’ve been upgraded to business class I’ve recovered from jetlag many days earlier than when I fly cattle class. I can only imagine how much faster the whole thing would be in first class. Or in your own private jet. Or if you could teleport. I would not say no to a door between Sydney and New York either . . .

    2) Don’t fly anywhere. You get no jetlag and the environment will thank you.

Little Willow asks what my favourite fruits are and gets extra points for being an American and spelling “favourite” correctly.

I may possibly have mentioned my love for mangosteens. I am also dead fond of mangoes (I read this wonderful novel recently that featured a character eating a mango for the first time without knowing what it was), pineapples, rambutan, figs, longan, lychees, dates, custard apples (I just realised I haven’t eaten one in at least two years. Crap. That’s what I get for missing Sydney winters), apples (when they’re crisp and not even slightly floury), grapes (especially champagne grapes), nectarines, sugar bananas, peaches, passionfruit, dragonfruit, these amazing brown fruit I had in Thailand that I can’t remember the name of sapodillas, cherries, strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, mullberries, boysenberries, cape gooseberries and apricots.

I’m sure there’s some others that I just can’t think of right now. It’s much easier to say which fruits I’m not in love with: paw paw and grapefruit, but if there’s no other fruit going I’ll eat them. I just won’t melt with joy as I do so.

If I could only live off one food group I’d go the fruit and veg with major emphasis on the fruit part. I loves them. Anyone who does not love fruit is deeply weird and suspect.

Rebecca asks:

book signing etiquette. ex. 1: is it a bad idea to bring every book the author has ever written, even if they’ve written, like, 20? is it okay for book signees to start conversations with the author, or will that be considered rude for holding up the line?

It’s entirely dependent on how long the queue is.

If it’s short then most authors will be grateful to you for showing up at all. When they see you have all their books they may cry. Authors with teeny tiny signing queues are more likely to start a conversation with you than the other way round. They may not let you go at all. The thought of the queue going from miniscule to non-existent is too frightening for them. If this happens to you, smile politely, ask them questions, and as soon as another of the writer’s fans shows up, back away slowly and make good your escape.

I have no advice for you if no other fan shows up. It may get tricky and involve staging a diversion. I imagine Maureen Johnson would have some excellent suggestions, but I fear they would involve a stun gun.

If the line is very very very long then they’ll probably have a limit on how many books you can sign, and the author may be too ecstatic with joy at the size of their queue to be capable of coherent conversation.

But I can only surmise. I have never had a queue of unusual length (QOUL). It’s something I aspire to, like having my name bigger than the title on my books. Some day . . .

Happiness is . . .

This post is dedicated to
my beloved father, John Bern,
because the novel I dedicated to him
has not found a publisher yet
and because
I think it will make him gag

Happiness is . . .

  • Finishing the first draft of a novel that was tonnes of fun to write, which means the rewrites are going to be even more fun.
  • Celebrating said finish by going out to see fabulous theatre (Keating at the Belvoir) with my parents, sister and husband.
  • Continuing the celebration with a wonderful meal at Tabou (best mussels ever!), drinking loads of champagne, and filling Scott in on all the stuff he missed in Keating: Gareth Evans, Eddie Mabo, Native Title and why Alexander Downer was in drag with fishnet stockings.
  • Coming home to discover that Bertelsmann Verlag has bought the German rights to Magic’s Child and will be publishing the whole trilogy in 2008 with two month gaps between each title. No annnoying waiting for the German readers.
  • Trying to decide whether to have a bit of a holiday in Ireland or Spain. Such a dilemma!

What all is making you lot happy? We happy peoples love company!

Resolutions

There’s a bunch of kids playing loudly next door and one of them just yelled out, “I am the ruler of the universe!” I’m thinking that’s not a bad resolution, but a tricky one to follow through on. The kid next door did not succeed, because now all the kids are yelling that they are the ruler of the universe. Scott included.

I like the idea of resolutions. I like the idea of trying to better or test yourself in some small concrete way. And I especially like the idea of lots of folks all over the place all resolving to do stuff at the same time. But like most everyone else I’m usually crap at sticking to them.

I was going to resolve not to eat all the fruit in the house within a day of purchase, but who am I kidding? I’ll never stick to that. Especially not now when the mangoes are so ridiculously good. Also the figs and the nectarines and cherries and apples and bananas and passionfruit and . . .

I was also going to have another shot at the not-biting-the-nails thing. But that’s really about stress. I bite ‘em when I’m stressed and don’t when I’m not. I can be non-stressy and have finger nails in Sydney, but it’s impossible not to be stressed while on the road or in New York City. Must spend more time at home!

So instead I’m going to try and waste less water and electricity. More turning off lights and other leccie powered stuff around the home and less long baths and showers.

How about you guys? Are you with the cool crowd what eschews resolutions as foolishness? Or have you got some you’re prepared to share?

Bangkok

Since some of you have been asking here’s a wee bit about our current Bangkok adventure.

We’re staying at Siri Sathorn in downtown Bangkok. It’s a serviced residence which means it’s like a hotel, but instead of rooms there are proper flats with kitchen and everything. Not that we’re doing any cooking—the room service here is awesome. Though even if it wasn’t Bangkok is full of incredible restaurants and food stalls. There’s fab food literally everywhere you go.

Yes, I have eaten some mangosteens, though they were sadly not the best. To be expected given that the season ended last month and they’re best when really fresh. Don’t be too sad for me though cause I still get to gorge myself on very fresh and yummy longan, dragon fruit, pineapple and mangoes. Yup, I know, life is harsh.

We’re not near Khao Sahn Road. Back-packing districts are typically not conducive to getting writing done. Where we are is dead quiet and peaceful, though that’s mostly because we’re on the twelfth floor . . The views are extensive!

