Dragon Con!

This coming weekend I will be a guest at Dragon Con in Atlanta.  I’m very excited, not least because the con has such an apropos name. Back in my comic book days, I went to a lot of conventions, but I never made it down to Dragon Con. Nice to be able to rectify that omission years later.

For those interested in seeing me there, I’ll be participating in six panels:

YA at Its Finest
Description: YA authors discuss the how-tos and wherefores of writing for the YA market.
Time: Sat 10:00 am Location: Embassy D-F – Hyatt (Length: 1 Hour)

Advice for Young Writers
Description: So you’re a teenager or young person who has a story to tell. Come hear some advice from seasoned writers about how to get your start.
Time: Sat 11:30 am Location: A707 – Marriott (Length: 1 Hour)

Okay, You Sold It. Now What?
Description: For writers who’ve sold their first novels and/or short stories. What should you expect next?
Time: Sun 01:00 pm Location: Embassy D-F – Hyatt (Length: 1 Hour)

A Diversity of Dragons
Description: Murderous flying lizards? Hardly. Dragons can be cunning, compassionate, graceful, wise, brash, bestial — and sometimes all of the above.
Time: Sun 02:30 pm Location: Embassy C – Hyatt (Length: 1 Hour)

Sidekicks in YA
Description: All of our heroes have someone by their side. Harry has Ron and Hermione. Katniss, Peta and Gale. How do these characters help shape the story?
Time: Mon 11:30 am Location: A707 – Marriott (Length: 1 Hour)

Stuck in the Middle
Description: SF and Fantasy for the middle grades and younger fan.
Time: Mon 01:00 pm Location: A707 – Marriott (Length: 1 Hour)

Lots of informative writing and publishing panels, sounds like. Should be fun. I don’t know whether I have any kind of formal signing time, but I’m always happy to sign freelance if you catch me after a panel.

Going through my head today

Steve Howe’s merry guitar tune, “Clap”

I had understood the title of this song to be “The Clap”, as in the STD, but according to Wikipedia, that’s wrong. I just checked our antique tape of The Yes Album, and there it is, wrong. How annoying would that be, to write a jolly little song in honour of your son’s birth and then some album-cover designer renames it after gonorrhea. I’d be a little upset, I have to admit.

But what a happy song, and what an interesting video of it. I’m so used to the cello and violin model of of string instruments, where you’d be moving the left hand fingers for each individual note, but you can see really clearly here that the left hand holds set chord positions and most of the work and challenge is in the right hand. Pretty neat.

A nautical feast!

I would like to give credit where credit’s due: this was all my husband’s idea. He planned it, he researched it, he (and my son) did most of the cooking. And although I won’t say this was the most delicious meal I’ve ever eaten, it was one of the most fun.

They started out yesterday making hardtack, not just for us to eat straight, but because figgy dowdy is made mostly of hardtack. Hardtack itself is made of flour, water, and a little salt, then baked at a low temperature until it is hard as a rock.

We carved "ER" in a few of them, so we could symbolically bite the queen later on.

We carved “ER” in a few of them, so we could symbolically bite the queen later on.

We baked a second batch with a different recipe that used a little butter, and indeed, those were a lot easier to chew. Below is a plate full of the authentic hardtack, illustrating how much a sailor would receive as his ration every day:

A pound of tooth-chipping goodness!

A pound of tooth-chipping goodness!

The next day, my husband and son took the designated amount of hardtack out on the balcony and beat it to death with a bat:

It's cowering in that bag.

It’s cowering in that bag.

Figgy dowdy requires hardtack crumbs, which are in fact quite hard to make. Hardtack is – I may have mentioned – pretty hard. Anyway, they finally crushed it sufficiently (or decided it would do), and then they mixed in the other ingredients: raisins and currants (which had been soaking in rum overnight), chopped figs, a little flour, a little sugar, a little nutmeg and ginger, more rum, water, three eggs, and a LOT of suet. Here’s my son kneading the mixture together. All those little white pellet-shaped things? SUET.

There were a lot of rum fumes, which he didn't appreciate.

There were a lot of rum fumes, which he didn’t appreciate.

We then wrapped the mixture in flour-dusted cheesecloth, tied it shut, and set it in a pot of boiling water for three hours.

A tidy, attractive package!

A tidy, attractive package! My hand is close to the camera, which is making the dowdy look smaller than it is.

Enjoy your bath, dowdy!

Enjoy your bath, dowdy!

At one point, all four burners on our stove were going: boiling the figgy dowdy, heating up water to add to the figgy dowdy if it boiled down too low, cooking up the pease porridge, and boiling the salt pork. Hot work on a hot day! The pease porridge was basically yellow split peas and onions, boiled down to mush, and then some egg and seasoning added in. THEN, it too was wrapped in cheesecloth and put in to boil with the salt pork.

