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!

Monday, December 31, 2012

Christmas, New Year and Questions Answered

I'm thinking of having Jon wait until next weekend to take down the tree and the lights. I have really been enjoying how pretty everything looked in the wee small hours of the morning just before Jon gets up. I'm reminded of how happy I was with the Christmas decorations Jon put up after my first surgery. They are the simplest we've ever had, but somehow they are the prettiest. I had been so surprised to be home for Christmas three years ago that I found Jon's humble decorations magical. I still do. The moments sitting in the room lit only by the twinkling lights while I sip coffee makes me feel so happy and content. I'd love to keep that feeling for just a few more days. There is so much on my plate in the next few weeks, I need some magic. Side Note: it is a very nice bit of magic when up at 4:30 in the morning with another bout of acid reflux. It is very nice, indeed.

Hustle and Bustle

Last year was not a good one for getting Jon presents. He is very difficult to buy for in general. The one option that I had was not in stock when I had the money to get it. I was forced to improvise by making a treat that he was having trouble finding of late. Thus, Deb's Roasty-Toasty Peanuts were born. I make them every few months since last year. Honey roasted nuts are welcome any time of the year. He loved the treats and the new video game when it finally arrived. However, this year, I wanted to get him something really nice. My very own laptop helped me find the gifts at a really great price. I have Google everything on my laptop. Advertisements follow me every where I go when I'm online. Usually that is an annoying and often creepy phenomena. This time, it worked. I did need an office chair for Jon. His was falling apart. So was his windbreaker. Google remembered that I had comparison shopped for these items more than once. It was happy to point out that a deeply discounted office chair was available with free shipping on cyber Monday. Likewise, JCP (JC Penny for us older folks) had a great sale on men's windbreakers with free shipping. Jon was out of the way in short order, but there was still a lot to do.

We're already having a far rainier in Los Angeles than it has in three years. I'd gotten tired of cleaning the rug over and over. I needed to get a welcome mat and an area near the door where we could take off our shoes like Japanese homes have. Jon came up with a great idea of using a desk mat. It fit the area in front of the door perfectly. We now have a pretty good Genkan http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genkan and hopefully a much cleaner floor. I also needed to pick up some gift bags for the baked goods we were giving out locally. All of these items meant trips to malls and major shopping districts during the busiest buying season of the year. The retail veteran in me was really dreading this. I was expecting a heavy press of crowds, lots of noise and lots of really unhappy people. I was shocked to find all of the items without any real problems. The crowds weren't bad at all. I found no long lines. I think I was a little resentful that none of the staffs I ran into had that hollow eyed stare that I often had a few days before Christmas. Even my unscheduled trip to Costco was less of a hassle than it would be on a regular week day. I have to say that I enjoyed the mild hustle and bustle along with the Christmas music and children laughing. I was particularly tickled by a young father teaching his toddler daughter how to swing dance while waiting for Santa. It was the first time in many years that I felt like I was part of the holiday season. However, the shopping trips did take a lot out of me physically. I wasn't left with much energy for the rest of my tasks. But fatigue seems to always part of the holidays season, and stuff was getting done.

We used to have an open house at Christmas every year in Philly. The hubs and I had our first hook-up during one 19 years ago. Nineteen!!! We haven't had one since moving into our tiny apartment. And then, there was my illness not making things very festive. I even did the very scary thing of sending out a general invite on Facebook. That could have made life extremely entertaining. In the end, we had pretty much my extended film family in attendance. That was very nice. The food turned out fairly well despite a few minor disasters. I even held up fairly well despite running around and cooking for the open house and for Christmas dinner. That bodes very well for the treatment I'm on to battle the damage done by chemotherapy. I was glad to see Phil and Jack and Sunshine and Ralph and Marguerite and young Mister Shelton. I used to see them routinely for large stretches of time out here. It felt so strange to have drifted. I hope this gathering means that there will be many more to come. We also had a bright spot in our home on Christmas Even and Christmas Day. Sunshine Lliteras was in the house for two days and nights sharing the holiday programs and our favorite Christmas movies. You should know those by now. I harp upon them every year. Really quickly they are Tokyo Godfathers and A Christmas Carol (1952 version with Alistair Sim). We haven't had an overnight guest for any holiday since the days back in Playa del Rey. Happily, Sunshine is a super easy going guest who is a lot of fun to have around. She even put on a Santa hat to delivery cookies with us to the police on duty down the street. And she kept the same odd hours as I do. Good times! View all my Christmas photos here: https://plus.google.com/photos/115054950092873560149/albums/5828120788318857745?authkey=CM3ioNjU8qT9Mw.