We’re not near the river either. All part of keeping distractions to the minimum. In fact, we’ve done very little sightseeing thus far. Just walked around a bit at night on our way to dinner. We’ll probably do more exploring once we’ve got our writing rhythm going.

Which is what we’re here to do: write.

I’m working on the Great Australian, Elvis, Mangosteen, Monkey Knife-fighting, Cricket, Fairy, YA Novel. Indeed, I plan to finish the first draft while here.

Scott is working on . . . actually, I think what he’s working on is a secret. I’d ask him but he has his intense don’t-even-ask-me for-a-synonym-for-“effulgent” writing face on.

Hmm, that face makes me feel guilty. I shall return to my monkey knife-fighting fairies!

Thanks for all the well wishes. Lovely to hear from so many of you that you enjoyed the first two chapters of Magic’s Child!

A true omnivore?

I just realised that coffee, chocolate, gin, tonic water and licorice are the only foods or drinks I cannot imbibe without having to spit ‘em out. There are no savoury foods I hate. I’m down with much that revolts other folks: anchovies, sweet breads, liver, blood sausage. All of them are mucho yummo. I loves me some offal! Hell, I love all food that wobbles!1

I think of myself as an unafraid eater who’ll find something to eat no matter what situation I’m thrown into. I only get into trouble at dessert which is no big deal.

But there’s got to be people out there who truly will eat everything.2 Do any of you have no food or drink hates or intolerances or allergies? Cause how cool would that be?

Or are there no true omnivores anywhere in the world?

  1. Unless it’s been contaminated by the aforementioned five dread substances. []
  2. And I mean someone with functioning taste buds—I met this guy once who had no sense of smell or taste. Food was just fuel to him. He didn’t care what he ate. And, yes, he was very depressed. []

Cape gooseberries/husk cherries

Am I the only person in the US who knows what these are? Every time I buy them at a farmers’ market I become the husk cherries go-to girl, explaining to folks how you eat them, when they’re in season, and what they taste like. If there’s a husk cherries grower’s association I want my spruiker’s fee.

They are in season here in the US right now. If they’ve got them at your local farmers’ market get ‘em! They are delicious eaten on on their own or thrown into a salad.

Here’s what they look like.

yummy

You just tear the papery husk away and inside is what looks like a teeny tiny tomato. (They’re prolly related, but like I could be arsed looking it up.) The more golden they are the sweeter they are, but you can eat ‘em green—they’re just tarter that way.

Have any of you yanquis heard of ‘em? Do youse love ‘em like I do?

Tell me stuff (updated)

You are correct that I have not been blogging much or responding to comments like I usually do or even responding to email a whole lot.

The reason is that I’m on a deadline (yes, the same one, yes, it was moved again, yes I really have to meet this one) and am working my arse off. (Oh, how I miss my arse!)

In the meantime I think you lot should entertain me. Here are some questions:

  1. Does anyone have any recs for best brunch place in NYC?
  2. Who’s going to be the first Australian to win the Tour de France (no, it doesn’t have to be this year)?
  3. What’s the best book you’ve read lately?
  4. I just read Out by Natuso Kirino. Loved it. Can anyone recommend a recent crime novel that’s sort of like? I don’t like mysteries—that is I prefer crime books where you know who done it and it’s the whys that are the thing. So I want something all psychologicy. (My fave crime writers are Patricia Highsmith and Jim Thompson.)
  5. Where do I go to buy buttons in NYC? (Yes, that’s right I still haven’t gotten them.) (Oh, and by “buttons” I mean those things that can fasten clothes.)
  6. Is anyone else following the New York Liberty this year? Testing times, eh?
  7. Apparently I need some kind of formal wear, you know, like a dress. Anyone got any recs for cool interesting designery shops in NYC?
  8. What’s your favourite Elvis song and why?
  9. Without googling explain the difference between the Australian and New Zealand flags. Which is lamer?
  10. What new-to-DVD movie should I get to reward myself when I finally meet the deadline?

Thanks! Hope you’re all having a fab weekend (what’s left of it), that all your deadlines are being met and you don’t look at Monday morning with too much dread. As soon as my deadline is finished I promise to be a good blogger again.

Update: bonus question:

Riemannia‘s question here reminds me that I’ve been wondering what you call those metal door thingies that you see all the time here in the footpaths of NYC. You know, that when you open them reveal stairs that lead down into the basement of shops and restaurants and bars. Do they have a name? They aren’t grates so what are they?

Out of here (again)

In less than twenty-four hours we’ll be on a plane to NYC. And while I think NYC is a bloody excellent city, and I have many wonderful friends there I can’t wait to see, I’m sad about it. For the last few years I haven’t been anywhere for more than three months straight. And that place was San Miguel de Allende, not Sydney. And while San Miguel is also completely ace I’m dying to spend an uninterrupted LONG stretch of time in my hometown.

Scott says I always get like this just before we leave anywhere (San Miguel, Dunedin, Buenos Aires, NYC). He says I always say that I want to stay. Maybe. But I feel it even worse when it’s Sydney cause there’s no where I love as much in the world. For some photographic reasons why pop over to Scott’s blog (he’ll also explain my silence of the past few days, which I can’t go into without frothing at the mouth).

Right now the thought of being anywhere but Sydney is just too much. Even though we have a year of travel to many wonderful (or at least interesting) places ahead of us: Madison, NYC, New Orleans, Seattle, London and Bangkok (and I’m sure I’m missing some). So to soothe my aching heart I’ll share my new favouritest Sydney places.

