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Posts Tagged ‘Food’

I’m all out of deadlines…

I just met my deadline for submitting a proposal for a new, potentially quite interesting project that I hope will pan out. It’s audiobook-oriented, so in my sample chapters, I tried to write the whole thing without any “said” tags on the dialogue, which is surprisingly easier than it sounds. (I was following advice from something I coincidentally read a while back with tips for writing with audio in mind, though I can’t remember where it was.)

Anyway, now I don’t have any looming deadlines, not for nearly 5 months, anyway. At the moment, I’m officially between projects, and for the first time in a while, I’m reasonably sure I’ll have enough money for the foreseeable future, providing things go as expected. (Well, at least enough to pull back from the brink for hopefully the last time and start paying down my debts.) So you’d think I’d be relieved, ready to relax and enjoy some downtime. Oddly, though, I feel a little depressed about not having any solid plans or projects to focus on (other than new reviews for my Patreon page, of course).

Maybe it’s an aftereffect of the past few months where I had to find something to work on to avoid going broke, so the prospect of having nothing definite on the horizon makes me reflexively worried, even though I don’t need to be anymore (probably). Or maybe it’s just that I’d gotten on a roll writing the sample chapters so stopping now feels unsatisfying. Or maybe I just have fewer distractions from the increasingly horrible news from the outside world.

Anyway, I don’t plan to be idle for long. I don’t know how much downtime I’ll have before I get the go-ahead to start writing my currently contracted project, but I have a whole list of stories and outlines to work on this year that I’ve only managed to check a few things off of so far, so hopefully I’ll finally be able to get started, at least, on one or two of those. I also have a couple of more Star Trek Adventures campaigns to write, though the world crisis has slowed things down for Modiphius so I’m not under any time pressure on those. So I have options.

Meanwhile, just yesterday my editor Danielle and I worked out the back cover copy for Arachne’s Crime, and I think the completion of the cover art and design is the only remaining step before publication. And I know that process is underway. So the book may be out very soon now. Remember, you can preorder it here.

 

Also meanwhile, I just completed my second online order for grocery pickup, which I scheduled for tomorrow morning. I discovered it was possible to customize my order, to disable substitutions for individual items or give specific instructions, so I could avoid unwanted substitutions of the sort I got last time. So I ordered my acid control medicine with substitutions turned off so I wouldn’t get the wrong dosage this time, though if it turns out they don’t have it at Kroger, I’ll have to go across the lot to Walgreens and actually go into the store. But I’ll have my mask and gloves, and I read recently that it’s reasonably safe to be in a public place for under 15 minutes if it’s not too crowded, which it never has been in my experience even before the pandemic.

The other substitution that turned out poorly was that vegetarian kielbasa that was subbed for my favorite veggie Italian sausage. It did too good a job simulating the aspects of pork flavor and texture that I particularly dislike. I tried the first sausage cut in half and served on hot dog buns, as I often do with the Italian; it was tolerable. I then tried cutting it up in red sauce on top of spaghetti, and that didn’t mesh well at all. So I tried to think of something I had that would go well with a pork-like flavor, and I decided to marinate the next sausage in barbecue sauce. That was decent, but not too satisfying. For the last sausage in the package, I’m wondering if topping it with melted cheese would help, but I’m in no hurry to try.

I’m reminded of how, when I was a kid, I would smother the meat my father cooked in steak sauce to make it more palatable. I remember what may have been the first time he had me try ham, and I didn’t like it so I slathered on the sauce, and when he asked me how it tasted, I said “Like hard A-1 Sauce.” I think he found it pretty funny, which might be why I remember it so clearly.

Picking up a new skill (and groceries)

Last time I went grocery shopping, I was concerned at how many people in the store — staff included — were unmasked, and how little concern there was for distancing in the aisles. So this time, I finally gave in and registered at the grocery store’s website so I could order groceries online and arrange a drive-in pickup (which usually has a fee attached but is now offered for free given the pandemic).

I found the website surprisingly convenient; I entered my shopper’s card number when I registered, and as a result, when I started shopping, I was shown a list of the specific items I’d bought previously, already in the store’s computer system. So it was easy to pick out my standard items rather than having to search for them. That was very handy and a real timesaver.

The pickup was straightforward enough. I got a text ahead of time telling me what number to call when I got there, so once I arrived, I just had to tap the number in the text and it connected me right to them. (There were signs in the parking spaces saying what number to call as well, but the text made it simpler.) Then I just had to wait a few minutes for them to come out, pop the trunk, and there we were.

The downside is that they had to substitute a few items due to supply shortages. A couple of the substitutions were harmless, but they gave me my antacid pills in the wrong dosage (though I can just take two at a time to make it up), and in place of my favorite vegetarian Italian sausage (the Tofurky brand, which has sun-dried tomato and basil and is very spicy), they substituted vegetarian kielbasa, which I don’t know if I’ll like. I knew I shouldn’t have gambled on that one, since they didn’t always have the Italian in stock even before all this. I wish the system were set up so we could specify or decline an alternate beforehand rather than gambling on their judgment.

The staffers who came out to deliver groceries to me, and before that to the person ahead of me, were all masked (as was I on general principles, even though I stayed in my car), but one of the people in the earlier group had his mask pulled down, defeating the purpose. I like to think that most people would be more diligent about mask use if they understood that it was to protect others more than themselves. There’s obviously a contingent of selfish people who don’t care about the risk to others as long as they aren’t inconvenienced, but I know they’re very much in the minority, despite what certain politicians claim. Also, based on what I’ve seen, I think more people need to be reminded that masks are not a substitute for social distancing and the rest, but a supplement to them. Parachutists wear crash helmets, but that doesn’t mean wearing a helmet means they get to skip the parachute.

Anyway, aside from those drawbacks, I appreciated the convenience of shopping this way. There were some things they didn’t have available for pickup, so I’ll probably have to brave the store again at some point, but it will be nice to be able to order through the website again in the future, at least as long as the pickup fee is waived. I do feel a bit guilty about making the grocery staff do the work for me, but at the same time, I’m not exposing them to the risk of my presence in the store, which is probably more important under the circumstances (I’m unlikely to have been exposed, but you never know).

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I have braved the realm of groceries

I’ve been trying to make it as long as possible without going to the grocery store, and fortunately I stockpiled a fair amount of stuff before the lockdown began and on my previous trip just over 3 weeks ago. It’s not just because of COVID-19 concerns, but also money — I’m still waiting on my stimulus check and on a new writing contract, and my bank accounts are quite threadbare at the moment. I thought I still had a few more days before I’d have to go, but this morning I discovered that the downside of trying to ration my milk usage and make a gallon last as long as possible is that, well, milk doesn’t last indefinitely. I had to dump out maybe two cereal bowls’ worth of spoiled milk this morning, and though I could maybe have managed one more day (I had two frozen waffles left), I decided I might as well go ahead and make the trip today.

It took some psyching out, though. I reminded myself that I was probably at more risk of exposure on my trips last month before the lockdown. By now, weeks of social distancing have probably reduced the presence of the virus, the grocery staff has presumably gotten lots of practice at maintaining sanitary conditions, and I’d be wearing a mask and rubber gloves. And the city health department’s map shows only a handful of cases in my part of the city, so I’m probably in a relatively low-risk area anyway. I probably take a bigger risk whenever I drive to Shore Leave or to visit family. Still, I was very nervous the whole time, since novel risks always seem scarier than the risks we’ve learned to take for granted.

Speaking of which, I was surprised by how many of the grocery staffers weren’t wearing masks. The cashiers were — mine was so bundled up I could only see her eyes — but the shelvers generally weren’t, and neither they nor many of the patrons were worrying much about keeping six feet apart. I took some roundabout routes to avoid people who didn’t seem as concerned with avoidance as I was. And this was despite the parking lot being relatively empty. You’d think with so few people, it’d be easier to avoid them.

Of course, the problem with only going to the store every three weeks or so is that you have to get a lot when you’re there — which, combined with not being able to use my cloth bags anymore, meant I had to pack quite a few plastic bags in the trunk, and needed three trips to get them all in. Plus there are still shortages (oh, good grief, I just realized I forgot to restock on refried beans — I knew I’d forget something), and I’ve had to settle for some substitutions here and there. For one thing, they didn’t have any single rolls of paper towels, only 6-packs — which I guess is good for the long run, since it means I won’t need more for quite a while. But it meant spending more right now, when I can barely afford it. (I’ll just leave my Patreon and Kickstarter links here…)

The hard part was getting unpacked, since I put the bags on the kitchen floor rather than the countertops, so I had to do a lot of crouching and standing up — which is not a good idea when one is dehydrated after a grocery trip bundled up in a coat and mask. I got dizzy and had to take a break for apple juice, and then after washing my hands, showering, and changing clothes, I went ahead and had lunch to restore my energy (leftovers, so I didn’t have to handle any grocery packages right away).

So now I’m going to spend the next 12 days worrying every time I cough or feel low on energy, even though both are fairly commonplace for me.

For what it’s worth, I got a call last night from my aunt in the DC area, and she tells me that she and my uncles (her husband and brother) are all safely isolated and well in their retirement home, which has a few positive cases but according to her is the best-run one in the region, so that’s reassuring. I admit I’d been a little afraid to contact my elderly relatives in case there was bad news, so I’m glad she called me and let me know they’re doing okay. And the rest of my family members seem to be weathering things too.

These are strange times. I’m talking about a trip to the grocery store as a momentous adventure. I’d love to go back to it being mundane and unremarkable, and leave the adventures to the characters in my fiction.

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Yesterday was a good day

September 13, 2018 2 comments

I’ve been feeling pretty down for a while now, even though my fortunes have finally started to improve again. I may have some money in the bank at last and be slowly chipping away at my debts, but I’m also laboring under a tight writing deadline and struggling to make progress, and just generally having trouble shaking off the months of anxiety and depression from when things were at their roughest. But yesterday, several good, refreshing, or reassuring things happened — nothing really huge, but some welcome relief from the tension and concerns I’ve been having. By the end of the day, I felt more upbeat and relaxed than I’ve felt in quite a while.

For one thing, I’m finally getting some real momentum back on my current writing project, which I’ve been pretty far behind on (not an unusual occurrence for me, but still stressful). I’ve had several good, productive days in a row, and I’m into a part of the project where I have a clearer idea where I’m going and don’t have to figure it out on the fly, so it’s pretty satisfying to be making such progress. I’m still a little behind where I’d hoped to be, because this section is turning out to be pretty lengthy, but with luck I’ll finish no more than a day behind my desired schedule.

Tuesday night, I’d barely gotten anything done and was feeling very sleepy and useless (I made the mistake of having a peanut butter sandwich for dinner, and that tends to make me lethargic). I wanted to get something done that evening, but I didn’t want a full cup of coffee that late, so I had some hot chocolate with a little instant coffee. And it actually woke me up and got my brain working again, and I got a surprising amount of work done. And it got me thinking. A few years ago, when I first started drinking coffee, I had an amazing burst of productivity, but coffee hasn’t had the same effect later on. I realize now that the first kind of coffee I used was a mix that was half instant coffee and half powdered creamer/sugar — and at the time of that burst of productivity, I was having regular instant coffee mixed with milk and plenty of honey to mask the foul taste (since I hadn’t yet figured out the whole creamer business). So what if it was the sugar, more than the caffeine, that did the trick? Sugar is the energy source for the brain, after all. If so, that’s a dilemma, since upping my sugar intake to make my brain more active wouldn’t exactly help the rest of my body. I guess I’d need to find the right balance — and exercise more, which is something I need to do anyway.

