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!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Kitchen Fame and Book Fair Shout Out

I had an interesting thing happen this morning that tickled me. The incident didn't begin as anything amusing at all. I noticed that the tub was a quarter full of water hours after Jon had his shower. I also noticed that there was a lot of metal scraping and a rumbling motor noise coming from the apartment next to ours. The last time that happened, we had a plumbing snake that came through the drain, reached the floor, then headed down our hall! Still, I had a lot of work to do, and couldn't still about idly until the plumber showed up. I had finished shaping a batch of pretzels and moved onto the croissants when there was a knock at the door. It was the plumber. I let him in and turned on the video I was using to make the croissants. I was at the part where the butter is pounded and rolled into an 8 inch square. After I finished, I heard the plumber say, 'It looks like the one on TV.' He'd never seen anything like it. He managed to see me make the basic dough and put it in the fridge. “You should be on the TV,” he said as he left. I was very flattered and quite tickled. But if I were a TV chef, I couldn't do all of that cursing! I was so amused that I didn't mind the really dirty tube he left behind as much as I might have.

Book Fair Beats

Now, I must make with the promoting! At last, the week of the West Hollywood Book Fair is here! We are so incredibly excited, because we all of our books were delivered in time! No waiting and hoping any praying that we might possibly have them by Friday. I almost don't know what to do with myself. Almost. I still have a lot of work to do with creating promo materials and baking goodies for the booth and the raffle. I fell like my life is partially on hold until this is over. I'm doing a Michael Corleone with 'After the Book Fair, all my businesses will be put in order.' I can't edit any of the recent videos. And forget about working on the webseries or any of the other projects. The only thing I can make an exception for is the editing gig for Digital Manga. I signed a contract, so I have to stay on top of all of that.

Sypress in the Park will be at booth C23 at the West Hollywood Book Fair. We are in the poetry section next to the culinary stage (how cool is that placement). We're nearest the West Hollywood Public Library's entrance. The Book Fair opens at 10am and closes at 6pm. We'll be there the whole day though if you're looking for any one of us in particular, you may have to hang out a bit. We're all big ol' book nerds, and we really enjoy shopping there. So, one of us is always manning the booth with the authors while the others do their shopping or check out a panel. Did I mention the panels? They are awesome for readers or writers! Check out the web page for a map of the booths and a full schedule of the panels http://www.westhollywoodbookfair.org/ . But you aren't in Los Angeles and want to get in on the fun? We have just the thing for you! For the duration of the Book Fair and for our convention appearances until the end of the year, there is a sale of selected titles from Sybaritic Press. They will cost what we charge at the Book Fair AND those prices include shipping and sales tax! Just go to this page http://sybpress.com/bookfairsale.htm and go nuts. We accept VISA, Mastercharge, Discover and Paypal. This is also true at the booth where we also accept cash! For those who can't make it, we will have photos and video of all of the fun.

On that note, I must sign off. I have a lot of work to do, and I'm running out of time to do it.

Stay tuned!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Writer's Block, Crazy Baking and the Zen of Ramen

I'm still working my way through the inbox of horrors. I am making good progress, but what is more important is that the rate it was filling has slowed markedly. That's a relief. I don't mind helping out others where I can, but for a couple of weeks there I was seeing no progress in getting my work done at all! That doesn't mean that everything is smooth sailing. That's why I was doing all of that cooking and baking during the heat wave. I had some things I needed to work out in my head, and there were some recipes that I wanted to try.

I'd been thinking about snacks that I miss from Philly of late. During long days waiting at the hospital, I really missed the soft pretzels from Philly. They are relatively fat free, low calories (if they are only topped with mustard) and really cheap. There isn't any equivalent out here. My Dad shipped us some recently after I mentioned this. They were a welcome treat on days where there would be many hours between breakfast and lunch. The heat also reminded me of how much I missed Italian Ices  or as it is known in Philly, Water Ice. I decided to try to make both treats, so that I could have them anytime without spending a ton of money on shipping. They turned out quite well. The pretzel recipe is a gourmet version, so it is a bit more buttery than the Philly pretzel, but it is very good. The Italian Ice was very close to what I ate in Philly, but my palate has changed. I don't like dishes that are that intensely sweet. A bit more lemon zest will solve that. I also did another batch of croissants and made a batch of twice baked souffles. There will be videos for these dishes. I just have to have the time to edit them.