Two Good Eggs: A cafe in Surry Hills that makes some of the best omelettes I’ve ever had. I’m particularly besotted with the corn, leek, basil & ricotta. Divine. Their other food is also amazing (especially the porridge with rhubarb) and Scott loves the coffee. Service is friendly and fun and they don’t stress if you sit there for hours reading the paper.

Forbes & Burton: It opened just about the same time we moved into Surry Hills and the food was amazing from the word go. The breakfasts (the salmon on potato cakes might make Mr Atkins cry, but it makes me very very happy) and lunches are fab, but it’s dinner that sends me into ecstasy. Every single dish is near perfect. I especially loved the tomato consomme with vegetables and goat’s cheese raviolo (that’s right just the one). The clear liquid was the very essence of summer.

The Hollywood Hotel: The best pub in Surry Hills, if not the world. I did have a plan to get to every pub in Surry Hills, but after our first beer at the Hollywood we never left. The place is gorgeous curvy art deco, they have James Squire on tap, the publican, Doris Goddard, used to be an actor (there are fab photos of her with Bob Hope on the walls), and the staff are all smart, witty and pour perfect beers. Sometimes they even have salt & vinegar chips. Tis the perfect place to hide from the dazzling sun. I can’t believe I don’t get to hang out there again till November! Where’s the justice?

If you’re ever in Sydney check ‘em out. Say hi from me!

Now I resume packing. How come no matter how many times I pack and unpack I never get spectacularly good at it? Same with jetlag. Grrr.

My WisCon schedule

Here is where you’ll find me at WisCon (and just before):

“A Feminist Utopia in Madison? Global Communities, Science Fiction and Women”
Wednesday 24 May, 2006, 7:30 pm
Wisconsin Historical Society Auditorium, 816 State Street.
Madison, Wisconsin, USA
Open to the public, free of charge
Panelists: Elizabeth Bear, Karen Joy Fowler, Nalo Hopkinson, Justine Larbalestier (moderator), Meghan McCarron

Food in SF&F (Reading SF&F)
Saturday, 1:00-2:15 p.m. Saturday, 1:00-2:15 p.m.
Melissa Scott, Justine Larbalestier, Janet Lafler, Mary Kay Kare, Nora Jemison

Literary History of Women in Science Fiction. (Feminism, Sex, and Gender)
Saturday, 2:30-3:45 p.m. Saturday, 2:30-3:45 p.m.
Pamela Sargent, Justine Larbalestier, Andrea D. Hairston, Janice Marie Bogstad, Brian Attebery

Banned & Challenged Books (Reading SF&F)
Saturday, 9:00-10:15 p.m. Saturday, 9:00-10:15 p.m.
Deborah Stone, Veronica L. Schanoes, Anne Marie Redalen Fraser, Justine Larbalestier, Kira Franz

The Death of the Panel (Reading SF&F)
Sunday, 2:30-3:45 p.m. Sunday, 2:30-3:45 p.m.
Scott Westerfeld, Justine Larbalestier, Paul Kincaid, Gwenda Bond, Christopher “i just sold my first novel” Barzak, Lenny Bailes

I think these all look fabulous—I get to talk about feminism, food, Young Adult lit, and death—what could be better? I can’t wait.

I’m especially excited cause Daughters of Earth will definitely be out. In fact I’m hearing rumours it may already be available. Has anyone seen it in shops in the US of A yet?

See you all in Madison! It’s going to be the best WisCon yet. Samuel R. Delany! Ursula K. Le Guin! Jane Yolen! Kate Wilhelm! Oh my Elvis! I must lie down now to recover.

Hating Cities

I will never understand all the Melbournites who despise Sydney, some of them folks who’ve never even been here. Seriously, I’ve met Melbournites who sneer with disdain at the mere thought of stepping foot in Sydney. The horror they say!

Me, I’m from Sydney. I love it, but I also have a whole lot of time for Melbourne. Melbourne has better licensing laws and thus better bars than Sydney, a better art and live music scene, and (mostly) better clothes shopping. Melbourne has trams. And what is not to love about trams? But Melbourne has little of Sydney’s breath-taking physical beauty, doesn’t have her beaches, or national parks, or fairies, er, I mean ferries, actually I mean both. It doesn’t have the wonderful bike path all the way from Newtown to the beach. Melbourne is, well, kind of dreary looking and its winter is unendurable. Nor does it have many of my favourite restaurants in the world the way Sydney does but, hey, the food is plenty fine in Melbourne too. And, please, do not give me the sacred MCG thing. There’s only one truly beautiful test-hosting cricket oval in Australia and it’s in Adelaide. And anyways my heart belongs to the SCG.

But who am I kidding? I was born here. I’ve spent the majority of my life here. I am completely biased about Sydney.

I’m not asking Melbournites to start loving Sydney. I’m just asking them to be a little reasonable about their over-the-top hatred. There are other cities out there that are actually worth hating (like, you know, um, another Oz city that I will not name because I have friends who live there what will be offended). Sydney ain’t one of them. And while I’m at it, Adelaiders, quit hating Melbourne, okay? You’re just being silly and why hate them when their MCG is ugly and your Adelaide Oval beautimous? You should pity them.

For me to work up a real forth of city hating, it has to be either a) a city I spent a miserable few years of my childhood in, or b) a city where you can’t get around if you don’t drive. Where the public transport and pedestrian access sucks. For this reason I perfectly understand why so many folks in the US of A loathe Los Angeles. Without a car in L.A. you are totally buggered. You have to beg rides from all your friends and are reduced to the status of a helpless child. But you know what? That’s true of almost every city in the USA, which is one of the reason I love NYC and San Francisco so much, they’re perfectly navigable by public transport and in Manhattan you can go wherever you want by shank’s pony. Plus, you know, there are so many places in both cities you’d want to go.