So yesterday, in search of relatively healthy sweets, I went to the local natural foods store and bought some organic cookies. I also found that they finally had one of my favorite foods that I’d run out of too long ago — pumpkin butter, which is like apple butter but made from pumpkin, and is really yummy. It’s seasonal, so they only have it for part of the year, plus I rarely went to that store while I was broke, and thus my stockpile of pumpkin butter ran out quite a while ago. The variety they had in stock wasn’t my preferred one of the two they tend to carry, but still, I’m happy to have pumpkin butter again. Not only is it just plain good, but it helps me feel like my life is starting to get back to normal after the long period when I was flat broke.

Oh, speaking of buying things and economizing — last week after I went to the movie theater, I went to the Kroger superstore across the street from it to get a few things, and I decided on a whim to check out the superstore’s modest-sized clothing section at the far end, since I’ve been in need of some new clothes. Serendipitously, there was a clearance sale on, and I found several pairs of jeans in my size marked down nearly 80 percent, so I bought one. That evening, after I confirmed that the jeans fit, I realized that I should’ve bought more than one, given how cheap they were. So I went back the next morning and got two more pairs of jeans, plus two polo shirts at the same discount. I’m not crazy about the color of one of the shirts, but hey, I got some $200 worth of clothes (by list price, plus tax) for under $45, which is amazing.

Plus, I finally bought a new laptop battery a week or two back, which makes me feel more free to walk over to campus with my laptop and do some writing there. The change of scenery often helps me focus, and it’s something I haven’t done in a while. I think part of the reason I’ve been creatively blocked in recent months is because my lack of funds has kept me from going out much, and the repetitive setting of my apartment has left my mind unstimulated. I did take my laptop over to campus this past Saturday when my apartment building had a power failure — its second in just a few days, what with the storms we’ve been having (though the second outage was on a day of milder rain, so maybe it was a delayed reaction to the first storm) — and got a little writing done then, but it wasn’t a pleasant walk since I wasn’t really feeling up to it, and since the weather wasn’t great. But the walk I went on yesterday afternoon was much more enjoyable, both a partial cause and effect of the generally better mood I’m in now. I managed to figure out the next scene I wanted to write, and I wrote it out promptly after getting home. (Though I realized this morning that I wrote myself into a bit of a corner regarding one plot point, and I haven’t yet figured out how to fix it.)

One other thing — this past week I’ve been having problems on a couple of websites with ads or something that slowed my Firefox browser so severely I had to keep forcing it to shut down with Task Manager and starting over. I’d started using Chrome for those two sites, but yesterday morning, it happened in Chrome too — or rather, it happened when I had the site open in Chrome and tried to open a different site in Firefox while I waited. This time, though, instead of shutting Chrome down, I just waited it out to see if it would clear up, and it did. And somehow, ever since then, I’ve had no slowdown problems with those sites in either browser. It’s like whatever process was paralyzing the browsers just needed to be given the chance to finish once, and then it was all good. I dunno, I probably need to do a disk cleanup to free up some RAM or something, but this unexpected clearing up of a frustrating nuisance was one more windfall in my good day.

Oh, and then there’s the biggest load off my mind — other than my writing progress, though it relates to that. Last week I got a summons to report for jury duty in two weeks’ time — when I’m six weeks to deadline and behind schedule. Now, if things went the same way they did the last time I had jury service back in early 2009 (some months before I began this blog), where I just sat around waiting in the courthouse and never actually got into a courtroom (which is actually pretty normal for jury pool members), then it’d be a great chance to get some writing done without distractions, plus I’d literally get paid a little money just for showing up. (Last time, IIRC, I was doing a rewrite on Only Superhuman at the time, and I made significant progress during my days in the jurors’ quiet study area.) But I was afraid that if I did get called to serve on an actual jury, it might delay my writing at a time when I can’t afford any more delays. Luckily, I saw on the summons form that you get one chance in your lifetime to request a postponement of jury service, as long as it’s within 6 months of the initial date. So I requested it, and when I returned from my walk yesterday, I found a postcard in the mail saying my request was accepted. I don’t have to report until a month or so after my deadline, which should hopefully give me time for revisions and such. So that’s a bullet dodged, and a great relief. Between that and the progress I’ve made this week, I’m feeling much more optimistic about my deadline.

So all this adds up to put me in a fairly good place right now. I hope it lasts for a while.

Categories: My Fiction Tags: , ,

Finally, my post-Shore Leave post (on Shore Leave)

Sorry it took me so long to write this — it’s been an exhausting week. As I mentioned, I had to leave a day early and drive a fair distance out of my way to pick up some belongings for a relative who recently moved to the DC area. So I spent 6 hours driving on Wednesday. I stayed with my relative’s friends, who were nice and welcoming, but I never get any sleep on my first night in an unfamiliar place (I recently read an article about this — it has to do with the brain’s instinctive alertness to danger, so it’s not just me), so not only was the big drive to DC on Thursday really long — more than 12 hours, as it turned out, including the frequent rest breaks I needed — but I was making it on no sleep and plenty of coffee. The folks I stayed with were kind enough to let me have a travel mug full of coffee to take with me on my drive, in addition to the first cup I had that morning, so that was pretty much all that kept me functional through that really long trip. Oddly, though, even with my car packed with a significant amount of extra weight, I got the best gas mileage I’ve ever had on that part of the journey, even topping 32 MPG. (I learned the habit from my father of always writing down mileage and gallons when I fill the tank to calculate MPG.) I wonder what made it so efficient. Could the extra weight have actually improved mileage somehow by giving me a bit more traction or something? That seems counterintuitive.

(Oh, and when I accidentally stretched out my laptop’s power cord too far Wednesday night and it came unplugged, I discovered the battery is dead. Something I’ll need to take care of when I can afford to.)

The drive out wasn’t entirely smooth, though. I committed to making it in one day because I didn’t want to pay for a motel and because the forecast called for heavy rain in the DC/Baltimore area on Friday — but as it turned out, Friday was quite clear, whereas I hit a fierce, intense thunderstorm at one point on Thursday. The weather radar at the Pennsylvania Turnpike’s travel plazas didn’t show its position clearly — I’m not sure it was a live feed, since it didn’t match what was on my phone’s radar app. But then, that app didn’t seem to show where the storm actually was either. (I wish there were a way to combine it with Google Maps, get both route and weather info at the same time.) Still, as scary as it was, it was mercifully brief, and was the one period of significant rainfall I experienced on the trip.

I made it to Cousin Barb’s home near DC a little before nightfall on Thursday, though I had to wait in the car for a while until she made it home. I hoped I’d be exhausted enough to get some real sleep despite being in a relatively unfamiliar place, but it was very humid, so I got almost none, though I do remember a couple of brief dreams, so there was at least a bit of REM sleep in there. Anyway, on Friday morning, I relied on my new travel mug full of coffee to keep me going as I drove my relative’s belongings to their new place, though I spilled a fair amount of coffee on an empty bookcase and my own tote bag because I overestimated how well the mug’s lid was secured. Nothing important was damaged, though.

After spending the rest of the morning with the family, I finally headed off to the Shore Leave hotel, which was another hour’s drive. I was so worn out by this point that I don’t really remember much detail, but I did the usual thing — shower, change clothes, rest up for a while, then finally venture out into the hotel and look for friends to talk to. As usual, fellow Star Trek novelist and Only Superhuman editor Greg Cox was one of the first people I ran into, and we and some others sat in the hotel Starbucks and chatted for a while about various things. I’m pretty sure Bob Greenberger (former DC Comics editor and Trek novelist) was there too, and Trek novelist Dayton Ward showed up for a time, but I’m not sure who else was there or what we talked about.

Eventually, at 7 PM, I had my first panel, which let me show off Among the Wild Cybers for the first time. Though the panel was nominally about anthologies, i.e. collections of stories by multiple authors, single-author collections like mine were included in the discussion too, so I got to talk about such things as how we chose the story order.

The big debut of the collection was supposed to be that night at Meet the Pros, but I got bad news from the book vendor: the distributor had failed to deliver the books in time for the convention. They were slated to reach his store on Monday, which was after Shore Leave ended. This was very frustrating. I’d brought a half-dozen copies with me (albeit slightly imperfect ones, from the first print run that left out the Only Superhuman preview at the back), but I’d given two to family members and I needed to keep one for my later panels, so I only had three copies to offer him to sell on consignment. As it happened, nobody bought any at Meet the Pros anyway, though all three copies sold on Saturday. Still, Meet the Pros was busier this year than it’s been in a while — perhaps because William Shatner was a guest at the con this year so there was larger attendance — and I did a good job selling the backlist Star Trek novels I brought with me.

But my favorite memory from Meet the Pros was getting to meet Michael Okuda, the longtime illustrator and technical consultant for the Trek franchise from Star Trek IV through Enterprise, as well as the co-author of the Star Trek Chronology and Encyclopedia, a member of the team that created Star Trek Remastered, and a graphic designer for NASA. He’s kind of a Trek legend (along with his wife/collaborator Denise, also in attendance), and he’s been of great help over e-mail with a number of my books, but this was his first Shore Leave. I was pleasantly surprised when he came up to me at my Meet the Pros table in order to meet me in person at last. Turns out he’s a really friendly guy. I went to one of his and Denise’s talks later on Sunday, and they’re both really nice people, who later on insisted on taking a picture with me.

In the less fun category, one of my pens started leaking in the pocket of one of my best shirts and left a stain that just got bigger the more I tried to wipe at it. I had to spend most of Friday night hiding the stain under my jacket. The next day I changed back into the shirt I’d worn previously (I didn’t have many other options, since I packed light to make room for my relative’s stuff), only to find it had a smaller ink stain in the same place. Anybody know how to get ink stains out of cotton/polyester?

I actually got a fair night’s sleep after MtP, though not a full night’s sleep, because MtP runs to midnight and I woke up sometime after 5 AM. I remembered a trick I finally figured out last year — since the hotel mattresses are a bit too firm for me, sleeping on top of the comforter makes it soft enough to be comfortable. Although using the other half of the comforter as a blanket made me too hot, which may be why I woke up early. Anyway, when I checked my e-mail on my phone that morning, I got a nice bit of good news, which I’ll share in a later post.