Boilin' boilin' boilin! Keep that dinner boilin'!

Boilin’ boilin’ boilin! Keep that dinner boilin’!

So ok, the salt pork and pease porridge (hot!) were done before the dowdy, so we had our dinner all together tidily like so:

Clockwise from top: Pease porridge; salt pork; more salt pork; hardtack (one with butter and one without - you can't tell by looking, but your teeth will know)

Clockwise from top: Pease porridge; salt pork; more salt pork; hardtack (one with butter and one without – you can’t tell by looking, but your teeth will know)

What’s that in the mug, you ask? Why that, darling, is grog — rum, water, lime juice, a little brown sugar. I found it drinkable, just. I liked the peas best. The hardtack was very cracker-like, honestly; nothing to fault but the texture. Salt pork, however, is nasty, at least the way we prepared it. To be fair, I don’t know that any meat is at its best, particularly, when boiled. Still, I found this unpleasantly salty, and the half-inch fat rind was kinda tasty, but it really sits in your stomach like a lump.

British sailors were rationed a pound of salt pork. PER DAY. I can’t even imagine.

So ok, you’re wondering how the figgy dowdy turned out. I can read your mind, clearly. Well, it turned out like THIS:

That's right, bebeh. Slimy and delicious.

That’s right, bebeh. Slimy and delicious.

It held together reasonably well. It looked a little like a loaf of soda bread, or a brain. We were able to slice and eat it for dessert.

Mmm! The white lumps this time are chunks of still-hard hardtack.

Mmm! The white lumps this time are chunks of still-hard hardtack. The suet all melted.

I would imagine that if you’ve been stuck at sea for months, eating a pound of hardtack and a pound of salt pork every day, this probably tasted sweet and delicate and heavenly. It was a bit like bread pudding, I guess, but damper and greasier and not very sweet at all. I liked it, but it was a lot of work to make. My husband was thoughtful enough to run the  figgy dowdy ingredients through a nutrition website and make us this:

Look at that iron content! That's got to be good for something!

Look at that iron content! That’s got to be good for something!

Apparently their rations came to about 5000 calories per day. I imagine trimming the sails and heaving the capstan and dancing the hornpipe took a lot of energy, but ye gods, I can’t even imagine. My stomach still kinda feels like I swallowed a rock.

Our continuing culinary adventures

You may remember that we steamed a haggis ’round these parts on Bobby Burns Day back in January. Well, we’re up to no good again, this time in the form of 19th century nautical cuisine. My husband has been reading Patrick O’Brian’s novels – basis for the movie Master and Commander, if that’s more familiar – and he’s grown increasingly intrigued by what the sailors eat. 

And who wouldn’t want to try figgy dowdy? I maintain he’s got a point.

And so, yes, we’re diving in. Today he and our son will be making hardtack (two kinds! No weevils, though), and then tomorrow we’re making salt pork, pease porridge (hot? cold? nine days old?), figgy dowdy, and grog.

REAL grog, not Ikea grog. Made from rum, lime juice, and bilge water. Bilge-tastic!

Anyway, my lads have largely taken charge of this whole operation, which is nice. I’m to take pictures and make sure Nancy Dawson is playing while we drink our grog. No, really, there was a specific fife tune for grog-drinking time. Here it is.

Hello, old friends

Why yes, it has been forever — or maybe half of forever, which is close enough. I hope you weren’t worried. I needed to step away from this space for a while. I may do it again at some point, with or without warning. Well, THIS is your warning, I guess.

I think it’s fair to blame the sequel for pretty much everything. The way it ate my brain, the way it had me so stressed out in April that I would freeze up when I sat down to write. This sequel has, on occasion, been very very mean to me.

Or I’ve been very mean to myself. Or a lot of both.

I’m afraid I had to spend some time untangling myself and figuring out how to love writing again. The weird thing is that in the course of doing that, I found answers to a few problems in the sequel. That’s right: without all the suffering, I couldn’t have written those things. I’d spent months prior to that, trying to write a book I couldn’t write because I hadn’t been through April (the cruellest month! ™) yet.

Clearly, what we have here is some kind of timeline issue that could be solved quite easily if I had a time machine. I could go forward in time to my Future Self and say, “So, Future Self, what hard-won wisdom have you gleaned, so I can put it in this here book I’m writing. Don’t worry, I’ll mention you in the acknowledgements.”

At which point my Future Self would probably steal my time machine and blast herself back to ancient Greece. For all I know, she’s already done this. Time machines are tricky that way.

In any case, this is a terribly tedious and roundabout way of saying I’m feeling better. I’m writing better. I’ve taught myself overtone singing. We’re all gonna be OK.