I used to hate London, because every time I’d visited the food was vile and expensive, it was gray, cold and raining (even in “summer”), and the people were obnoxious and rude. On my most recent trip the food was still expensive but it was excellent, the weather was endurable, and I only had one rude encounter, so now London’s in my good books. It certainly passes with flying colours the good public transport and pedestrian getaroundability rule. (Thanks to Niki, Lauren and Andrew for showing me the non-sucky London.)

Cities are who you know. The people who take you in and show you their town. I’ve had wonderful times in Dallas and Austin, Texas neither of them pedestrian friendly. I adore Toronto and it sure ain’t pretty. I’ve enjoyed Brisbane, Rome, Madrid, Bangkok, Jakarta, Dunedin, San Miguel de Allende, Davis and Lisbon—all of them because the people there were amazing and went out of their way to show their town to me. I imagine that even L.A. with the right people in the right light could be kind of okay. And now that my sister‘s moved there I guess I’m going to find out.

Or maybe not. There’s still that bloody car thing.

Weirdness Meme

Shana tagged me and I didn’t even know it.

It’s a tricky meme, I’m not saying I’m not weird and all, it’s just that pretty much all the weirdnesses I’d be willing to tell you about—how much I hate socks etc. a) have already appeared on many other people’s lists (and thus how weird can it really be?) and b) I just don’t think that’s weird. Frankly, it’s the people who like socks that I worry about.

So here are the weirdnesses I’m okay with you knowing about (oh, and family of mine and close friends—you do not have permission to post comments):

    1) I don’t like anything with caffeine in it. Not coffee, chocolate, coke, tea, not anything. This is not a health choice. They taste bad to me. Especially coffee and dark chocolate. Yuk! (Liquids should never be imbibed hot cause it’s just weird! And why would you drink soft drinks when you could have yummy water? Very weird indeed.)

    2) I love all food that wobbles. Yes, including tripe. (I am, however, very particular about how the tripe is cooked. Italian and Spanish tripe=good; English tripe=bleahh!)

    3) I love offal, even the stuff that doesn’t wobble. Mmmm foie gras . . . (and I live with a vegetarian!)

    4) My favourite joke is still “where did Napoleon keep his armies?” I’ve found it hilarious since I was five years old.

    5) I think about food all the time. I mean all the time (I was thinking about it while writing about the Napoleon joke). I do not think that’s weird.

I’m not tagging anyone else, it seems rude or something. But, you know, if you feel like doing this meme consider yourself tagged.

P.S. A belated thanks to Chris McLaren for helping me get recent comments showing up in the sidebar. You, sir, are a WordPress god!

Merry, Merry, Happy, Happy

I hope everyone who celebrates today or any of the cluster of days around it—or who’s just enjoying the days off work or school—has a most excellent end of the year. I plan to.

I’d like to adopt the USian custom of giving thanks (yeah, yeah, I know they do it on a different day—whatever!). Here’s what I’m thankful for:

    That I’m home in Sydney living in the best place ever: Flying foxes at dusk! Huge decks! Huge bath tub! Views! Amazing pubs, cafes & restaurants within spitting distance! Southerly breezes!

    That I’m home in the land of continuous cricket coverage! Of beautiful beaches! And the best avocadoes (yes, Mely, you need to move here, not smelly California) and mangosteens and mangoes and all the other yummy fruit and veg my heart pines for!

    Rediscovering all my CDs what have been in storage since forever. Most especially Sepharad: Songs of the Spanish Jews by Sarband. Best CD ever!

    The books beside my bed: The Tale of Genji—started it, but am intimidated by its enormousness, though I really want to take part in this amazing discussion; Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince—started it; Shaman’s Crossing by Robin Hobb; The Fencing Master by Arturo Pérez-Reverte—finished it, loved it!; The Big Ship: Warwick Armstrong and the Making of Modern Cricket by Gideon Haigh—started it; Zuleika Dobson by Max Beerbohm—started it.

    My writing career, and that I can type those words without cacking myself. Yes, I really do have a writing career!

    My family and friends. Especially my family: Jan, John, Niki and Scott, with whom I’m about to do the whole yummy food and wine, pressies, playing-lots-of-games thing! Bring it on!

Hope most everything is wonderful with you lot as well.

Yummy Yuba

Last night I tried fresh yuba for the very first time and it were sublime.


photo swiped from this site

I also ate the best edamame I’ve ever had (fresh and smoky), sake (unfiltered milky goodness), and chestnut icecream (words fail me).

The meal ended twelve hours ago, but I’m still in heaven just remembering all the flavours: eel stuffed with fresh tofu, skirt steak cooked in miso with enoki mushrooms, black sesame ice cream.

Food is good. Life is good.

Mangosteen

Marrije asks what a mangosteen is. No words can convey the glory of the mangosteen. Instead I offer you this photograph:


which I swiped from dunnowhere ages ago stupidly forgetting to get the photographer’s name. Whoever took this: it’s © you.

Wow

So, last night we got to hang out with the smartest group of folks I’ve hung out with in an age (and I hang with much smartness, let me tell you). At the Teen section of Elizabeth Library, New Jersey, we read a little bit, we told anecdotes, got asked very smart and very funny questions, I got to talk Spanish, and afterwards we got to eat great pasta and drink good wine and enjoy more ace conversation.

I read from my great Australian cricket mangosteen Elvis fairy novel, which I feared would tank with the seventeen-year-olds, but they laughed harder than the Brooklyn audience. Yay! I finally wrote something that cracks people up. And some of them knew about cricket. One guy plays it with his Pakistani neighbours. How cool is that? And many loved basketball and knew about the WNBA, not just the NBA! Heaven.

