Welcome Gentle Readers

This blog tends to wander from its main purpose -- updates on my fiction. I do have updates and excerpts of my work. But I also write about my obsessions -- food, friends and pop culture and my weird life in Los Angeles. Enjoy!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Hipsters, Cookie Bombs and Star Trek vs Metafiction

We really lucked out when we moved to this neighborhood with it's incredibly convenient shopping that is vast in variety and terrific transit access by bus or car. We find more reasons that this true with almost every errand we run. Last week, it was the reasonably priced, fully equipped garden center. Today, we found an old-timey tailor ad few doors away from a hardware store we've frequented for years. After we realized that he was a tailor, we stopped in to price having new buttons sewn on Jon's great coat. It was a good price. He even told us of a place where we could get a set of matching buttons for the coat. Our neighborhood is full of wonders. Apparently, we aren't the only ones to realize this. Hipsters have infiltrated the neighborhood. They've even seeped into our apartment building. There are far too many pork pie hats and over sized eye glasses. 

We should have expected this to happen. In June, the neighborhood reached saturation point with farmers markets. There are three. We don't just have sushi bars, we have full blown izakayas. This area is the home base of the chef who invented the gourmet food truck in Los Angeles. He has two restaurants here. One of them, the A-Frame,  has even been visited by Anthony Bourdain. I'm so annoyed that I missed that. The A-Frame is steps from my favorite 99 Cents Only store. We even have an ironic cake supply store. Hipsters love all things ironic. Why is the cake supply store ironic? Gloria's Cake and Candy Supply has everything imaginable for light and airy confections covered in pastel roses while it's main sales clerk looks like he came straight from a megadeath heavy metal concert tour. Things have become very hip indeed. We can cope with hipsters. Despite the last episode of the Simpsons, there are far worse things a neighborhood can be. However, if someone sees me in a pork pie hat, slap me.

Baking Frenzy

It is truly that time of year when every spare spot of space in our modest apartment is piled with bags and containers of baked goods. The freezer is nearly bursting with doughs in pre-cookie form. I have introduced three new treats in recent years. Two are brand new this year. I am making two vegan treats though I was not deliberately catering to vegans. The sugar plum (a ball of ground dried fruits, roasted nuts and spices mixed with honey) and mochi (a Japanese candy made of sweet rice flour and flavored with green tea and sugar) just happen to be vegan. The other new treat is a fruitcake cookie. Many of my friends have expressed interest in the fruitcakes I made to ship back east. Alas, I only make one batch of those. It's hard to explain. This year, I got sent a cookie recipe for a fruitcake cookie. It had all the brandy doused dried fruit as the cake I make just in cookie form. I decided to try those for our local cookie gifts. I do give different baked goods to the folks back east than I do the locals. No one gets shortchanged though. The locals get some of the more delicate and elaborate treats that won't ship well. In this way, everyone gets something special. I never want these gifts to be assembly line though there is a bit of that during the packaging and shipping part. The house does smell wonderful for many days, and there are always cookies to check for Quality Assurance. Jon is really good at that. Ideally, everything would ship out tomorrow. We'll have to wait as see if that works out.

My shopping, baking and shipping are a bit off for a couple of reasons. I have long been coping with a great deal of physical pain. I have quite a bit of post chemo nerve damage and thus nerve pain. The meds prescribed by my oncology docs were blunting the pain by less than half. I had been finding it harder and harder to do anything with this pain. Finally, I had a referral with a pain management doc who specialized in post chemo nerve damage. I think the biggest relief was that I was not being a hypochondriac. A treatment was a very close second. The pain doc told me not to be hard on the oncologists. Their options for meds were limited to those that are carried at a public hospital where almost all of their patients fill their prescriptions. Those options there are limited to generics that don't require insurance. Thankfully, I am now covered for most anything. The doc and the pharmacist warned me that the new regimen may slow me down for a while. I did not realize they meant slow as in spontaneous naps or sitting and staring at things for long periods of time. So, I'm not sure when packages will get shipped or even if there will be a dinner on time, but I am feeling a lot better. It all evens out in the end. I just keep in perspective that three years ago I had a belly covered in big surgical staples and was facing a lot of uncertainty. Everything is much better now.

Metafiction vs Star Trek

Metafiction is basically fiction in which the writer reveals the various artifices of writing to the reader. Here is a longer definition that doesn't make me want to hit someone: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metafiction I hate this sort of writing with a passion. Metafiction was all the rage when I was in grad school. Thus, I hated grad school. The process of writing is only interesting to people who teach writing. Actual writers find creating stories with compelling characters takes up too much of their time to worry about revealing artifices and otherwise staring at their own navels. Tell me a story or stop wasting my time, is my writing philosophy. As much as I hate metafiction, Craig hates it even more. I distinctly remember him threatening physical violence to visiting authors of such fiction when we worked at Borders.

I was thus shocked when Craig recommended a work of metafiction for me to read. He highly recommended it. He badgered me until I borrowed it from the library. Redshirts by Jonh Scalzi was worth the badgering. It seems that if you mix metafiction with something that looks vaguely like Star Trek and a very twisted sense of humor, something brilliant happens. Here is the synopsis:

Ensign Andrew Dahl has just been assigned to the Universal Union Capital Ship Intrepid, flagship of the Universal Union since the year 2456. It’s a prestige posting, and Andrew is thrilled all the more to be assigned to the ship’s Xenobiology laboratory.
Life couldn’t be better…until Andrew begins to pick up on the fact that (1) every Away Mission involves some kind of lethal confrontation with alien forces, (2) the ship’s captain, its chief science officer, and the handsome Lieutenant Kerensky always survive these confrontations, and (3) at least one low-ranked crew member is, sadly, always killed.
Not surprisingly, a great deal of energy below decks is expended on avoiding, at all costs, being assigned to an Away Mission. Then Andrew stumbles on information that completely transforms his and his colleagues’ understanding of what the starship Intrepid really is…and offers them a crazy, high-risk chance to save their own lives.

I was enjoying the general hilarity of how absurd Trek away missions and the refreshing change of characters noticing that the absurdity when someone comes out of a bulkhead and cryptically tells Dahl to avoid the narrative. The reader is then taking on a surreal and screamingly funny adventure that breaks the fourth wall http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fourth_wall, travels through time and ends up in a Studio Lot in Burbank. The central issue was not how writing impacts a character, but how a writer has a moral obligation to write intelligently and treat their characters fairly. The Intrepid's crew had endured inanities like blood thirsty land worms and ice sharks (?!) and diseases that liquify bones. The last of which did not kill a character from the main cast. Dahl noticed a day later that he didn't look like he'd melted at all. However, said character – the Chekov character, Kerensky – was permanently squirrely because of all the trauma that routinely befell him. Ultimately, Redshirts thoroughly skewers metafiction as much as it skewers badly written sci-fi TV. I loved ever paragraph. 
Admittedly, Redshirts did cause me some introspection about how morally I treated my characters. A review found that I write an awful lot of arrogant men who think I'm not spending enough time writing about them. The one character I thought I wronged was Armans of Ritvala in the Gift of Surrender. I wrote The Price of Surrender to correct that. He's pretty happy though he'd also like another adventure. Yes, I'm aware that sounds insane. I'm a writer.

I am working on Soldier's Destiny at a slow but steady pace. And though I will be a bit distracted with my favorite Christmas gift of the season – Jon is off for a week and a half! We get to hang out for more than just doing chores and running errands. But I'll still be writing.

Stay tuned.

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