What could possibly be on my mind that required that much flour and butter to work through? My writing is annoying me. I have discovered that Jon was right about writer's block. It's caused by the subconscious knowledge that something has gone wrong in the story. The problem is figuring out what's gone wrong. Then comes the terrifying process of figuring out how much has to be re-written. I say terrifying, because sometimes the whole manuscript must be chucked in favor of starting anew. In this case, I am trying to start a novel that had been a script. That should be very easy. The entire story is finished. The characters have been alive in my head for quite some time. There shouldn't have been a problem, but I couldn't get anywhere with it for weeks after deciding to write the book. I realized after I had run out of baking sheets to bake on that it was an issue of point of view.

I typically write my fiction in either first person point of view or from a limited third person point of view. For example, the Soldier's books are all from Rik's point of view. Thus, they are written in first person. The Surrender books and the Ensnared books alternates the point of view between the lead characters. It's a comfortable zone for me to tell my stories. The reason I haven't been able to start this book is that neither of those points of view works for this story. In a film, the audience can see other characters reacting to the lead characters without the lead characters knowing they are being observed and possibly judged. This story calls for a number of supporting characters observing and judging without being seen by my leads. That cannot be done from a first or limited third person point of view. I realized that I had to do the all seeing or omniscient point of view. Immediately after figuring that out, I wrote my first sentence of the novel, The Proposal. I also realized that I could keep the very cool opening that I had in the script. I had a few pages written without really thinking about it. It was glorious! And I had a whole heap of snacks to boot. What is The Proposal about, and why have you never heard of this script? That will be for next week's blog. I'll have an excerpt ready along with some bookfair discounts to tell everyone about. It will be worth the wait, believe me.

Speaking of the Solders books, my talented cover artist, Adrianna Ferguson, Did a really cool and funny blog on how she does those amazing covers. It is very interesting, and it can be found here:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kbp5xm8R2VQ

Zen and the Art of Ramen

Since the lovely lunch I had with Digital Manga team member, Joel, I have become more obsessed than ever about making a real bowl of ramen soup. Forget about Cup of Noodles or Top Ramen with it's pack of sodium infused death. I mean real ramen made from scratch with fresh noodles with broth made from bones simmered for many hours. I was crestfallen after the lunch with Joel. I understood that the heavenly broth I had at that shop was made with roasted pork bones. I've never made pork stock. Heck, I'd never seen pork soup bones anywhere – not even in my amazing ethnic market which has the chicken feet. And then in the circular for Top Value Market, I saw a sale for pork neck bones. I realized that would be perfect for a great unctuous stock. I got a big pile of them for less than five dollars. When I told Joel about my plan to attempt ramen broth, he suggested I watch Ramen Girl (above).  I remembered Anthony Bourdain talking about that film during the Hokkaido episode of No Reservations. He described it quite accurately and without derision but doubted the heroine's addition of corn to her ramen. He found out that this was common to Sapporo ramen. I was surprised that Joel suggested what was a chick flick to me. I don't watch them as a rule, but I was intrigued. It was the tale of a young woman who is dumped by her boyfriend shortly after arriving in Japan. In despair, she finds herself in the local ramen shop. The soup makes her so happy that she decides to learn how to spread such joy. It was quite charming. You can see the trailer here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1GYSwiaNz2o Tampopo  was a better film, but they both were good at exploring how the mastery of something that seems so simple can put a whole life in order. Tampopo was sybaritic in its celebration of the pleasures food can bring while being really funny and touching. You can see the trailer here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kbp5xm8R2VQ Meanwhile, I've made and incredible pork stock. It's like jelly, it so full of marrow collagen goodness. Ah, but this is only the first building block. Next, I must master the art of cooking pork bellies.

For that and the big pre-bookfair blog is next week,

Stay tuned!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Humidity, Day Tripping and Updates