Scott read from Pretties which kind of tanked, and then from Peeps, which went over huge guns. He read about toxoplasma and there was much speculation about who has the parasite and who doesn’t. (Don’t know what I’m talking about? Then you’ll have to read the book, won’t you?) So many of them had read at least one of Scott’s books. One had read all of them and was full of smart questions. I made Scott do his Donald Duck voice and it slayed them best of all (he can harmonise with himself—next time you see him, just ask—he loves to perform on command). There was a queue of people wanting to have their photo taken with Scott. How fab is that?

And at the end, the library gave everyone a copy of one of my books (they had a choice of Magic or Madness or Magic Lessons—yup, Penguin genorously gave them a whole stack of galleys) and one of Scott’s many books. Though some tried sneakily to take two of Scott’s books. The competition over copies of Peeps was intense. We signed for all of them and thus got to talk one on one to everyone. Great idea, no? It was fabulous fun and I want to do it again.

Have I ever mentioned how much I love libraries? And librarians? And people who love libraries and librarians? No? Well, I really, really, really do.

Cake, Champagne, Pamplonada

Still having fun, still writing up a storm. I believe I’m now a third of the way into Magic or Madness III (and, yes, I have my fingers crossed that, finally, one of the trilogy will have the preferred title: Magic! Magic! Magic! Oi! Oi! Oi!). Being a third in works out well as we’re now a third of the way into our stay here. How bout that?

Was me birthday last week and Luz’s lovely sister baked me a cake:

It was dead good. Champagne was drunk. Poker was played. Excellent presents were received. Not to mention all the wonderful birthday calls. And I wrote a bunch of words. Yay, me.

Also, just to add to the birthday celebrations ’twas the week of Pamplonada, the Mexican running of the bulls. This meant even more rockets going off than usual as well as lots of wealthy (and a few not so wealthy) folk from all over Mexico descending on San Miguel for three or four days of drinking, fornicating, bull taunting, and, in some cases, broken bones and concussions. Imagine a slightly older schoolies week with bulls (for you Usian-types think spring break, Fort Lauderdale and bulls). The average age seemed to be early twenties.

Many of the newcomers were from Mexico City, invoking a mixture of awe and disgust in the locals as only wealthy, young, glossy folk from the big city can. I overheard one young local lass, saying to her friends,

“I do, too, have friends from Mexico [City]! Lots of them. You’ll see.”

“Who cares?” replied her friend. “They’re all [rough translation] unpleasant people.”

The uniform for the girls was tight jeans, high heel boots, shirt and cowboy hat. For the boys: jeans, boots, white shirt/T-shirt with red kerchief and cowboy hat. It’s amazing how such a simple look can speaks volumes as to class and wealth.

The Pamplonada, itself, was not at all what I was expecting. I’d been imagining a large amount of bulls let out at once and blokes in front running like buggery. In San Miguel they let one bull out at a time, the huge crowd parts, while all the bravest, cockiest and stupidest blokes do their best to provoke the bull into going them, waving tiny red kerchiefs, or big, full-on matador cape thingies, or pulling the bull’s tale. The bull, increasingly irritated by this behaviour, will then oblige by tossing one or more of them into the air, or kicking the fool standing behind him. One of the bulls was so annoyed by one particular bloke he threw him in the air, then tried to pick him up again several times, finally trampling him. Score many for the bull.

Eventually the bull will get bored or start to run off around the circuit. They then release the second bull and so on, until there are eight bulls being provoked, getting shitty and sending the occasional bloke into the nearby ambulances. Most of the bulls emerged fulling prepared to go anyone remotely near them. This usually turned out to be the blokes who’d let them out of their enclosure.

It was impossible not to barrack for the bulls. Fortunately, they seemed to aquit themselves well. Yay, bulls!

P.S. Thanks everyone for all the wonderful birthday messages! Touched me heart, it did. When I’m online for more than a few hours every three or four days I’ll reply.

Garlic and Sapphires

In the vein of fiddling while Rome burns I read Ruth Reichl’s decadent account of being the restaurant critic for The New York Times in one gulp last night. Could not put Garlic and Sapphires down, no matter how hungry I got, how desperate to run out of the house and find the incredible food, and wine she describes.

I defy you not to get very very hungry reading prose like this, even if you just ate:

I took a bite and immediately forgot his knee. I forgot everything but what was going on in my mouth, the fish doing a little tango with crunchy strips of artichoke. The softness of the fish was sandwiched between layers of crunch—the artichoke on the bottom, bread crumbs on top, the flavors appearing and vanishing in a maddening way. I thought I tasted chestnut, and then it was gone, absorbed into the deep musky flavor of the wine.

Want. Now!

Her food critic m.o. is kind of insane and involves wigs, elaborate costumes and whole new identities in order to avoid being identified and thus sucked up to outrageously, with over the top service and food because, don’t you know, she’s The New York Times restaurant critic and thus more important, even, than the king of Spain.

Anyway her book is well-writ and funny and sad and all about food and wine. What more could you ask for?

Just Quickly

We’re in Glasgow. It’s gorgeous and fun and you just can’t get bored by Charles Rennie Mackintosh.

Trip so far:

London: great (though bloody expensive) food (Niki and Lauren & Andrew have been most excellent guides), brilliant markets, cheap clothes (bought the most gorgeous 15 pound skirt). It’s not the city I remember, though I did get some awe-inspiring rudeness—so it hasn’t completely changed. Best restaurant was David Thompson’s Thai one in Soho (I forget the name). Thompson’s Australia’s guru of Thai food. Was wonderful watching Lauren and Andrew’s delight in finally trying decent Thai food. I also gave them their very first mangosteens. Heavenly!

Glasgow: gorgeous, love all the Rennie Mackintosh everywhere. Had the most brilliant black pud and organic cider at Cafe Gandolfi. Cider in the UK is the best I’ve had in my entire life. Superb.