I had a pretty early panel on science fact in fiction, and… I can hardly remember anything we talked about. I’m starting to think I should’ve been more diligent about keeping this blog during the convention, as much as an aid for my own sleep-deprived memory as for anyone else. I remember it being a pretty good panel, moderated by Kelli Fitzpatrick, a new writer friend I met at last year’s Shore Leave and who’s already become an integral member of the gang. After the panel, I tagged along with Kelli and sat in the audience on a panel on cultural and gender representation in fiction, moderated by author/editor Mary Fan, and with my former Trek editor Marco Palmieri on the panel as well. It was pretty interesting, and when the question was raised about the difference between cultural representation and appropriation, I had a thought that I didn’t have the opportunity to express during the Q&A but mentioned to Mary afterward: That maybe the difference is akin to the difference between symbiosis and parasitism, in that it’s about whether the entity that takes something from another also gives something back to it in turn.

At noon, I had a panel on the Star Trek Adventures game, with my editor Jim Johnson and moderator Stephen Kozeniewski. I finally got to see some of the game books in hardcopy form and see the final formatted version of some of the adventures, although Jim tells me that my first couple of adventures probably won’t be published until August or so. Since I have little prior experience with gaming, it was an informative panel for me, even though I can’t clearly remember all of it. But I remember talking about the challenge of adapting my writing style to stories where I don’t know who the main characters will be, and figuring out how to create situations that are at once generic and adaptable to any characters yet designed to encourage character development and growth — for instance, a situation that forces the characters to address a moral dilemma, or to try to convince a character of something by drawing on their personal experience and values, or the like.

It turned out that I had a third Saturday panel that I failed to mention in my schedule post, because I’d forgotten applying for it and my name didn’t seem attached to it on the copy of the schedule I got. It was a panel about Sherlock Holmes and his various adaptations, and fortunately the moderator Roberta Rogow reminded me of it the night before. I was probably the one panelist least qualified to be there, since most of the others (including Keith R.A. DeCandido and Mary Fan) had written various Holmes pastiches, whereas my only bit of Holmes-related writing is that Locus Online post I did a few years ago, plus my blog reviews of the Rathbone films and whatnot last year. But I managed to hold my own, I think.

Let’s see, after that I went down to the book vendors and spent some time catching up with David Mack, who was doing his hour in the Author Chimney, the narrow space between brick columns which is where authors spend an hour at a time signing books for passersby. Dave has grown a goatee and dyed his hair bright blue, apparently in homage to or solidarity with his old boss on Deep Space Nine, Ira Steven Behr. He also had some good insights about Star Trek: Discovery through his connections to the show’s staff, and his words encouraged me about the future of the show after its recent staff upheavals. I did my own hour in the Chimney after Dave left and sold a few more of the books I brought with me. They’d already sold out of the three copies of Among the Wild Cybers I’d provided, which was good, though it’s a shame they didn’t have more copies available.

But the highlight for us authors on Shore Leave Saturdays is the annual group visit to Andy Nelson’s BBQ for dinner and conversation. Since I was so broke, I mostly just ate food I brought from home or from the folks I stayed with en route, but Andy Nelson’s is a tradition, and fortunately I’d made enough on book sales to feel comfortable paying for it.  We managed to get the indoor dining room to ourselves for only the second time since I started going along, which was good, since it was way too hot and humid outside. My usual pulled turkey sandwich was drier than usual, but a bit of BBQ sauce helped with that, and I was given extra stewed tomatoes on the side since my first helping got partly spilled. I had some nice conversation with Keith DeCandido, his wife Wrenn, Kelli Fitzpatrick, and others, and afterward Keith and Wrenn treated me to an Italian ice at a place Wrenn spotted along the way and apparently knew from the past. I got a banana-flavor one and was pleasantly surprised to find it had real banana puree and chunks in it.

It was kind of late when we got back and I was still sleepy, so after enough time to digest my big dinner and dessert, I turned in early. This time, I got more than a full night’s sleep, managing to sleep in well past 7 AM. I mostly just puttered around in my room until it was time to check out, which I did before the Okudas’ presentation at 11. After that, just the once, I splurged on a burger and orange juice at the hotel Starbuck’s — which, interestingly, cost exactly 1 cent more than my entire dinner at Andy Nelson’s the night before. So I was well-nourished for my personal Q&A panel at 1 PM. It was surprisingly well-attended for a Sunday afternoon, and though I didn’t have any specific presentation prepared, there were plenty of questions and we kept up a good conversation about Among the Wild Cybers and my other writing. Afterward, I managed to sell most of the remaining books I had with me, even including two hardcover copies of Only Superhuman.

The remainder of the con was just hanging out in the autograph section talking to other writers. I finally made a bit more progress in the discussion of a project that I’ve been talking about with someone for several Shore Leaves now but that’s been slow to get going. I now at least know the specifics of what I should aim for, and now it’s just a question of actually bringing it about, though at this point I’m not holding my breath for it to progress rapidly. I also let a certain editor know I’d be interested in pitching to their next anthology, a project I think it would be cool to be part of. So we’ll see how that goes. Oh, and this is also when I posed for that photo with Mike & Denise Okuda. (I didn’t manage to meet any of the actor guests this year.) Before I left, I made sure to find Kelli, since she was one of the lucky few who managed to buy a copy of Among the Wild Cybers and had let me know she wanted me to sign it. I’m glad I got to sign at least one copy of the book, especially for a friend.

After that was the usual deal, spending Sunday night at Barb’s again. I considered sticking around for another day or so, but I was getting eager to get home. I gathered that a bunch of the other writers had been invited to visit the Goddard Space Flight Center with the Okudas, and I would’ve liked to be part of that, but apparently they were all booked up already and couldn’t accommodate another guest, so I had to miss out. So on Monday morning I just set out on the long drive home. Having survived the even longer drive I made on Thursday, and remembering how smoothly this return trip on the fastest possible route had gone last year, I felt pretty confident I could make the trip in one day, though I still made sure to have a full travel mug of coffee before I left. Anyway, it was an uneventful trip and I got home safely and I’m still recovering 3 days later. That was a heck of a long trip.

Still, it turned out to be a good trip. I got some significant stuff accomplished both in terms of career and family, and for once I made significantly more money than I spent, partly because I economized all I could and partly because it was a busy con and my book sales were quite good (despite the lack of Wild Cybers). Plus I got a cool new coffee mug!

Smoothies solve everything

I just got back from a trip to the grocery store (on foot) and discovered that the bananas I bought had been packed right against the bottle of apple juice, so that both bananas on one side of the bunch (i.e. 2 out of 4) were crushed along one side. At first, I was afraid at least one of the bananas would be nearly a total loss, since I know how quickly a crushed part of a banana becomes rotten. But then I realized — it would still take time. So if I had at least the more badly crushed one right away, it would still be edible, if underripe for my tastes.

So I put it in a smoothie, along with other stuff I happened to have on hand — some canned tropical fruit chunks, honey, and some all-natural coffee creamer (since I’m out of yogurt — this was a necessities-only grocery trip). I guess the sweetness of all those ingredients helped cancel out the tartness of the underripe banana, since it’s not bad. Not one of the better smoothies I’ve had, but more edible than I expected. Maybe I’ll deal with the other damaged banana the same way later on, although it has less extensive damage.

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General update

I’ve been making a bit more writing progress lately. Last week, I received, proofread, and returned galleys for both my upcoming Analog short story “Abductive Reasoning” and my third Star Trek: Department of Temporal Investigations e-novella Shield of the Gods. I’d been starting to wonder when “Abductive Reasoning” would show some movement toward publication, so this is a good sign, though I don’t know the release date yet. As for Patterns of Interference, I got the word last night that the manuscript has been approved by CBS and my final advance payment is routing for approval even now. I hope it arrives before tax day.

Meanwhile, I’ve been working on a review and polish of my previously published original stories with an eye toward putting them together into a collection. That entailed making sure my manuscripts were updated with all the changes made in the final printed versions, except in cases where I wanted to undo those changes or make additional changes. Mostly I tried to be faithful to the published versions, though. Anyway, I’ve gotten that done and now it’s a matter of getting a publisher interested. We’ll see how that goes.  With that and the galleys out of the way, I’ve refocused on some new original stories I was working on last year but had to postpone in order to write Patterns of Interference. Well, I actually kind of got stuck because I started writing a story too hastily, before I really had the whole plot worked out. But coming back to it after a break has helped give me a new perspective, and I’ve worked out a couple of things I was stuck on before.

The new Kroger superstore nearby is open now, and I’ve been there three times already — once on foot, twice by car. It’s nice to be able to make smaller grocery trips when I need a few things, instead of just making 2-3 big trips a month and going without certain things for much of the interim. The new store isn’t as big as the other superstores I’ve been to, since its location is more constrained; in fact, they’ve actually had to put the “behind-the-scenes” employee areas up on the second floor, an unusual feature. There’s also an upstairs area for customers, but I haven’t visited it yet. And the shelf space is a bit less expansive. I read an article claiming that they’d compensate by restocking more frequently, but I’ve already noticed a couple of things that they didn’t have in stock while I was there — although there was one they did have in stock by the time I needed it. Anyway, it’s definitely a lot bigger than the old store, and has a lot more features like a pharmacy, deli, Starbucks, and pizza counter. The produce section is laid out pretty much exactly like the one in the gigantic Kroger that opened a year or two ago across from the movie theater I usually go to; I guess it makes sense that the two most recently built stores would use the same design. But it was kind of disorienting the first time I was there.

Reading-wise, I got a couple of new DC trade paperbacks from the library the other day, the second volumes of Batman: The Golden Age (reprinting all the original Batman comics in order from the start) and Wonder Woman ’77. The latter is theoretically based on the Lynda Carter TV show, but my problem with the first volume was that it didn’t feel like the show, just like generic Wonder Woman stories with the likenesses of Carter and Lyle Waggoner. Much of the second volume is like that too, but a couple of the later stories felt more like the show, or more ’70s-oriented at least. (One story brings back a major villain from the show, and another is steeped in ’70s nostalgia like funk music and CB radio.) As for the Batman volume, it’s good to get to see how quickly the character’s tropes fell into place within the first 2 years. These days, you’ll see a lot of people online claiming that the ’40s Batman was a dark, violent, gun-toting character until the Comics Code crackdown of the ’50s, but that’s just wrong. Even though the first year or two of stories were in a violent, pulpy vein, Batman only rarely used guns in them, though he did kill by other means like breaking a neck with a kick or flinging people off roofs. But as early as Batman #4 in December 1940, the dialogue and narration were insisting that Batman and Robin never killed or used weapons — although exceptions were still being made for causing recurring villains Hugo Strange and the Joker to fall to their apparent deaths, since of course they’d surely survive anyway. And B&R were portrayed in a pretty upbeat way, trading wisecracks and bad puns as they fought villains. Volume 2 shows other familiar Batman tropes emerging in 1941, like the Batmobile (a sleek red convertible with a small bat-shaped hood ornament) and the term “Dynamic Duo.” No Stately Wayne Manor or Batcave yet, though — Bruce and Dick live in a house in the suburbs, with a secret tunnel leading to the barn where the Batmobile is kept.

Food-wise, I serendipitously discovered a nice new way to make a sandwich last week. I decided to make a sandwich with tomato, sharp cheddar cheese, and Romaine lettuce on whole wheat bread with olive-oil mayonaisse and spicy brown mustard, served with a pickle spear and a small amount of olive oil potato chips. It was surprisingly yummy, and I’ve made that combo two more times since then, but somehow they weren’t as good as the first. I also recently discovered a second new type of sandwich that’s pretty good: cheddar cheese and apple butter.