Q and A

And now to answer those questions raised in the blog preview.
  • Apparently, those giant car bows seen in TV ads are really expensive. Really. And the dealership is loathe to give them away without a vehicle attached to them. They also really abide by that time is money stance and can be quite short in ending a discussion that doesn't involve driving a car off the lot. Really. I had an old lady shopping cart with me, and I'm pretty sure the bus top I came from was visible through the picture window to anyone paying attention. Odds of my buying a car was remote. And when I can afford one, I'm not going to a place that was so rude.
  • Too many of my male friends are willing to hide in our closets indefinitely for a chance at surprising Jon. I had two such offers to help me out together his new office chair. I considered shoving Craig and an actor friend in their just to see what mayhem would arise. I thought better of it later. Jon enjoyed putting together the chair himself.
  • Apparently, I am attractive enough for dapper elderly gentlemen to speculate about my fidelity in public places. I had on no ring when they started pointing out all the mistletoe hanging about. The situation was more cute than creepy though I think I'll return home for my ring if I forget it again.
  • I'm getting good enough at cooking on the fly that I can whip up an appetizer, main course and dessert in under an hour with a weird set of ingredients. One of my cutie pie guests at the open house had an allergy to olive oil. The next thing I know, I'm whipping up buffet alternatives. My pantry and my skills have come into their own! Can you say Chopped ?
  • I'll tell you more about the question that resulted in a whole lot of work when the details are finalized. But it was fairly amusing and quite exciting.

Year in Review – Briefly

2012 was a very good year overall. I became a published short story author at long last. I also became a published essayist. I directed actors and ran shoots on my own this year. We have a web series well under way. The first interviews for my documentary on Appendix Cancer is in the can. I also came into my own as a manga editor and a spokesperson of sorts for the yaoi industry in the US. Writing and editing have brought some wonderfully creative and fascinating people into my life from around the world. And despite some deeply perplexing and at times horribly disheartening developments in publishing (I won't go into it too deeply here as I have ranted on the topic a few times. In short, two authors writing in arenas where I have made my home over the last 15 years achieved fame, fortune and even critical acclaim in one case while I toil in obscurity. One of them can barely put words into sentences), I have figured out a path for raising my profile as an author and perhaps even following suit. No, it doesn't involve taking anyone out literally or figuratively. I have had a difficult time physically and emotionally from the damage my cancer treatments have caused, but I face 2013 with tremendous gratitude for all the lovely people in my life who have helped make it better. And I am incredibly optimistic that I am on the right path for creative fulfillment and – hopefully – success.

Stay tuned! And Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Holiday Madness

As I stood in the kitchen for ten minutes wondering what I was supposed to be doing next, it dawned on me that I should write the blog when my head isn't spinning. Besides, more and more happens to blog about. For instance:

  • Car dealerships are not that interested in selling or giving away those giant car ribbons.
  • Why it isn't a good plan to put together furniture when you aren't good at assembly.
  • Why it's always wise to wear a weeding ring in the season of mistletoe.
  • How an idle question can turn into a whole lot of work.
  • And so much more!
Look for a new blog and our official Seasons Greeting around Tuesday.

Stay tuned!