Sybpress in the Park
It's Wednesday, and I'm already exhausted. I had lengthy errands on Monday and Tuesday that kept me out in the heat and rare humidity for much of both days. Okay, Los Angeles, we had a deal when I moved out here. You can be hot enough to melt pennies, but you are NOT supposed to be humid! On Monday, I had sweat through my clothes enough that I had to shower and change when I cam home. That just doesn't happen here. Despite the all clear from my Docs, I am still tethered to General Hospital for prescriptions that must be issued monthly and the B-12 shots. Yesterdays sojourn involved getting the prescription filled – I had no energy to wait for it Monday. Then, I had to make my way all the way to West Hollywood  to pick up promo materials for the Bookfair. From there, I had to go to Culver City for the Farmers Market and to meet Marie to discuss the Bookfair. There was also the possibility of martinis and snacks during our meeting. Speaking of the fair, be sure to visit our new web page: Sybpress in the Park.
Both days involved extensive commutes. I'm used to that and well prepared for them. I've taken to traveling with a collapsible cart rather than a tote bag. I carry a parasol, a hat, a sweater, a liter or more of water, a snack, a book and whatever I'm picking up along the way. A Tote bag would be too heavy before I leave the house. This cart is stylish, and it holds up to 110 pounds. I can also fit it in a single bus seat with me and not be in the way of other commuters. I gave such advice in a recent advice blog I wrote for the upcoming Yaoi-con. It was a funny blog that people have found helpful. You can read it HERE. Incidentally, the paperback version of Altered Lanes: An Anthology of Travel Using Alternate Transportation in the City of Angels is now available! Click the title to purchase from Amazon.com..
Normal Bric a Brac
I don't mind the commutes. For the most part, I'm traveling between rush hours, so the buses and trains aren't mobbed. I'm always happy to visit West Hollywood. It's a beautiful neighborhood of tree lined streets and tony shops frequented by even tonier people. I believe it has more gyms per capital than any other part of the city, so most of the men are delightful to look at. There were some jogging about in tiny shorts that made me long for my net gun. Jon really needs to invent a net gun that can take down a young man! Is that really so unreasonable?! Where was I? Oh, right. I expect shops with fancy bric a brac that most people would find eccentric. However, I was not expecting to see huge stone giant robots guarding the parking lot of a really expensive clothing store. These statues are an incredible depiction of some high level geekiness. Jon tells me that these are not one specific robot, but an amalgam of at least three different robots. I must confess that I couldn't follow the elaborate details and histories behind each character that made up the robots. Jon was talking kind of fast at that point and I was full of martinis and some apple and cinnamon elixir that the Culver Hotel bartender was experimenting with. It was a cross between an apple pie and a whole lot of liquor! Jon plans to further investigate the statues when we are at the Bookfair. I plan to let him.
I enjoyed getting out with people and seeing some different scenery than my living room, but I still need to find a balance between activity and rest. As it is, I go through a flurry of activity and then can't do much of anything for a couple of days. Finding that balance is a matter of trail and error. I am learning what my limitations are albeit slowly. A few months ago, I would have either tried to wait at Costco for my meds despite the exhaustion, or I would have tried to do some shopping at Costco yesterday even if that meant dragging those purchases to West Hollywood and Culver City. I do need to do some shopping at Costco, but it can wait until later this week. See, I am learning. So, no nagging!
Fear and Loathing and Food Both Fast and Slow
One of the upsides of commuting is the time it gives for reading. Over the last couple of days, I devoured The American Way of Eating by Tracie McMillan. The book is an exploration of the produce food chain from farm to table. Ms. McMillan gathered her information by working as a field hand picking grapes, sorting peaches and cutting garlic on vast farms in central California; working as a produce stock clerk at two Walmart Super centers near Detroit, Michigan; and working as an expediter at an Applebees in Brooklyn. Each job had its challenges and satisfaction. She met fascinating people in each location and learned a great deal about how people at different strata survive on the wages they make. I was shocked to find dubious payment and employment practices reported at the Walmart and the Applebees. The book was as engrossing as it was educational. I think the best thing I got out of McMillan's book was a reprieve from the guilt I'd been shouldering for not having done a lot more healthy cooking before now. I have no excuse for not shopping and cooking healthy right now. I have a lot more time to plan, shop and cook. I have more knowledge about cooking than I ever have before. And I have an insane number of options for healthy produce and fresh baked goods. But when we were both working – especially when we were working odd hours – it wasn't so easy. McMillan's own struggles made me understand that even when you know what to do about a healthy diet and have some where with all to do it, time to plan and properly shop can be a huge issue. And neither she nor I have children. I have an even deeper admiration for my mother and her efforts that kept our family from the drive through except on very rare occasions. Aside from easing my guilt, the book also answered a growing question I've had about some restaurants I've visited in recent years. When I thought that I could do better making the same dishes at home, it seems that I was right. Applebees, it was reported, mostly microwaves pre-portioned side dishes and the sauces were mixed from powders. The cooks there said that they didn't cook so much as they assembled. I don't think I've made a powered sauce of any type since I was 19 and living on my own for the first time. McMillan's book was extraordinary in it's scope. It didn't lay out any easy answers, but I think it will make those involved in this quandary look at the questions differently. Aside from localizing the food supply, many consumers need to be given strategies to plan meals so that they can shop and prep effectively enough to follow through. We're a land of plenty with two food networks. This is something we should be able to figure out.
The in box remains stubbornly full of things to edit and promo materials to create and other things to write and production things to cross off.