Aside from that, I’ve mainly just been watching TV, but maybe I’ll talk about that later in another post.

Shore Leave 2015 report

Um, okay, I guess I’m nearly recovered enough from Shore Leave to finally get around to posting about it… if I can remember enough.

Let’s see, I set off relatively early on Thursday morning, since it was raining in southwest Ohio and I hoped to get past the weather as soon as I could, before the really harsh stuff caught up with me. Once more, the weather radar app on my smartphone was very helpful in tracking the storm. I did get caught in one pretty heavy downpour, but it was brief.

Oh yes, but before I did anything else, I went to the nearest Kroger gas station to use my fuel discount, and then I went to the Starbucks in the same mall to get coffee for the road. It took me a moment to spot the store, because it didn’t have its name on the sign, only its logo. I suppose that reflects how ubiquitous Starbucks has become, but it’s also a worrying sign that we’re becoming a non-literate society. (Even the New York Times crossword page has redesigned its format to be mostly pictures rather than words. I mean, a crossword page. Think about that.) Anyway, I asked the clerk (barista? I don’t know this arcane terminology yet) for some advice on picking a beverage, something mild and sweet and not bitter, and ended up going for a white mocha thingummy with whipped cream, which wasn’t bad. Still, I found I needed more of a caffeine boost on the road, so over the course of the day I had both of the iced-coffee drinks I’d bought the day before just in case. I’m starting to think that caffeine doesn’t have that much of an effect on me. But the other part of the problem was that I’m out of shape. I’ve been too busy writing lately, too sedentary, so my general endurance and energy levels are down. Driving may be a sedentary activity, but it’s a draining one. I’ll have to remember that in the future, and try to get in better shape before my next long drive. As usual, I had an essentially sleepless night in the motel where I stayed, but the coffee I had the next morning did help me stay reasonably alert for the rest of the drive. I got in to the hotel at just about 3 PM on Friday, and my room was ready promptly.

So anyway, my phone rang while I was on the road Thursday afternoon, but I couldn’t answer it while driving. When I stopped for dinner a bit later and checked my messages, I learned from my cousin Cynthia that our mutual cousin Scott, whom I’d never met, would be attending Shore Leave with his son and hoped we could get together. I was expecting him to show up at Meet the Pros on Friday if he didn’t find me sooner, but he never appeared that night. I contacted him later and found he wouldn’t be in until Sunday.

My first panel on Friday was at 5 PM, so I didn’t have time to rest much in my room, though I did shower and change and transfer stuff into my trusty but worn Shore Leave tote bag that I’ve had since my first visit over a decade ago. The panel was “Keeping it Real: Using Facts in Fiction,” and I and the other panelists, including my friend David Mack, had a pretty good discussion about incorporating real scientific and historical research into our work. After that, I tagged along with Dave and his wife Kara as they checked out the vending area, and then later we got together with a bunch of the other writers and went over to a sports bar in the mall across the way for dinner. We had an interesting conversation, and I had a pretty good chicken wrap with cheese sauce, but I had to step out early because I had an 8 PM panel. I took the second half of my wrap with me to have later, and I hurried back to the hotel on foot, expecting to be late for the panel. I managed to get there just one minute late — only to find that I was the first panelist to arrive, and that the auction scheduled for the previous hour was still going on. The panel I’d rushed to reach started over 15 minutes late, and I had enough time to wolf down the rest of my wrap. Fittingly, it was a panel on SF humor. I used it as a chance to plug Hub Space, but I didn’t have much to contribute beyond that. Fortunately, Peter David was on the panel, so I didn’t have to say much.

I stuck around briefly for the start of Marco Palmieri’s annual 9 PM panel announcing upcoming Tor books, but then I decided I needed to go back to my room and rest up a bit before Meet the Pros at 10. At MtP, I was seated between Dave Mack and a relative newcomer to the Trek line, John Jackson Miller, who’s already known for his Star Wars stuff. Of the three of us, I was the one who got the least attention, because I had the least to promote. Uncertain Logic came out months ago, and I don’t have anything new coming up for a while. I did print up a sort of flyer to promote Hub Space, just a single sheet that I had on display, but nobody took much interest. Maybe I should’ve printed up multiple cards and handed them out, but it was too much of a last-minute decision. Which is not to say that Meet the Pros was a disappointment for me. In addition to meeting my fans (and putting a face to the name of one of the regular commenters over on Tor.com), I got to catch up with some of my friends and colleagues, and talked a bit of business with one of them, which hopefully will turn out well, though I shouldn’t get my hopes up yet.

The new hotel management doesn’t continue the practice of putting preorder menus for Saturday breakfast in our rooms, so instead I just went down to the former Hunt Cafe, which is now yet another Starbucks, and got breakfast there, including another white mocha thingummy (I’m a veteran now!). I don’t remember doing much before my Sherlock Holmes panel at noon. I’m not sure I contributed much there, since the moderator, Kathleen David, wanted to focus on literary Holmes continuations and pastiches, while I was expecting something more screen-oriented. But there was some talk of screen adaptations, so I was able to contribute somewhat. Still, I made a point of seeing Ian McKellen’s Mr. Holmes beforehand, and I don’t think it would’ve made much difference if I hadn’t.

I lucked into a free lunch on Saturday, since I ran into Keith R.A. DeCandido, who brought cold cuts from New York City to provide his friends and colleagues with a less expensive alternative to the hotel restaurant and cafe. I had roast beef with mustard, and it was pretty good. Thanks, Keith!

At 2 PM was the sole Star Trek literature panel, where all of us Trek authors with books coming out in the rest of 2015-16 got together and announced our stuff, as well as the upcoming titles by the authors who weren’t in attendance. You can see the list of titles at Memory Alpha’s Upcoming productions page, including a TOS 5oth-anniversary trilogy by Greg Cox, Dave Mack, and Dayton Ward & Kevin Dilmore, and a TNG trilogy by John Jackson Miller. My own announcements were of two upcoming projects: a 5-year-mission-era TOS novel called The Face of the Unknown, scheduled for January 2017 (released in late December, so just barely squeezing in as part of the 50th anniversary), and a second Department of Temporal Investigations novella, Time Lock, which is not yet scheduled.

After sitting in on the last half of Keith’s Stargate fiction panel from 3-4, I went to the book vendor’s table and did my hour signing autographs in the Author Chimney, the enclosed space between brick pillars where authors sit to do signings. Actually there were one or two non-Chimney spaces for writers at the table this year, but Dave Mack was already there, so I ended up in the Chimney. I actually found the enclosed space kind of comforting. After that, I participated in the annual authors’ ritual of the Saturday night mass visit to Andy Nelson’s Barbecue. I had the same thing I had last year — a pulled turkey barbecue sandwich with cole slaw and cornbread, because Nelson’s makes the only good cole slaw and cornbread I can ever remember having — but I’m thinking that maybe next year I should try something different.

While I was in the Chimney, Kara came up and told me where I could get a new Shore Leave tote bag, since my trusty old one isn’t as trusty anymore, getting kind of worn out and frayed. The vendor was closing up by the time I got there after my signing session, but I went back the next morning and got a new bag, which is fancier than the old one, with more pockets. Hopefully it’ll be useful for years to come.

Sunday morning was the usual authors’ breakfast at the hotel restaurant, but I’m starting to wonder if maybe I should’ve reconsidered that tradition and taken Kevin Dilmore’s suggestion to go out someplace less expensive for breakfast with him and his group. It used to be, back when Pocket Books had an official presence at Shore Leave, that the editor (Marco) picked up the tab for the authors, but these days we’re paying for it ourselves. Still, I’d already told the convention organizers that I’d be at the author breakfast, so I felt obligated to follow through. I had a double-sized breakfast to tide me over and to justify the expense. And I got to chat with some authors I hadn’t already talked to much, including a talk about Gilligan’s Island with Peter David. (Wherein I got to share my theory that Gilligan’s island is the last surviving piece of Captain Nemo’s Mysterious Island. That’s where the 6-foot spider in “The Pigeon” came from!)

I also touched base with cousin Scott and his son before breakfast, and then Scott showed up to watch me at the Orphan Black panel, even though he’s never seen the show. Afterward I showed Scott around the con a bit, and then we joined his son for the back half of John Barrowman’s talk, which was certainly lively — and meaningful, since Barrowman talked a lot about fighting for LGBT inclusion and acceptance, and said a lot of encouraging and affirming things to people from the audience. Afterward, at my suggestion, the three Bennetts went over to the Wegman’s in the mall for lunch — they had pizza, but I was still full from my big breakfast, so I just had a cucumber-blueberry-feta salad (yes, really!) and an iced tea — and then we went back to hang around in the corridor where the actor guests were signing autographs. I’m glad Scott was there, since I usually never get up the nerve to go talk to the actor guests, but I just tagged along with him and thereby got to have conversations with folks like Roger Cross and Jaime Murray. (It was weird getting home the next day and seeing Cross in Dark Matter on the DVR when I’d been talking to him in person just the day before.)

Once Scott and his son went on their way to see other convention stuff and said their farewells, I just hung around and talked more with whatever writer acquaintances were still around — which was serendipitous, since one colleague sounded me out on a very interesting business opportunity that I really hope will prove feasible. That was a good way to end my Shore Leave experience this year, and my mind was racing with the possibilities on the first leg of the drive home. Which is getting ahead of myself, since there are a couple of things I need to find out before I even know whether this is possible; but I always get ahead of myself with these things. Maybe that’s an occupational hazard of a science fiction writer.

I left the hotel at 4:10 PM, which I know because I’ve discovered that my phone’s Google Maps stores a record of my movements — kind of creepy but useful for reference. One reason I’d stuck around was that I’d been hoping for a chance to visit my DC-area cousins Barb and Mark, and I’d texted them to find their plans; but it turned out they wouldn’t be home until late that evening, too late to make it feasible. So I just texted my regrets and headed for home. Given my late start, I was only able to make it midway through Pennsylvania by nightfall — but I had the idea that I should try to make it back to the same motel I’d stayed at on the way out, since I’d been fairly satisfied with it and I didn’t want to take chances with an unknown commodity. Plus, fortunately, I’d picked up two different motel-coupon booklets at a rest stop on Thursday, and thus I had two coupons for the same motel. It belatedly occurred to me that driving west around sunset was a bad idea, but fortunately the sky was overcast most of the time, so I never had to contend with glare in my eyes. I made it to the motel just shortly before sunset and parked in the same space I’d parked in on Thursday night. I even ended up in a room right across the hall from my previous one, and a single digit higher in number. I’m a little disappointed that it wasn’t the same room, but missing it by one is almost as good.

At the motel’s complementary breakfast, I had two cups of coffee, and toward the end of the second cup, I noticed some grains that I thought were undissolved bits of sugar. It turned out they were actually coffee grounds. The coffee pot had only just been put in place when I filled my cup, so I guess maybe the grounds hadn’t settled. I just looked into whether there’s anything bad about eating coffee grounds, and it seems the only potential problem is the acidity. I didn’t swallow many before figuring out what they were, though.