And tonight WorldCon begins. In the meantime the second test is on the tellie and Warne is bowling beautiful.

This is the life.

(Internet access continues very intermittent.)

(Oh and the time date for this is NYC time. Couldn’t be arsed changing it. Time here is 2:34PM.)

Randomly

Georgette Heyer books remain most excellent on the umpteenth reread. On this occasion Venetia, Frederica, and Sylvester. Am unable to decide which I like better: Venetia or Sylvester. Right now am tilting towards Sylvester on account of authoress Phoebe’s roman a clef, the hero, Sylvester’s attempt to “mount” the heroine, and the truly appalling Sir Nugent Fotherby. But the sexy talk between Venetia and her Wicked Duke Damerel is hard to go past.

Can’t stop listening to Missy Elliot’s latest The Cookbook. Current fave: “We run this”.

The latest New Yorker has a gorgeous account of just how much Samuel Pepys (1633-1703) drank in a day:

At about ten o’clock, he would have his “morning draft”—usually “small” (or weak) beer, but sometimes regular beer or even wine. Cakes might be eaten with the draft, but dinner was the day’s main meal, then taken at noon, and, at least on some occasions, this was washed down with wine—possibly watered, given the volumes that Pepys records knocking back. During the rest of the working day, more wine might be consumed; Rhenish wine (sometimes sugared); “sack” (sherry or Spanish white wine); claret (red Bordeaux); “Florence” wine; “burnt” or “mulled” wine; wine flavoured with wormwood. He might also have further drafts of beer (traditionally hopped) or ale (traditionally unhopped), and specified as Margate, Lambeth, China, or Hull).

Fair enough. Drinking water back then was dangerous. I’d’ve been dead of cholera so very fast. I love me the taste of water. Especially New York City tap water which was unavailable to Pepys. Poor bastard.

It finally got hot here in NYC. I’m very happy.

Life is Good

I’ve written 1,500 words today. Bloody fine words, too. Or at least so they seem in the first flush of having written them. Yay first flush!

And Scott just threw together a late lunch of fresh baked rye caraway bread supporting the weight of manchego cheese, sliced perfectly ripe heirloom tomato lightly sprinkled with salt, and a sour pickled tomato. For dessert: two perfect majool dates. Have I mentioned my love of Russ & Daughters?

Now I and my happy palate will write more words.

How the Future Isn’t

Mely has a lovely post detailing the future she’s sad we haven’t wound up with yet. Hint, it’s not the oft-touted Gernsback one. I’m with her on almost everything except immortality, which Scott has convinced me is a profoundly bad idea. Just imagine if certain world leaders never ever died.

I’d also really love a working transmat beam, because while I’m always saying I love travelling, I really, really, really, don’t. What I love is being somewhere else. If I could skip the whole many, many hours in a plane or whatever on the way to the somewhere else, I’d be dead happy.

Also I’d be very happy with food in patch or tablet form. I hate it when I just need food as fuel and there’s no time to enjoy it. I’d much rather down a pill and keep doing whatever I was doing and then, when there’s time settle in for that three hour sumptious feast accompanied by the very best wines, or a just-made-in-front of you taco from a market stall, or the bestest juiciest mango of all time. Also imagine how much easier pills or patches are to transport versus, say, grain. An end to world poverty, anyone?

And how about books in electronic form that are easy to read and don’t suck?

And, and, and . . .

Australia’s Not Perfect

Some of my regular readers and friends (and not just the non-Australian ones) have tentatively suggested that I might want, perhaps, to refrain from writing yet another one of my yay-I’m-back-home-in-Australia musings. They’re tired of my overly rose-coloured view of my home country and wish for me to start dishing the dirt. As one of them put it: "Australia’s not perfect, you know. Nowhere is. Not even your precious Sydney. Write something critical for a change. I’m bored."

Their wish is my command. Here are my trivial (not in the mood for being serious) objections to my homeland:

I was back home for less than two days before I heard an ABBA song. Did you know, my dear fellow Australians, that there are parts of the world where you can go months—months I tell you—without hearing ABBA once? Shocking, but true. Why, we were in Mexico for three months earlier this year and I never heard an ABBA song. Not one. (Okay, except for that time I got a wee bit tipsy, climbed on the roof and sang "Mamma Mia".)

Sydney is now infested with Starbucks and Krispy Kremes. They are a blight on the landscape. They are wrong, evil and produce horrible smells. (Can someone explain the Krispy Kreme thing to me? I mean, they’re doughnuts. Overly sweet batter fried in oil. I have eaten them in North Carolina—apparently the home of Krispy Kreme, where they are at their very best—I have feigned delight in doing so to appease my obsessive Krispy-Kreme-loving friends. But they were just doughnuts. Oily, sickly sweet, horrible doughnuts. I don’t get it.)

Many Australians are just the tiniest bit parochial about Aussie food. There is, in fact, I’m not making this up, people, good food available elsewhere on this fine planet of ours. Lots of it. All over the place. I can’t think of a country I’ve been to—even England—where I haven’t had some good tucker. Sydney and Melbourne are not the only sources of fine nosh. Truly.

And on that subject—and this one will come as even more of an assault to your delicate Australian sensibilities—but here goes: there’s even good wine to be had elsewhere. I swear on my grandmother’s grave. I’ve had spectacular wines from Argentina, Chile, South Africa, Spain, Italy, France, Germany, Hungary, even—and this one will shock you—the US of A.

It will never cease to make me sad that no-one in Australia ever says, "Don’t come the raw prawn with me", much less "stone the crows". Actually I say "stone the crows", but even I am aware that it’s a sad, pathetic attempt to keep the phrase alive. Someone else please, please join me. Do you people really want our language to die?