Thursday, September 06, 2012

New Book, Lotsa Lunches and Grande Margaritas

Yes, the blog is a day late. I have my reasons. I have been trying to slog through the inbox of the damned. Then, suddenly I have a multi-volume manga to edit that I didn't expect on top of the multi-volume manga I knew about. And I did have three grande margartias during one of the best working lunches I've ever had. You see, they make the drink grande for a only a dollar extra, so why not? And it was also buy two margaritas get one free Wednesday at Kay n' Dave's Mexican Restaurant. I'm a writer. It is not in our DNA to turn down a free margarita. Strangely, that isn't why the blog is late. I was waiting for the latest title from Sybpress to go live. Now, it has on Amazon Kindle. The paperback should be live in a day or two. I'll give a shout out when it does.

Alternate Lanes

I am very proud to announce Sybaritic Press' first non-fiction anthology, Alternate Lanes: An Anthology of Travel Using Alternate Transportation in the City of Angels. Here is the synopsis:

This is the city, Los Angeles, California. Within the county are over 500 miles of freeways and 6500 miles of streets. According to the latest census, the population is over 3.7 million people. Yet the California Department of Motor Vehicles states that there are more than 6.6 million automobiles in the county. Los Angeles is world famous for being car crazy. However, there is a significant part of its population that gets around quite well without ever using an automobile. The largest provider of public transit which includes buses, trains and light rail reports a ridership of 1.6 million per week day, making the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) the third largest in the country. And that is just one of a half dozen very active transit agencies in this county. There are also 377 miles of bike paths with a plan to increase to 1600 miles. Add to that the runners, rollerbladers and walkers, and it's clear that Los Angeles moves in many different ways. Alternate Lanes: An Anthology of Travel Using Alternate Transportation in the City of Angels is a fond though often unflinching and irreverent look at transit that doesn't involve an automobile. This collection of eye opening prose and poetry is by some of the best writers and poets who call Los Angeles home.

More than the blog was waiting on this book. All of our advertising for the West Hollywood Bookfair was tied up in having a link to this new title. Now that we have somewhere to send possible buyers, we can finish off the web page and post cards. We can also put in our order for books in the booth. I am really, really relieved that there were no problems with the files. This is the first book in a very long time with interior photos. The last experiment left us all traumatized. The photos look great. Maybe I'm finally ready to try that cookbook!

Lunch Lady

In the last week, I have had two occasions that caused me to write a Yelp review. In both cases, I was in the company of a charming gentleman and enjoying amazing food. Last Friday, I was delighted to meet one of the talented translators I work with for the Digital Manga Guild. Joel was en route from his hometown on the east coast back to Japan with his young son. I was very excited about meeting him as I found his running commentary on the last manga we worked on so entertaining. We met in Little Tokyo at a very popular Ramen joint called Daikokuya. It looked like a diner inside – even had red vinyl booths, I suppose it was diner like, food wise. The menu was Japanese comfort food. It's famous for it's ramen made with pork stock made from roasted pork bones. This is nothing like the little packages of dried noodles with the foil flavor pouches. This was an astonishing bowl of wonder. The stock was so flavorful and luxurious. The veggie toppings were fresh and crisp. I couldn't finish it all, but it was amazing. I will now be tormented until I can figure out how to make that broth! Joel was entertaining in person as well as was his son. The handsome little fellow did very well entertaining a stranger when he really wanted to be in a pool. He even gave me a hug when we parted company. Joel did not disappoint in person. We laughed a lot, and he taught me about a performer from the US who is huge in Japan. This young man is not a rapper. Jero is a singer of an old form of Japanese balladscalled Enka. Just take a lookie here: http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x551ef_jero-michinoku-hitori-tabi-japanese_music . It seems that Jero-san is from Joel's home town. Neat.
Jero and Enka Singers
My other lunch date was with the always witty and entertaining Jody Wheeler, writer, filmmaker and raconteur. We met at a place I pass by once a week on my way to the Culver City Farmers Market, Kay n' Dave's http://www.kayndaves.com/pg_find_culver.html. It's a really cool Mexican restaurant. To save time, I'll just quote my review here. This place is great in any way that a restaurant can be judged. The food is freshly made. The flavors are complex -- even in a simple taco. The service is friendly, attentive and swift. The prices -- especially the specials -- are very reasonable. Oh, and the drinks are delicious and generous in size. I really adored the house margarita! During my last visit, I had the duck enchilada special that also had rice and a veggie and apple salad. It was incredible and only $7! It is understandably busy during lunch. The service is so good that it makes a great option for the office workers nearby. I can't recommend it enough. Jody and I talked about everything from Bent-con to Yaoi-con to filmmaking, web series, fund raising. It was so much fun, yet somehow we got a whole lot of business done. Awesome. I really look forward to the next encounter.

Alas, I must get back to work. I still have that danged in box to slog through. I've been having too much fun this week.

Stay tuned.