I set out fairly early, hoping to get home by mid-afternoon, but as always, it took longer than I hoped, since I needed to take a number of rest breaks. I managed to cross into Ohio just before noon, though. I stopped for lunch at a Subway in a convenience store/truck stop in Cambridge, one that had a small dining area where the TV was playing a basketball game. It slowly dawned on me that it must’ve been a replay of a classic game, since I recognized the Chicago Bulls lineup from back when my father was a fan of them — names like Dennis Rodman, Scottie Pippen, and even Michael Jordan. Checking Wikipedia, it looks like that narrows it down to 1995-98. It was against the New York Knicks, but I can’t narrow it down any more than that. I generally couldn’t care less about basketball, but it was interesting to realize that it was a game my late father might well have watched and enjoyed when it was new.

My phone told me there was some rain coming in between Columbus and Cincinnati again, so I decided to wait it out at a rest stop east of Columbus — where I had yet another cup of coffee to stave off fatigue. I thought I’d stayed there for a significant amount of time, but my Maps timeline tells me it was only 22 minutes. Which it claims to be my last stop before reaching home, but I think I stopped briefly at another rest area on I-71, so I guess it doesn’t catch everything. (And maybe it was longer than 22 minutes at that.) Anyway, my timing was pretty bad, since it was rush hour when I got into Cincinnati. I’d just about decided to get off a few exits early and make it the rest of the way home by the surface roads (why do they call them that?? It’s not like freeways are underground or hovering in midair, usually), but the traffic started to clear off and I figured, hey, it’s not likely to crowd up again within the next three miles, right? So I stayed on the freeway. Only to spot another traffic jam — just five seconds too late to make it off onto the last exit before mine. Arrgghhh! I was stuck crawling forward for most of the last mile and a half before my exit. Really, really frustrating.

And then I got home to find a note under my door from the building manager. Turns out the downstairs storage lockers had been broken into while I was out. Fortunately I don’t keep anything valuable in there, so nothing was taken. But the combination lock I’ve had since high school was destroyed. I still have two others, from my gym locker and my shop locker, but that was my main lock! Waaaah!

I’ve spent the past couple of days recuperating and catching up on recorded shows, as well as getting groceries. At the hotel, they had “coffee pods” that were basically tea bag-like filter packets that went into the coffee maker’s funnel, but it occurred to me one could just use them like tea bags, so I took a few of them home with me for later use. I also checked the grocery store shelf yesterday and found actual coffee bags. I just tried my first one of those this morning, and it’s not very good, but at least it’s convenient. The quest for a good coffee option continues. Maybe I should just buy a small coffee maker and filters and get some good grounds from the natural foods store. They have some beans that are infused with sweet flavor and thus don’t need anything added.

So anyway, that’s my combined travel/Shore Leave/family visit post, only three days late. I had a good time this year. Although the long drive is still wearying, the weekend didn’t feel as rushed as it did when I flew last year. And I got to catch up with my friends, I got to meet another cousin, I got to talk to some actors, I got a new tote bag and some interesting meals, and I got a couple of iffy but hopefully promising work opportunities, both from conversations in the same hotel corridor (though at opposite ends of it). With luck, I’ll be able to say more about one or both of those in times to come.

Gum again

September 11, 2014 3 comments

Some 14 months ago, I posted about how the first attempt at a gum graft to repair the receding gumline on my lower front teeth, using an artificial collagen matrix to encourage the growth of new gum tissue, hadn’t worked out as well as hoped. The expectation was that I’d have to try again and have actual gum tissue extracted from elsewhere in my mouth, which would’ve made the procedure somewhat more invasive and unpleasant. So I wasn’t looking forward to the repeat attempt, which is part of why I waited 14 months to schedule a new one. Although part of the delay was that I wanted it to be at a time when I knew I wouldn’t be traveling anywhere within the ensuing six weeks, given the need to be selective about my diet during the healing process, when I can’t bite into anything with my incisors. The long delay in arranging my visit to family in Detroit thus delayed the procedure. And then I was behind on my novel and I wanted to wait until I finished it before I did anything as distracting as this.

But now the novel’s done, so I buckled down and made the appointment. If you recall, I delayed the first attempt at the procedure for nearly a year too, and it turned out that in the interim, the doctor learned a new method for doing it, i.e. the collagen matrix. Turns out that in the year since the first attempt, he’s learned yet another new method. So instead of falling back on the conventional gum-transplant method he was going to use, he decided instead to proceed with something called the “pinhole” technique and implant a different kind of synthetic collagen matrix through a gentler procedure than before. I still had to get numbed, but it wasn’t too bad aside from a few mild twinges here and there, and I had my music player on my smartphone to help relax me. (I listened to one of my TV soundtrack albums, and the triumphant closing cue of the episode played just as the doctor told me the procedure was finished! Perfect timing!) I just hope this time the collagen matrix works better than last time, because I don’t want to have to go through this again. Although, granted, it does get a little easier each time, as long as I wait about a year…

So anyway, now I’m on a diet of soft and/or bite-sized foods again, and for the first day or so on a no-hot-foods diet. Fortunately I’ve done this before, so I already did the appropriate shopping. I’ll be having a fair amount of pasta salads and soups for a while, I guess. But it’s a change from all the sandwiches I had over the past few days while trying to use up my “bitey” foods.

Good grief, I’m starting to feel hungry again while writing this, even though I finished eating not half an hour ago. I would’ve expected to have less of an appetite after this. But I guess it wasn’t stressful in that way. Anyway, I guess I should stop writing about food.

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Shore Leave: Over already? I just got there!

Wow, where did the weekend go? This year’s Shore Leave was a whirlwind, over so fast it hardly had time to sink in. Maybe it’s because I flew there this time. Not only did I get in later than usual on Friday and leave early on Sunday, making for a total of only about 48 hours spent in the hotel (c. 2 PM Friday to c. 2 PM Sunday), but maybe the quicker travel time made the whole thing feel more abrupt somehow.

But let’s see what I can extract from the sensory blur in my memories.

The flight out from Cincinnati to Baltimore went fairly well. I seemed to get through the airport amazingly quickly, in part because I got randomly assigned to the expedited TSA check which is simply a walk through a metal detector (along with everyone else around me — making it seem like an implicit admission that all the security theater of the past few years doesn’t really make much difference after all). I took a quick flight to Philadelphia on a medium-sized plane and then a short hop to Baltimore on a small turboprop — the first propeller plane I think I’ve ever been on, and the first plane where the cabin has been under the wing, so I could actually see the landing gear from my window. A little scary at first, but I reminded myself that if it weren’t a proven and reliable technology, it wouldn’t still be in use after a century. And the props were clearly made of carbon composite, which was reassuringly modern.

Then came the long ride on the Light Rail, literally from the very start to the very end of the route. But it didn’t feel like it took too long, even though I gave up trying to listen to music on my phone because the train was too noisy. (Maybe I should’ve brought my other earbuds, which block sound better. Plus they don’t get tangled as easily, I think because one earbud is on a shorter cord than the other so there’s less there to tangle.) The one hitch was that I got a sandwich at the airport planning to eat it on the train — and then saw that eating on the train is prohibited. So since I’m an extremely law-abiding sort, I had to wait another hour and a half to eat my lunch. I had half the sandwich while walking from the light rail station to the hotel, and the other half once I got into my room (which was quick and easy because I arrived late enough that it was already prepared).

When I visited the vendors’ area, I was pleased to run into Sally Malcolm and her husband, the founders of Fandemonium Books, the British company that publishes Stargate SG-1 and Stargate Atlantis tie-in novels. They were there along with New York writer Diana Dru Botsford, who’s done a number of SG novels for Fandemonium as well as having written for ST:TNG on television. I was glad that this year they were able to come to Shore Leave and bring the two tie-in franchises together, as it were. And now I know who to contact if and when I have a Stargate novel pitch… 😉

At dinnertime, I ran into Greg Cox and some other folks at the hotel’s little cafe/lounge place, which is now open for business again since the hotel came under new management. We had a nice talk there, and later we were seated together at Meet the Pros, though we had less time to talk there since it was really well-attended and busy — another reason it seemed to go by so fast. I signed a lot of copies of Tower of Babel. Unfortunately only one guest bought a copy of Only Superhuman for me to sign, since the book vendor only had it in hardcover. The dearth of mass-market paperbacks of OS continues to bewilder and frustrate me. (It’s still available by print-on-demand, but getting paperbacks in stores is better for getting casual readers interested. Or would have been…)

I also finally got to meet Australian uberfan Ian McLean, aka Therin of Andor, who’s probably the one person who loves Star Trek: The Motion Picture more than I do, and after whom I named an Andorian character in Ex Machina, a character who’s been picked up on by other authors and taken on a life of his own. He brought me an awesome gift, an Australian edition of the ST:TMP novelization from Futura Books, with a lovely photo insert section and a few bits of additional description in the text. He even got it autographed by Billy Van Zandt, the actor who played the Rhaandarite “alien ensign” in TMP, whom I made into a major character, Vaylin Zaand, in ExM. It is a cool thing to have.

Let’s see, panels… Before Meet the Pros, I was on a panel about comedy science fiction, in which I got to talk about my Hub stories, though my comedy contributions are fairly limited in comparison to fellow panelist Peter David — though he demurred that most of his overt comedy writing is fantasy rather than SF. Also in attendance were Aaron Rosenberg, co-founder of Crazy 8 Press, and two authors who’ve had comedies published by Crazy 8, Lorraine Anderson and Russ Colchamiro.

But the rest of my panels were on Saturday, so I was kept pretty busy that day. First was the panel on writing movie-era Trek, which was intended to focus on the original series’ movie era, but ended up being broadened to include TNG movie-era books. Greg and I were on that along with Peter David and Dayton Ward (who did In the Name of Honor in the post-ST V era as well as A Time to Sow/A Time to Reap with Kevin Dilmore in the TNG movie era). Greg pitched his upcoming Foul Deeds Will Rise, set in the post-ST V era, and I just talked about ExM.

Then came “60 Years of Godzilla,” with Greg again (since he novelized the recent movie) as well as Jeffrey Lang and Andrew Gaska. I got to do my spiel summarizing the history of the franchise, based on my posts on this blog, but I think I went a little too much in-depth, since people were walking out by the end. I was afraid that would happen.

I got a burger and fries for lunch in the cafe, where I’d previously gotten a breakfast of cereal, milk, orange juice, and a banana. Both meals cost me 9 dollars. Each. Hotels are so expensive! I also attended a “Writing Stargate” panel by the Fandemonium bunch, and learned some more about their approach and interests. Apparently they’ve been trying to convince MGM to let them do a post-finale series of SG-1 as they’re already doing for SGA, but with no luck as yet; and they don’t have a Stargate Universe license, which is too bad, since I woul’dve liked to write for that one. They explained that the new movie reboot that’s being developed has nothing to do with the show’s continuity and doesn’t affect the books. (I can’t understand MGM’s decision to let Devlin and Emmerich resume their vastly inferior version of Stargate rather than continuing the TV universe.) I also sat in the audience for a panel called “The Villain’s Journey,” with quite a few people including Kathleen David (Peter’s wife), David Mack, and Marco Palmieri exploring the question of whether there was a Villain’s Journey model to complement the standard Campbellian Hero’s Journey. An interesting talk, but it got a bit too philosophical for me at times.