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.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

On Mom and Cooking and the Holiday Frenzy

Jon and I do a lot of prep for the baking season, including dry runs throughout the year. We like to keep our skills sharp. This kind of prep does not extend to actual Christmas shopping. I am just now compiling a list for Jon to choose from. I found myself very tickled when I finished as almost all of the items involved cooking in some fashion. What was so funny, you might ask. I was thinking about my Mother. I am a lot like her in many ways. I look like her. I certainly have her sense of humor. However, we vastly diverge where my interest in all things cooking. This was especially true where Christmas presents were concerned. It was made very clear, that any present related to household chores would be view with great disdain. There would be consequences for such a gift that could be very uncomfortable. I remember the one year that someone thought it would be a great idea to give Mom a new set of cookware for Christmas since the set we had was damaged. Things were extra frosty until February, and not because of Philly winters. If anyone had purchased the trio of imported sea salts that I adore for her, said gifter would have found themself sleeping on the patio. We didn't have an enclosed patio.

I am very different from Mom in that regard. Not that I don't enjoy girlie gifts. I love jewelry and clothes and all of that. But I really love anything related to cooking from cookbooks to the tiniest gadget. I use my crepe pan every week, because it is the perfect pan to make regular pancakes. I clean it carefully with oil and course salt after use before wrapping it in a special cloth before putting it away. I love that pan! Thus, I have a list of items that I have yet to acquire and really want. It's a very exciting list to me, but I am leaving one item off. I do want a chef's coat. No apron can protect me from getting covered in whatever I”m cooking. However, I want to wait on that item. It's a bit pricey. Mom still wouldn't be impressed. What am I getting for Jon? That's all taken care of. The last one was delivered today. I only chose them on Monday, so that's really impressive of these online shops. Still, I may have to venture into the mall for one or two things for very, very special people. I will choose a weekday and early in the day. That should keep the crazy to a minimum. We'll be doing the garland on the window with the lights again this year. The piney scent is really nice. Soon, the scents of baked goods will be in the air. That will be lovely. The only potential difficulty is our usual problem coming up with an idea for our official Christmas card. Every year I say we should think of something during the summer. Every year we're coming up with something mid-December. Will this be the year that we repeat a card? Who knows!

I am actually working on a book! I have taken up the latest Soldiers book where it left off. It's like coming home if home were filled with hot and frequently naked guys. I'd love to project all the fiction that I plan to do in the weeks that I am between manga assignments, but I will enjoy the moment. Everything else will happen in its own time. Meanwhile, there is a lot of baking and cooking to do.

Stay tuned.

Saturday, December 01, 2012

Stress, Lardons and Japanese at Harley Davidson

This blog has been my most difficult in the last few years. I cannot say that I have ever resented writing it or not enjoyed it. But there have been several things that have happened in the last few months that have made me wonder about the point of doing anything. I have not been in such of state of white hot fury in a very long time. Some of it I'll talk about here. Most of it is something that has to be said in person. And I do have to own some of the reasons why I find myself so vehemently angry in recent days. For far too long, I have ignored slights that were both very big and very, very small. If you are now wondering whether or not you've slighted me, chances are that you haven't. Those prone to these sorts of slight seldom give it any sort of thought. At any rate, one of the changes that cancer patients make is to let things that upset us go. I have found that to be a useful practice in general. However, some people can take that philosophy to mean that I am a doormat or that I will accept being treated shabbily. I suppose the argument could be made that shabby treatment is better than those who've simply disappeared from my life after I fell ill. I view them as the same transgression. I will not tolerate either anymore.

And while I'm in the mood to be snarky, let me say this very clearly. I am an artist. Despite appearances to the contrary, that makes me a sensitive and sometimes fragile soul. To me, being ignored is as bad as being criticized. I know how many people read this blog every week. It's a lot of people. And that does make me happy. But I hardly ever hear from 99% of them. It's the same with my books. I get very few comments, reviews or even 'likes' for my pages. This does not help me sell books which was the original intent of this blog. I don't ask much. I just ask that when I post links to things I'm working on, click on them and then click 'like' or leave a comment. Buying would be great, but it's not necessary. The 'likes' and comments help me make sales. Let's practice. Here is the link to my Amazon Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/DL-Warner/e/B002BREP2O/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_pop_1 . Go there and 'like' the page. It would be extra wonderful if you liked a few of the titles as well, but I won't push.