Everyone’s obsessed with real estate. At least here in Sydney they are. I do hope it’s just a Sydney thing. We’ll be in Melbourne and then Brisbane over the next few months, and I swear I’ll tear off my own ears and eat them if I have to listen to more natterings about whether it’s a buyer’s or a seller’s market, how much rents are, how much that cute little terrace in Redfern went for, or how much interest rates are going to shift. Aaargggh! Talk about something else, people! Some of us have never, and most likely, will never own property and we just don’t care!

When I’m home in this fine sunburned country it is impossible to forget that the British royal family exists. In the past year I’ve been to Mexico, Argentina and the USA. My friends in those countries—lucky buggers—have no idea what the names of Diana’s little boys, the British royal princes are. Well, I know. I don’t want to know, but I do. Here you can’t open a magazine, turn on the tellie, or listen to the radio without hearing about them. Who cares? I mean, honestly, does anyone truly care? And why? These are people whose only achievement is to be born. Well, I managed that. Come to think of it every single person on the planet pulled that spectacularly untricky accomplishment off. At least movie stars and pop singers and all the rest actually did something to get famous. Even marrying someone is a bigger achievement than just popping out of someone’s womb.

And, hey, people here vandalise sacred Dickens’ sites, (though they also fix them afterwards).

There you have it: my country not perfect. Happy now?

Sydney, 26 November 2004

Good Weekend

I am in the middle of writing a new novel and rewriting an old one. My mornings are spent in the Magic or Madness universe; my afternoons in 12th-century Cambodia; the rest of the time I sleep. Both books must be finished scarily soon. So musings here? Not so much.

For those complaining about their lack, and my shocking tardiness in responding to emails, here’s what I did on the weekend:

I helped Scott put together this very cool site: the first three chapters of So Yesterday with New York City photos. If you like any of them, those are most likely the ones by the very talented Robin & Trish Cave. All hail Simpleviewer!

A recommendation of So Yesterday was posted on boingboing.net causing a HUGE improvement in the book’s amazon.com ranking. All hail boingboing!

I wrote a vast deal, read large chunks of it out loud to Scott for critique, and there was much praise, and much happiness.

Scott cooked me a dinner of angel hair pasta and black truffles with a salad of farmer’s market greens and heirloom tomatoes. Decadent and delicious. I do adore autumn here. I’ve never eaten better tomatoes in all my life.

I saw the New York Liberty vanquish the Washington Mystics at Madison Square Garden (so, so, so good to be back there!) and vault into second place in the Eastern conference, securing them homecourt advantage, and cementing their place in the playoffs. Shamika Christon, our incredibly promising rookie, finally got beyond promise and did, did, did. My happiness is beyond measure: Let’s Go Liberty!

New York City, 20 September 2004

The First Week of the Next Three Months

San Miguel de Allende is ankle-spraining territory. All the narrow streets and footpaths in the old part of the city are paved with cobble stones. Big, uneven cobble stones, with lots of little pebbles that work their way lose to wind up under your soles. The pot holes are sharp and ragged. Cars crawl along at less than 20 kms an hour, hardly fast enough to overtake a donkey. When the streets and footpaths are wet—and with the run-off from watering plants on roof gardens they often are—they’re slipperier than a Southern politician in a jelly-wrestling contest. If you see a woman confidently negotiating the streets in high heels you know she’s a local. Tourists like me wear sturdy shoes and hope for the best.

San Miguel is not very noisy. Before we arrived I did a little research (very little—lots of nasty deadlines before we came), and found many references to the noisiness of this town, most often to the constantly ringing church bells which ring at (to gringo ears) random intervals throughout the night and day. Our landlady left us a note warning of all the night noises: cats, dogs, horse police, birds, church bells, loud music. I’ve slept soundly every night thus far.

When we go up on to the roof to watch the sunset, I’m startled by how quiet it is. All I can hear is the occasional barking dog and passing car; the church bells; birds; wind in the trees; music that makes us want to get up and dance from somewhere nearby—the houses are all so close together it’s impossible to tell from where; squeals from the children next door playing a complicated game with the christmas decorations that results in parental intervention every fifteen minutes or so. They’re all pleasant sounds, none of them near loud enough to interrupt our conversation or make us spill our lime-soaked beers. There are no jackhammers, no deafening sirens, no violent arguments at three in the morning, no shithouse music loud enough to raise the dead. Perhaps I’ve spent too much time in New York City and have lost my sense of what’s loud and what’s not.

The smells of San Miguel are more pervasive: wood-burning fires, urine, cooking smells, dust, donkey shit, gas for heating, jasmine and other floral smells I haven’t yet identified. There’s lots of flora that’s common at home: jasmine, bougainvillea, ponsettias, jacaranda trees. And many strange ones I’ve never seen or smelled before. At night when the jasmine’s at it’s strongest, I close my eyes and feel like I’m back in Sydney.

Many of the gringos you see here are residents. Like our landlady they’re mostly over sixty and from the United States. Sometimes San Miguel feels like a retirement village for rich arty whites from north of the border. Here they can play bridge and paint and write and sculpt and afford someone to clean their houses and a nurse too if one is needed. Most of them learned Spanish at a late age and speak it loud and slow with the exact same intonation and pronunciation as their English. My own Spanish has been getting quieter and quieter. I wince at my Australian vowels.