And then I was a member of two more consecutive panels. First was “Writing Action Scenes,” with Dave Mack, Kirsten Beyer, Keith R.A. DeCandido, and a couple of others I didn’t know. I felt a little out of place there, since my approach to action is a little more understated and less based on experience than that of some of the other panelists. But it was informative; Keith’s experience with karate brought some useful insights into the experience of being in a fight, which hopefully can be useful to me in future writing.

Finally was “Series in the Sandbox” with Dave, Kirsten, Dayton, and Kevin, focusing on ongoing single-author or single-team series in Trek (since SG author Jo Graham couldn’t make it). This was supposed to be my big chance to promote what I’m doing in Rise of the Federation, but I can’t remember whether I really talked about it much. By that point I was so frazzled that I wasn’t really sure what was going on.

But fortunately a bunch of us went out to dinner at that really good barbecue place near the hotel, Andy Nelson’s Barbecue Restaurant. It’s the second time I’ve been taken there, and I think I had the same thing I had the first time: a pulled turkey BBQ sandwich, cornbread, and cole slaw, along with a much-needed iced tea. I generally don’t like either cornbread or cole slaw that much, but both were excellent here. It was nice to get to hang out with the group, but the problem with being in such a large group at such a long table — especially since I was sitting at one end — is that you don’t really get to talk to everyone. I was hoping to get to talk more with Kirsten Beyer this weekend, for instance, just to catch up, but we only got to talk briefly a couple of times. (Usually, these past few years, Meet the Pros has died down early enough that the writers have had more time to wander the hall and socialize, but this year we were kept pretty busy throughout.)

I just went back to my room after that, since I needed the peace and quiet after that long, long day. By the time I got up Sunday morning, it was almost time for the author breakfast in the hotel bar. After that I attended the memorial service for the late Ann (A.C.) Crispin, though I’m not sure I really belonged there, since it turned out to be more of a private gathering for her friends, and I was never more than passingly acquainted with her. But I wanted to show my respects. It was a nice service, and the stories her friends told made me regret that I didn’t get to know her better.

I don’t remember what I did for the next hour — probably just went back to my room — but then I went to a panel about Orphan Black that Marco was on along with… oh, man, I totally don’t remember. I think Aaron Rosenberg was there? It was a fun panel, though. After that, I went to a presentation by artist Rob Caswell, whose art inspired the Star Trek: Seekers novel series that Dave, Dayton, and Kevin have just debuted. But halfway through that, I realized I’d been so caught up in panel after panel that I’d totally forgotten to go down to the book vendors’ table and do my stint in the author chimney, the little recessed space between brick columns where we authors sit for an hour or so to sign autographs. And I’d arranged to get a ride to the mall (where I could get lunch and wait for the light rail) right after that panel ended, so I was only able to give the book folks half an hour, during which it was almost totally dead because it was the afternoon of the last day and everyone had already spent whatever they had to spend. I regret that I let this slip my mind until it was almost too late.

So I got a good lunch at the mall, which Marco very nicely picked up the tab for, and then my light rail trip began. And this is where the fun ended. I got mixed messages about whether the train I caught was going to the airport, and it turned out not to be, so I realized I’d have to transfer. Although it became evident that if I’d waited 2-3 more minutes, I would’ve caught the airport train. And halfway through the trip on the train I was on, it got overloaded with Orioles fans who I guess were going home from a game, and it was hellishly noisy and crowded, and I wasn’t comfortable about being on the wrong train. I mean, logically I knew that the right train was behind this one on the same track so I couldn’t possibly miss it, but neurotically, all I knew was Oh my gawd I’m on the wrong train!!  And I was fatigued enough that neurosis won out over logic. I could’ve transferred much earlier, but I checked the MTA website and there was a travel advisory about a power outage on the tracks and the need to take a bus from a certain station, so I wanted to wait to transfer at that station just in case the problem was still around. And once the gaggle of fans boarded, I had to wait until the crowd thinned anyway. But once I finally got on the right train, it was so very empty compared to the one I’d been on. Oh, if only I’d waited those 2-3 minutes more! To add insult to injury, midway through the ride I discovered that I could access a tracking page on my smartphone which showed me exactly where the trains were. If I’d looked into that before my trip, I could’ve determined in advance which train I wanted.

And then I had to wait in a long line at the airport and do the whole rigmarole of taking everything out of my pockets and storing it in my bags and jacket — only to end up in the expedited line at the end of the process and learn too late that none of that had been necessary at all. You couldn’t have told us sooner, guys? By this point I was tired of spending extravagant prices on food, and my late lunch had been satisfying, so my “supper” consisted of a protein bar I bought at BWI and a smoothie I later bought at the Philly airport. The flight to Philly was uneventful but the taxiing took forever. For some reason, they used a huge plane for such a short hop (although it was going on to Dallas afterward) — it probably seated more people than both my Friday flights combined. The flight from Philly to CVG also took forever to get takeoff clearance, and we hit some bad weather along the way and there were some scary moments of turbulence. I was struck when I looked out the window and realized the flashing wing lights were illuminating a spray of raindrops streaking backward relative to the jet. No, I didn’t see a gremlin on the wing, but there was a moment there when I wouldn’t have been surprised to.

The weather delayed us just enough that I missed the last bus from CVG to downtown Cincy, and I learned that a taxi ride home would cost 42 bucks. So I caught an executive shuttle van for only 22 bucks to get to the bus stop downtown — only to learn at the last moment that I could have arranged a ride all the way home for a few bucks more, but that the driver couldn’t accept any additional payment at that point. Argh. And then it looked like I’d missed the bus I wanted and would have to wait 40 minutes, but then the bus came late, which was a relief. It didn’t get me as close to home as the later bus would’ve, though, so I had to walk a few blocks at night in what isn’t the best neighborhood, which wasn’t fun. By the time I finally got home well after midnight, I was too tired to do anything but shower off the travel sweat and go right to bed.

I decided to fly because I didn’t want to go through the long slog of spending 2 days driving each way and not getting any sleep at motels, and risking drives through terrible weather. But after all this, driving is looking a lot better. At least it’s a lot quieter, giving me a lot of time to think. Which can get boring, but it’s not as harrowing as all this. Maybe I’d have a better memory of the con this year if the trip home hadn’t been so hectic. Also — between buses, planes, and trains, my outgoing trip took over seven hours from home to hotel, and my return trip took over nine hours the other way. The drive to or from Shore Leave is 10-11 hours split over 2 days. So maybe I don’t save so much time by flying after all.

I don’t mean to sound negative. Shore Leave itself was great, and I got a lot out of it this year. It just went by so fast. Maybe next year I should use more restraint in volunteering for panels, so I have more downtime. Although I guess that wouldn’t rule out having most of my panels scheduled on one day.

And who knows? Maybe next year I’ll have more new work to promote and talk about. I certainly hope I will. To that end, though, I should probably get back to work…

Getting back from travel

Okay, I’m back home from Detroit. I didn’t post during my trip since something was wrong with my aunt and uncle’s wifi, and I was occupied with other stuff anyway. I guess I could’ve posted from my smartphone, but it didn’t occur to me as something I needed to do.

I had a nice visit with Aunt Shirley and Cousin Cynthia, though Uncle Harry was away with my other cousins because of health issues delaying his return home. I wish him a speedy recovery. Thanks to Shirley’s vegetarian cooking, I tried my first Thai food, rice noodles with satay (peanut and coconut) sauce, and found it fairly interesting. I generally don’t care for Asian cuisine because I’m not fond of soy sauce or sweet-and-sour sauce, and I’d heard that Thai food was very spicy so I wasn’t tempted to try it, but I like peanuts and coconuts, so this was agreeable. The other favorite home-prepared thing I had was some sweet-potato gnocchi that we had along with spinach and onion omelets (another thing I usually don’t eat — I’m not an egg person, generally). And on my last full day, we got a nice “spinach supreme” pizza from a local place, and I got to take a few pieces with me for lunch on the drive home and dinner when I got back.

One evening I went on a bike ride with Shirley and Uncle Clarence (who lives nearby), and it’s fortunate it was a slow ride; I didn’t bring my own bike, and the only one available was a rather unusually structured one that wasn’t quite recumbent but had a seat with a back you could lean against. I don’t remember the brand name of it — something that started with Re-.  (Edit: Cynthia tells me it’s a Revive.) It took a little getting used to, particularly since I’m out of practice at bike-riding anyway (I’ll avoid the obvious joke), but I did okay for the relatively brief duration of the ride.

And I finally got a chance to look through what we call “The Grampa Book,” a Bennett family genealogy that was compiled some decades ago, but that my father never got a copy of because he wasn’t very family-oriented. I do recall getting to see it at least once before, but that was many years ago, and in my more recent family interactions, it wasn’t until now that we actually tracked it down for me to look at. I learned a number of things I hadn’t known before, even about my own branch of the family. I never knew, for instance, that my maternal grandmother had the same first name as my sister. I lost touch with that side of the family after we lost my mother, and I was very young when that happened, so I only knew my maternal grandmother as “Grandmama.” (Which was how I distinguished her from my other grandmother, “Grandma.”) But I learned some other things too. For instance, a couple of my ancestors testified at the only colonial witch trial held outside of Massachusetts, a 1692 trial in Fairfield, Connecticut of an alleged witch named Mercy Disbrow or Disborough. Unfortunately they testified on the wrong side, against her. She was convicted, but spared due to a technicality. (Cousin Cynthia once just randomly discovered that an acquaintance of hers was descended from Mercy Disbrow, a rather astonishing coincidence.)

Also, it turns out that some of my paternal ancestors were a lot more religious than my grandfather and his progeny — his older siblings included some people with unusual Biblical names, like Philander Bennett (it originally meant “lover of men,” as in a philanthropist, but it seems to have gotten confused to mean “a loving man” at some point) and Zadok Alonzo Bennett. I think I’m going to swipe “Zadok” as a Vulcan name in my current novel.

And I finally found out where the Bennetts came from. I’ve known since my first, long-ago glimpse of The Grampa Book that my ancestors have been in the US since colonial times, but I was never clear on where they came from before that. It turns out that the first Bennett in the New World, James Bennett, was born in County Kent, England around 1616. He may have been the son of a tailor named Jacobus Bennett of Appledore (who’s listed in the Canterbury marriage licenses, 1609), but there’s no proof of that. He sailed in December 1634  aboard a ship called the Hercules of Sandwich, which sounds like a slogan for a fast-food offering. He was one of seven servants of a yeoman (i.e. landowning farmer or minor nobleman) named Nathaniel Tilden, the former mayor of Tenterden in Kent and the most prominent passenger aboard the Hercules. They settled in the colony of Scituate, Massachusetts, where Tilden became ruling elder of its first church. I find a number of online sites about the Hercules and its passengers, but poor James B. tends to get lumped anonymously under “servants” in the manifests. Most of my other paternal ancestors seem to be English, mainly from the home counties (i.e. southeast England around London) but some from around Yorkshire or Hereford as well as one from Scotland. Although apparently my paternal grandmother’s ancestry was largely German.