Speaking of things I need to have people pay attention to, Jon and I have launched a fundraiser to make a web series based on Demon Under Glass. We need traffic as much as we need donors. Traffic gets us featured on the entire site, exposing the campaign to millions of people. The link to the Demonspawn Campaign is here: http://igg.me/p/282567/x/126025 . The trailer that we have worked on for months is there for your viewing pleasure. Go and have a look. Seriously.

Holiday Musings

Thanksgiving being so early in the month has really thrown me off. I actually had a mild panic attack over the holiday baking. I was convinced for a short time that I was too far behind schedule to get everything in the mail. Typically, the week after Thanksgiving, this place is full of baking supplies, and we're figuring out the logistics of mailing it all. I was remembering that the week after Thanksgiving last year, I had enough cookies in production to bring goodie bags to Bent-con. It took a while to realize that though the holiday fell on the proper Thursday of the month, the date was a lot earlier than usual. Everything was a week earlier, date wise. I wasn't already behind. That was stress that I didn't need. I have had a very stressful week. I was even forced to buy something decidedly Christmas in the month of November. I hate doing that. The giant, mutant poinsettia I like to have instead of a live tree went on sale really early at Costco this year. I didn't want to buy it so early, but they ran out of them last year. More stress. Costco is a special kind of insane in the days after Thanksgiving.

Luckily there was lots of good food that I could enjoy most of the time. We really enjoyed the Thanksgiving leftovers this year. The turkey was humongous. And unlike most people we know, we actually enjoy the leftovers as they are. There is no need to get all Iron Chef to transmute such a tasty meal. And then there were the turkey sandwiches. They were just sublime. We had enough turkey that Jon had sandwiches for lunch all the next week. However, I had a hankering for something else. I really wanted to back engineer the sublime cream of potato soup Marie and I had at the Crème de la Crepe a few weeks ago. It was very close to vichyssoise which is leek and potatoes. I was fairly sure I could back engineer it. I figured that since the company founders were from more country parts of France, chances were that lardons figured into the soup. It did have bacon as one of the garnishes. So, I sliced two pieces of slab bacon and cooked them until crispy. I cooked the leeks and other veg in the rendered fat. There was also some good, homemade stock on hand. It was really close. I think I needed a smokier cut of bacon to really nail it. Though my effort was quite tasty. I made the croutons by tossing cubed baguette bread with olive oil and toasting them on a sheet pan. I was really stoked. I've never had a back engineering effort work so well.

Deb vs Japanese at Harley Davidson

On Friday, I was heading home from some errands in Marina del Rey when I passed the monolithic Harley Davidson Dealership. AS I got closer to the main entrance, I realized that a mini tour bus full of Japanese men were leaving the showroom to get back on the bus. They had black leather jackets and hats and big smiles. The line was also blocking my path. I was tired, so I didn't mind pausing. The men acknowledged this patient gesture with smiles and demi-bows. I remembered a sentence I had learned a while back that I never thought I'd actually use. So I said as the rain came down with my best accent, 'Good afternoon. The weather is bad, isn't it?' They were very startled. They smiled and really bowed at me. One said something I recognized as 'you are speaking well.' I remembered the reply for that as I practice it a lot. “No, I'm really not good yet.' While that statement is very true, it is also the absolutely best and most polite reply to such a compliment. I got some great bows then. This boosted my confidence. I had been lamenting the slowness of my progress.

My last manga in the pipeline for the year will be done this week. I get back to my novels full-time for several weeks! The baking season begins as do new cooking videos.

Stay tuned.