There are galleries everywhere. Right now the Centro Cultural Ignacio Ramirez has an exhibition of a photographer I’d never heard of: Enrique Bostelmann. I’m in love. He’s incredible. Enormous pictures—a metre or more across—of small things that are incredibly sharp. Each image is a frozen moment from one of those dreams where everything is exactly how it should be but wrong and strange and wonderful at the same time. His images are crystal clear and warm and arresting: a crumpled silver oil can on a background of dappled terracotta; a detail of a typewriter, all greens and blacks and silvers and grays. Funny too: a cockroach upended on a directory open to the funeral listings. The exhibition stays open til January. I’ll be back.

Renting a house without a maid doesn’t seem to be an option here, which is kind of weird. Fortunately Silvia is a sweetheart who enjoys correcting my Spanish and answering any questions I have: Why do so many places have plastic bags of water attached to their entranceways? Sadly my Spanish may have failed me (again) because I think she said it was to keep the flies away.

Silvia comes four times a week (how clean does a house need to be?) at nine AM, which means we have to get up and out somewhat earlier than we’re used to (we work until really late, okay?). Every day she begins by banging a broom at the vines covering the walls, sending dead leaves cascading to the ground. She stands on a ladder to make sure she gets all the way to the top. I’ve never seen anyone do this before. She sweeps up the dust from the footpath and the road immediately outside the house and brushes down the outside walls then she scrubs the front steps and cobble stones clean. I’ve never seen anyone do that either. Apparently I am a wretched house cleaner.

Two days ago Silvia brought traditional christmas decorations for the hall and ground floor rooms. There wasn’t a Santa Claus or red-nosed reindeer in sight. Bright green, blue, pink and yellow crosses, circles and pinatas, all made of paper.

Silvia was amazed when I exclaimed at how big this house is. I told her I’d never lived in anything so large. Spread out over three stories with a separate study in back, it has four bathrooms, two patios and a roof deck. Silvia thinks this house is small. Told me it was much smaller than hers. Each floor would be a large one- room apartment in New York City.

The beggars I’ve seen have all been ancient women. Sitting on the narrow footpaths, wrapped in faded coloured shawls, skin brown and wrinkled like a walnut. Shrunken, shrivelled tiny dolls. Mostly they don’t say anything, just hold out their hands and wait. On Sunday they were everywhere.

December is one of San Miguel’s slowest months and on top of that the economy has been hard hit by the recession in the US: USA sneezes, Mexico gets pneumonia. We go out to eat in restaurants with superb food and we’re the only ones there. Last night we climbed to the top of the hill and came across a gorgeous hotel painted in earth colours: yellows, reds and browns. The clerk smiled at us broadly and said sure we could look around. Lights were on in all the public areas, blindingly bright chandeliers, spotlights all over the front lawn and swimming pool. The view of San Miguel was extraodinary. You could see everything. In the dining room every table was perfectly set with crystal and silver, white table cloths and napkins. A fire blazed away. We saw no guests. No one in the dining room, no one in the bar, not even a bar tender. There was the hotel clerk, a maid who smiled and agreed that the hotel was beautiful, but no one else. Everything was silent and empty and echoing. It made us both shiver. We didn’t eat there.

We’re here to write a novel each. Scott’s is due at the beginning of March, mine in August. It’s a writing holiday. Our second. We stay in a place where we know no one and thus have no social responsibilities, very little everyday admin, and just write. Scott’s been here twice before, writing the first draft of Evolution’s Darling and a large chunk of The Risen Empire. So far we’ve done a good deal of walking and talking and eating and drinking, but not vast quantities of writing.
There’s so much to exclaim over. The food is amazing. Jicama is in season, served at the beginning of a meal in place of corn chips and salsa. You squeeze lime on top and then sprinkle with chilli powder. It’s become my favourite thing in all the world. I’ve never tasted jicama so crisp and sweet before, turns out that’s because I’ve never had it fresh before. Right now it’s in season. November and December, we were told, are jicama months.

We eat breakfast in a hotel that was once a hacienda built by a silver baron two hundreds years ago, and later owned by an opera and movie star in the thirties. We sit in the courtyard with a large fountain, terracotta tiles, parrots in white cages. Looking up all I can see is blue skies and the tops of the trees in the gardens and the nearby park. The food is divine. Eggs with cheese and chillies served sizzling in the clay containers they were cooked in. Coffee and juice comes with fresh cooked bread and best of all—heavenly cinnamon rolls still warm from the oven.

We met a woman travelling with her parents over breakfast. She’s a screenwriter working out of Los Angeles but living as much as she can in Vancouver. Like us she’s here to write, like us she’s had more productive weeks. She’s Canadian, her parents are originally from England. They escaped because England’s gray drizzly damp cold week after week after week isn’t an existence fit for a dog. They’ve lived and worked in New Zealand, Australia, Canada, India, Sri Lanka, Honduras and now divide their time between Canada and Mexico; they love both places and want never to be cold again. You get older, your blood gets thinner, they explained. I’ve decided that’s my excuse too. Though the nights and mornings here are cold, the days are warm.

San Miguel is ludicrously beautiful. Up in the hills there’s a cactus preserve laid out around a rocky gorge. You stand on the cliffs and look back towards San Miguel’s church spires, and multi-coloured, crowded-together rectangular houses that flow from room to courtyard to room all with the same tiled floors, allowing no clear distinction between inside and outside. Very few of the houses are free standing, so the streetscapes are long expanses of walls of varying heights painted reds, yellows, browns, greens, maroons, whites and blues—some crisp and new, some flaking away in wabi sabi elegance—interrupted only by elaborate doors, windows and balconies of wood, wrought iron, brass. Ceiling beams pass through the walls to overhang the footpath, convenient for hanging lanterns and christmas decorations. Our bedroom has white curtains: in the early morning and afternoon sun they glow blue and terracotta from the light reflecting on the houses nearby.

Tomorrow, I imagine, we’ll write like the wind.

San Miguel de Allende, 2-8 December 2003