Unfortunately the family genealogy doesn’t go back beyond the first generation of colonists in the 1600s, since the compiler never got the chance to visit England and continue his research there. Still, it’s nice to know this much. I’ve always been an Anglophile, so it’s cool to know I have roots over there.  And I’m rather pleased to find I’m descended from a commoner rather than a nobleman.

(I’m afraid I don’t know much about my maternal ancestors, but doing a web search now for my mother’s rather uncommon maiden name suggests that they were originally from Scotland, part of a wave of Scots and Irish settlers who came to the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia in the 1770s — and apparently never left, since that’s where my mother was from.)

Well, my smartphone did prove useful on my trip. I was able to use a weather radar app I downloaded to warn me when a rainstorm was approaching, which let me sit it out at a rest area while it passed, and I was able to pass the time websurfing on my phone. Although that kind of backfired, since I then ran straight into a severe traffic jam, and by the time I finally got up to Michigan over an hour behind schedule, I ran into the afternoon rain I’d been hoping to avoid, as well as rush hour traffic. Oh, and having unlimited texting was really helpful, because it let me text ahead and let the folks know when to expect me, including updates on my delays. I also used a gas price app to find the least expensive fuel along the route (in the Toledo area), and GPS to get directions to that station and then back to I-75, and then for the final leg to my aunt’s house — although I think I misunderstood an instruction and took the wrong turn, but that just put me on the route I usually take anyway and the phone GPS adapted. However, I found that GPS use really drained the battery, so I had to plug in the backup battery pack that Cousin Mark got me last Christmas. I’d been thinking of getting a car lighter to USB adapter, but I thought I’d try going without one this time to assess the need. The verdict is that next time I really should have one.

Still, as cool as the GPS navigator is, it’s the sort of thing that would work best if I had a passenger to monitor the phone for me so I could keep my eye on the road. Although I suppose they probably make some kind of bracket for placing the phone on top of the dashboard, so I wouldn’t have to glance down at the phone in the cupholder.

The GPS was of mixed use on the trip home. It was helpful for directing me from my aunt’s house to I-75 (a route I’d taken before and brought along printed instructions for, but it was handy to have the directions read aloud to me), and then I didn’t think I’d need it anymore. But I hit rush-hour traffic getting into Greater Cincinnati, so I decided to take an early exit and make my way to a familiar road. But at first I wasn’t sure whether the computer was trying to direct me back to the interstate or not, so I had to pull into a parking lot and pull up the list of directions to make sure it was directing me to the route I wanted. It was, and it even corrected me when I took a wrong turn shortly thereafter (since I was coming at a familiar intersection from a new direction and got confused). But then I realized that it was, indeed, trying to direct me to the next I-75 on-ramp. Fortunately, by that point I already knew the rest of the way home, so I could turn it off. Otherwise, my drive home was uneventful, except for hitting a brief, fierce rainstorm not far out from home. Although I guess most rain is fierce when you’re driving through it at highway speeds.

I managed to get some writing done on the trip; on the drive up, I was able to work out how to proceed with the scene I’d begun before I left, and I got it finished by Saturday evening. Also, Cynthia (who’s from the Bay Area) was able to give me some insights into San Francisco for some material set around Starfleet Headquarters in my novel, so that was helpful. But then I let my mind wander to other things, so now I need to get back to work. The vacation is over.

Oh, yeah, that Comic-Con thing

I really ought to post something about New York Comic-Con, but I’ve been too busy or too tired. I’ll try to keep it concise.

I ended up driving after all due to the cost of plane fare after waiting so long to buy tickets. I planned out my route carefully this time, so it went fairly smoothly — but I set out too early on the second day and had a hard time staying alert. I didn’t really feel recovered until after lunch. So on the way back, I think I’ll spend the morning of the second day in the motel just resting, then get a good lunch, then drive the rest of the way home.

I’ve been staying with friend and fellow author Keith R.A. DeCandido, his fiancee, a family friend, several cats, and a large Golden Retriever. I was nervous about the latter, but he’s a friendly dog and I’ve been getting used to having him around. Indeed, there’s something reassuring about knowing a dog that big is sleeping outside your bedroom door, on sentry duty as it were.

The two days I spent at the con are kind of a blur right now, so to sum up: both my signings on Friday went pretty well. The GraphicAudio booth is in a good location and drew a lot of attention from passersby, and we got to sell a number of copies of my audiobooks, along with free copies of the prose books as a bonus — courtesy of Tor in the case of Only Superhuman, plus a few Spider-Man; Drowned in Thunder copies which I provided myself. I was expecting Tor to be offering the paperback, but their giveaway copies (half of which I took over to GA, the rest of which I signed for them to give out at Tor’s booth) were hardcovers instead. I guess that makes sense — they want to use up the stock now that people will mostly be buying the MMPB. But it made it more of a slog to carry them over to the GA booth through the Comic-Con crowd. Anyway, the giveaway copies moved pretty well, I was told. My A Choice of Futures signing at the SImon & Schuster booth went well too; this time people actually came to see me specifically rather than just happening to pass by.

I got to talk with a number of colleagues — Keith, of course, and the GA people, and fellow Trek author Kevin Dilmore, who works for Hallmark and was manning their display. It was nice to catch up with him. Unfortunately my former Trek editor Marco Palmieri, now at Tor, was too busy to talk much. I also had fun meeting Lilly, a friend of Keith’s who’s a professional balloon artist, and who performed at his booth to attract passersby. It’s an interesting craft, improvisational yet requiring a lot of meticulous manual control and precision.

Today I just stayed in and rested while Keith et al. went in to the con. I needed a day of quiet to recover before undertaking the drive home tomorrow. I did go down to the local pizza place for lunch, though, and had an excellent slice of white pizza with spinach.

That’s all for now. Maybe I’ll mention more details later, if any come to mind.

Matrix misfires and food follies

Well, that fancy new collagen matrix that was supposed to replace my lost gum tissue hasn’t worked out too well. The doctor says I’ll have to come back in for the standard gum-graft procedure where they take some existing gum tissue from elsewhere in my mouth. So I’ll have to go through that same procedure a second time, only it’ll be more unpleasant. Ugh. At least I get to wait a few weeks, since right now I’m busy finishing up Tower of Babel and right after that I have the Shore Leave convention.

At least for now, I’m finally able to resume a normal diet. For about six weeks, I had to avoid biting into anything with my front teeth. I managed to have the occasional peanut butter sandwich or hot dog by cutting it into pieces with a knife, but it just wasn’t the same. For the moment, I’m back to normal and enjoying getting to bite into stuff again.

I actually had a pretty full head of lettuce in the fridge when this started, wrapped in a towel inside a plastic bag with a hole or two poked in it for ventilation and stored in the back of the crisper drawer. I’ve been afraid to take a look at it, expecting it to be badly wilted at best, if not rotten. But to my astonishment, it was still quite crisp and pristine. I guess that storage method really works. I’m not entirely sure it’s actually been in there for six weeks — that seems unlikely — but I can’t think why I would’ve bought lettuce in the interim, since I couldn’t have burgers or sandwiches with crunchy stuff in them.

Unfortunately, now that I can have sandwiches again, I’ve discovered that two of the local sandwich places I frequented, Arby’s and Jersey Mike’s, have both closed, and the nearest remaining ones of both are across the river in Kentucky — though there are others in parts of town I occasionally have other reason to drive to, and indeed I got an Arby’s sandwich after leaving the periodontist’s office the other day, the first meal I had after being cleared to bite stuff again. Still, it’s frustrating not having them in walking distance. There are several other sandwich places locally, including two or three that just opened in the newly constructed plaza by the university, but they’re not the same.

There seems to be an increasing dearth of restaurants specializing in roast beef. There used to be one called Rax that I really liked, many years ago, but then they closed and I had to settle for Arby’s, whose roast-beef sandwiches weren’t nearly as good. Then Arby’s came out with the Market Fresh sandwiches, which were really good, but I usually had the turkey & swiss. Now Arby’s stores seem to be getting thinner on the ground. I guess maybe the trend has been toward more generalized sandwich shops that offer a variety of meats, and that’s absorbed the market for the more specialized ones (and Arby’s barely even qualifies as a roast-beef specialist anymore, even though that’s what the name means — sound it out).

But, although I’ve lost two sandwich shops within walking distance, I recently discovered that there’s a Donato’s Pizza about to open near my local post office. I’ve long been fond of their pizzas, especially their Hawaiian variety, but it’s been a long time since I’ve lived close to one of their stores. So that makes up for the loss somewhat.

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Brown-bagging it

I noticed the other day that a new sandwich shop called “Which Wich” has opened across the street from the local post office, so I decided to try it out. Their gimmick is that below the wall menu is a bunch of hoppers with different paper bags in them, one for each category of sandwich (e.g. turkey, ham, specialty, etc.), and printed on each bag is an order form where you can use the provided markers to check off the type of bread, toppings, etc. you want, whereupon you hand it to the cashier, who rings up your order and then hands it to the preparer to follow like a deli order slip, sliding it along until the completed sandwich reaches the end of the prep area and is inserted into the aforementioned bag. It seemed like kind of a neat idea at first, and maybe it would make things more efficient when things are busy; but I was the only customer ordering and it seemed to me that it just added more complications to the process. Even with my clearly marked instructions on the bag/form, I still had to watch the guy preparing the sandwich and remind him I’d asked for cucumber.

At least the guy had his salesmanship down, asking how my day was going and then saying it would get better once I got the sandwich. But it didn’t live up to the hype; the sandwich was okay but fairly ordinary, a lot like Potbelly or maybe Penn Station. The ordering gimmick is the main thing that distinguishes it. And I don’t know if that gimmick would really appeal to the university students who are likely to be the store’s main clientele, and who have enough bubbles to fill out on forms as it is. “Now you can have the fun of pretending to take a test while you order lunch!” Yeah, that’s a good idea…

Still,the menu did list some varieties of sandwich I haven’t seen elsewhere and might want to try, like chicken pesto or black-bean patties — and they offer spinach as well as lettuce, which is good. So if I should again happen to find myself at the post office around mealtime, I may decide to give it another try. At least it’s good to have another option.

Actually there’s a lot of new construction around the university these days, new apartment buildings going up all over the place to accommodate the student market, and there are a number of storefronts included on the ground floors. I’ve noticed a few new signs already going up closer to home, including a Mexican restaurant, a frozen yogurt place, and a Waffle House — which is cool, since I’ve long lamented the lack of a breakfast-type eatery in the area. And there’s still plenty of room for other businesses. I wonder what other dining options might materialize in the neighborhood soon.

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There is such a thing as a (semi-)free lunch

I went for a walk today to enjoy the 70-degree weather, and I decided to take a path that would a) include a long, moderate uphill climb so I could get some decent exercise and b) bring me to an area near the university where various sandwich shops and the like were located, in case I decided to buy lunch at one of them. But I wasn’t really in the mood for the available options, though I was leaning toward one.

But then I noticed that there was some kind of food cart on the corner, and decided to investigate. It was someone giving out free samples of Sabra brand hummus. Never one to pass up free food (if it’s a kind I like, and I do like hummus), I took a couple of samples and decided my lunch selection had been made for me. I already had some pitas and vegetables in the fridge, so now I’m having hummus pitas with tomato, cucumber, and onion, and they’re reasonably good. The hummus has a little too much bite for me, but it works better blended with the other flavors, and it’s got a good texture. I think I’ll stick with the hummus mix I usually buy, but a little variety now and then isn’t bad. Especially when it’s free.

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Tea rose… and fell in my estimation

Oh, what a terrible pun. So naturally I couldn’t resist. Anyway…

Sometimes taking a chance on something new works out well — like last year when I decided to try out the Earl Grey teabag I found in a hotel room where I was staying and rather liked it. But sometimes it doesn’t work out at all — like yesterday, when I finally decided to try the bonus sample of French vanilla chai that came in the box of Earl Grey teabags I had bought as a result of that discovery. (I don’t have tea very often, so I’m still working through the first box.) Or rather, it was a blend of black tea with French vanilla and spices which I think were cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, and cloves. And I found it so repulsive that I dumped it down the sink after the first test sip (well, the second, but they were really tiny sips), rinsed out the cup, and made some Earl Grey instead. What’s more, I was still detecting whiffs of its cloying aroma as recently as this morning. Not pleasant. Well, at least it was a free sample (I think).

Apparently “chai” is the term generally used in the West for a sweetened, spiced Indian variety of tea properly called Masala chai (since chai is simply the word for tea in many Asian languages), and this was apparently a pretty typical example of that in terms of the spices, though with French vanilla added. Maybe that makes sense; I gather Indian cuisine is quite spicy and aromatic. I’ve never actually tried it, though, which may be why I didn’t know the flavoring in the chai would be so overpowering. Well, now I know.

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Having a pretty good day

October 29, 2012 3 comments

I just got back from running some errands, starting with depositing the advance check I just received for my current Star Trek novel — which I’m still not cleared to reveal any specifics about, as far as I know. It’s the second book advance I’ve gotten in as many weeks, which is a nice state of affairs.

After that, I went to the local Joseph-Beth Booksellers store so I could see my book on the shelf:

Looking good!

The spine really stands out on the shelf!

And hey, I’m almost right next to a book by my NYCC co-panelist Amber Benson!

I also introduced myself to a store manager there and tried to get a sense of how the book was doing, but that was inconclusive. They had 10 copies in stock at that store, which I’m hoping is a good sign, since at Books by the Banks (which Joseph-Beth supplied the books for), there were dozens of copies on hand. But it’s hard to be sure.

On the way out of my parking space at Joseph-Beth, my car was almost bumped into by a minivan with a Romney-Ryan bumper sticker, because its driver wasn’t paying attention. Which seems very fitting to me.

Anyway, after that came the roughest part of my trip, which was trying to take my nonfunctioning vacuum cleaner in to the local warranty service center. I wasn’t sure whether the vacuum had broken or both batteries had simultaneously died, so I hoped to get some help figuring that out and maybe getting replacement batteries if that was the issue, as well as getting the old ones recycled. But first off, I found it hard to find a parking place near the store, and had to do some extra driving and turning around and stuff to find a place I could legally park, which was a bit of a walk from the store. Then the store clerk told me he basically couldn’t do anything for me where that particular model was concerned except sell me a new one, which was only about 10 bucks more than a replacement battery would’ve cost anyway, so he said. (I checked online, and if you take tax and shipping into account, I’d say he was just about right.) My floor wasn’t getting any cleaner, so I gave in and bought the new one (which, to my disappointment, came with only one battery instead of the two my previous one came with, so I hope there’s still some life left in the old batteries after all). I’m upset that I wasn’t able to recycle the old vacuum, but at least I have some spare pieces in case I need them.

So that wasn’t too satisfying, but at least I have a functional vacuum again (hopefully). And on the way home, I noticed I was approaching a Big Boy restaurant. I’d just been thinking, not long ago, that it had been too long since I’d been to Big Boy and had one of their Buddie Boy ham sandwiches, which I quite liked. So I went in and did that, and it was very good, as were the baked apples I had on the side. Plus I saw they were advertising their pumpkin pie, and I remembered that they had a wonderful pumpkin pie, so I had a piece of that for dessert, and it was wonderful. So that was a lovely bit of serendipity and I feel very satisfied now — though it didn’t help with my efforts to lose some weight and get back into shape.

UPDATE: I just tried the new vacuum’s battery in the old vacuum, and it worked. So I only needed a new battery after all, not a new vacuum. I wonder if it’s worth it to return the vacuum and just order a replacement battery. Or maybe it’s a good idea to keep the new vacuum on hand just in case the old one does break down.

What to eat when you can’t bite

While recovering from my frenectomy, I’ve been having to adjust my eating habits so as to avoid anything I need to bite into, like sandwiches, hot dogs, pizza, etc.  Actually I can have those as long as I cut them into bite-size pieces (an ironic apellation for pieces you don’t need to bite into), and I have done that a couple of times, but that’s kind of awkward.

I wanted to avoid hot foods for the first few days (the instructions only said 24 hours, but I’m extra-cautious), so I made some pasta salad of my own once I used up the varieties I got from the grocery-store deli (only one of which I liked).  I used some multicolor rotini I had on hand, broccoli, cucumber, green pepper, cherry tomatoes, and canned chicken (which I figured would be softer than the frozen diced chicken I generally use) with olive oil, Italian dressing, and grated parmesan.  I made nearly five servings’ worth, so when I went to the store a couple of days ago, I picked up some feta cheese and added some of that to the pasta salad; and I supplemented the final serving with more tomatoes and cucumber.  So there was a little variety instead of just being the same thing over and over.

Also at the grocery store deli, I looked for other types of thing I could try, now that I wasn’t limited to cold foods anymore.  I came upon a tub of chicken and sausage gumbo, and I thought that gumbo was something I’d tried before and not minded, so I bought it.  Only afterward did I remember that what I’d tried before wasn’t gumbo, but jambalaya.  But I was stuck with the gumbo, so I tried it, and I’m not crazy about it.  It’s too spicy, and the pork sausage flavor is way too dominant.  I’m thinking maybe when I have the rest of it, I’ll dump the remaining feta into it, in the hope that a dairy product will ameliorate the spiciness some, and just to make it taste different.  I have no idea if that will be any good, but I have to use these things up somehow.

As of this afternoon, it will have been a week since my procedure, so I’m halfway to the point where I can start eating normally again.  Still, knowing me, I’ll probably be overcautious and wait a few days longer.

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Cooking things up (figuratively and literally)

Well, I finished my outline for the new Star Trek novel today and turned it in.  I sought out the opinions of a couple of my colleagues, since I’m undertaking something new and I wanted to make sure it worked, and they seem to think it works pretty well.  Hopefully I’ll get to talk about it soon, though with the way things work these days, the news is likely to break when some online catalog gets updated.

What I can talk about is what I did afterward.  Recently, I’ve begun buying fresh green bell peppers from the store instead of settling for the diced frozen ones in bags (although I still do freeze most of each new pepper for later use, since I’m only one person).  And now that I’ve gotten used to buying whole peppers, I became oddly possessed with the  desire to take the next step and stuff one of the things.  To my surprise, though, none of my (three, count ’em) cookbooks had a recipe for stuffed bell peppers, even though at least two of them are supposed to be about essential guidelines for cooking anything.  So I searched online, and found a surprising lack of consistency in the available recipes.  By the time I sorted out enough of the essential principles to formulate a plan (yesterday), the pepper I had in the fridge had been sitting too long, so I chopped it up and froze most of it, and then went grocery shopping with the intent to buy another one (along with other groceries).  But the local supermarket didn’t have any decently fresh ones (or a couple of other things I was looking for), and since I found that out at the start of my shopping, I decided to drive to a more distant supermarket to do my shopping.

So this afternoon, after turning in my outline, I went to work, making sure I had plenty of time to prepare the meal.  I scooped out the pepper, I parboiled it for 5 minutes, I sauteed some onions, garlic, and veggie crumble, I poured in some diced tomatoes and instant rice, then I stuffed that mix and some grated cheddar inside the pepper and put it in a baking dish (meat loaf pan, actually — all I have) with spaghetti sauce coating the bottom and more poured over the pepper (I guess to moisten it so it didn’t burn?), then covered the pan in aluminum foil and baked at 350 degrees for about 25 minutes.  I had some trouble figuring out how to get the pepper out of the boiling water and splashed some on my hand, though it didn’t hurt as much or do as much damage as I would’ve thought (Leidenfrost effect, maybe?).  Otherwise it went pretty smoothly, except the pepper I got was a bit lopsided on the bottom and I had to prop it up along an edge of the pan so stuff wouldn’t spill.  And then when I took it out and put it on the plate, it tipped over and split open anyway.  Although it was all still on the plate, so it was just a messy presentation.  I had a knife and fork ready to eat it with per online instructions, but when I saw how it looked, I got a soup spoon and ended up eating it with that.  The pepper was tender enough that the spoon cut it easily.

So how was it?  Pretty good, I guess.  Interesting, though not hugely different from the kind of stuff I occasionally make using roughly the same ingredients but with the pepper diced up and mixed in.  It was a nice experiment and a reasonably satisfying meal, but I derived more satisfaction from having cooked it than I did from eating it.  Ultimately I don’t think it was worth all the trouble I went to in order to make it — plus all the dishes I have to wash later.  I don’t think I’ve ever expended so much time and so many cooking vessels and utensils for just a single food item.  I’m not sure it would be worth repeating the experiment, at least not until I move to a place with a dishwasher.  But at least now I can say I’ve done it.

Eeny-meeny chili beany…

After finishing off that jar of Cincinnati chili last week, I still had about one serving’s worth of kidney beans left over, so today I decided to attempt concocting a rough approximation of chili for dinner.  My concoction consisted of some lightly browned veggie crumble; the beans; diced onions, green pepper, and tomato; chopped garlic; a spoonful or so of tomato paste; and some oregano, salt, and black pepper.  (I included some of the ingredients based on the chili recipe in the cookbook my sister and brother-in-law sent me a while back, so thanks to them for that.)

My first thought had been to have it over egg noodles, but I used those up last week, so I decided to have it atop spaghetti instead, and I grated some cheddar on top.  It wasn’t bad, but it could maybe have used a little more liquid (should’ve added more of the liquid the beans were in, maybe).  And it could’ve used a little more “heat” as well.  I don’t think it really qualified as actual chili since it didn’t have any chiles in it, except for the mild green pepper.  As it was, it turned out a little bland.  Still, for an experimental concoction based on what I happened to have on hand (plus the tomato paste, which I bought specifically with this in mind), it turned out reasonably well.  And it’s always nice when I get up the initiative to try something new in the kitchen.

Well, except for the cleanup part.  I really wish I had a dishwasher.

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