The Transitive Property of Marjoram

I’ve been cooking a lot more since moving into a house with a kitchen big enough to be pleasant to work in, but I’m still not much of a chef. This is, in part, because I don’t yet have a good handle on whether things I like separately will combine well — especially when it comes to herbs and spices. Their flavor profiles, and how they meld with the different foods they might be used to flavor, are still terra fairly incognita for me.

But the other day I tried out a new recipe for a side dish of onions and bell peppers with marjoram, and had some left over. When I went to put it in the fridge, I saw I also had some leftover kielbasa. And I know that one of the recipes I’ve made several times, a kielbasa stew, includes marjoram.

So, by the transitive property of marjoram: I can combine these things, right?

And lo, I have Invented a Dish. Fried the kielbasa for a couple of minutes, tossed the onions and bell peppers in to warm them up, dumped the result over rice, hey presto, it worked. In the future I can make this on purpose, as its own thing, rather than just as a way to use up leftovers (though it can be that, too). I’m still not knowledgeable enough to go tossing marjoram into things without precedent to guide me . . . but I can pay attention to which recipes use which flavorings, and start absorbing the underlying principles there.

Baby steps, yo.

Pull the Football

The “nuclear football” is the nickname for a briefcase of codes the President of the United States can use to launch a pre-emptive nuclear strike at any time, for any reason, with about five minutes elapsing from the moment he gives the order until the moment the missiles launch.

I don’t care what you think of the current president, or the past one, or any that might come in the future. I care about the fact that no one should have that kind of unfettered power. No one should be able to start World War III on a whim.

And the good news is, we can take that power away.

Courtesy of Rachel Manija Brown, who started the “Pull the Football” social media campaign, here’s what you need to know.

Both House and Senate have bills to prevent the President from launching a pre-emptive nuclear strike without a congressional declaration of war. They’re both called the Restricting First Use of Nuclear Weapons Act of 2017. (S. 200 – Senate, HR 669 – House.) Passing those bills may literally save the world.

How to save the world:

1. Contact your representatives in Congress. Ask them to co-sponsor the bill NOW, before it’s too late.

2. Contact EVERYONE in Congress who might want to prevent a nuclear war. Usually people only speak to their own representatives. But with the fate of the entire world is at stake, it’s worth contacting everyone who might listen.

3. Promote the Pull The Football campaign on social media. Trump isn’t the only one who can use Twitter. Get on it and start tweeting #PullTheFootball.

Share this post on Facebook or Dreamwidth. Put up your own post on whatever social media you use. Ask your friends in person. If you know anyone in the media, contact them to get the word out. If you’re not American, you can help by publicizing the campaign on social media that Americans follow.

How do I contact my representatives?

1. Resistbot is a free service that will fax, call, or write your representatives for you. Just text the word “resist” to 50409 to begin.

2. Call the Capitol Switchboard at (202) 224-3121 and ask to be connected to the representative of your choice.

I’ve contacted everyone. What now?

Contact them again. THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT PART. One water drop can be brushed away. Many water drops make a flood. Call, fax, or write as often as possible. Set aside 15 minutes every day to make as many calls or faxes as you can in that time. Relentlessness works – it’s why the NRA is so successful. If they can do it, we can do it.

What do I say?

Page down for a sample script. Or speak or write in your own words.

Democrats to contact:

Every Democrat not currently sponsoring one of the bills. Thank them for their courage and service to the nation, and ask them to act now to save the world.

Thank the Democrats currently sponsoring the bills. There are 57 in the House and 9 in the Senate. Especially, thank Congressman Ted Lieu (sponsor of the House bill) and Sen. Edward Markey (sponsor of the Senate bill). Encourage them to step up their efforts to make it pass.

Republicans to contact:

The Republicans listed below are the most prominent who have voiced concerns about Trump. This is not an exhaustive list. There are more Republicans who might be receptive. For instance, all the House Republicans who just voted for more aid for Puerto Rico, and all Republicans who are retiring from their seats and so not worried about getting re-elected.

Sen. Bob Corker (202) 224-3344) warned us that Trump is setting the nation on a path to World War III. If you only contact one Republican representative, contact him. Thank him for his courage and urge him to follow through on his convictions.

Rep. Walter Jones (202) 225-3415 is the only Republican to support the bill. Thank him for his courage and urge him to get his colleagues onboard.

Other Republican senators to prioritize contacting: Susan Collins, Jeff Flake, Lindsey Graham, Orrin Hatch, Dean Heller, John McCain, Lisa Murkowski, Marco Rubio, and Ben Sasse.

Sample Script

Hello, my name is [your name.] I’m calling to ask Representative/Senator [their name] to co-sponsor the Restricting First Use of Nuclear Weapons Act of 2017. (S. 200 – Senate, HR 669 – House.)

I believe Republican Senator Bob Corker when he says we’re on the brink of World War Three. No one benefits from a nuclear war. But we can stop it if we choose to. This may be the most important action Representative/Senator [their name] will take in their entire life. It may literally save the world. I urge them to co-sponsor the bill restricting first use of nuclear weapons. Thank you.

*

Don’t tell yourself “it could never happen.” Don’t rest in the assumption that nobody would really launch the nukes — it’s all just posturing, right? We need precautions in place to make sure we don’t wake up tomorrow morning to annihilation.

Or don’t wake up at all.

Ars Historica is now available for pre-order!

In ye olden days of publishing, short fiction tended to have a half-life of about .17 seconds. If you didn’t read it in the magazine issue where it was published, too bad; the issue went off the shelves, and unless you stumbled across it later or the story was reprinted in a “best of” or single-author collection, you might never see it again.

cover art for ARS HISTORICA by Marie BrennanBut with ebooks, that doesn’t have to happen, because collections are so much easier to do now. I’m pleased to say that Maps to Nowhere has been selling splendidly since it came out last month; next month it will be joined by Ars Historica, which collects my historical fiction and historical fantasy. I have more of these planned, too, but they’ll take a while — I have a wordcount range I’m aiming for in each collection, in order to make them roughly novella-sized, and the other three I’ve got planned all require me to sell another two stories or so (and then wait for those stories’ exclusivity periods to expire).

In the meanwhile, here’s the Table of Contents for Ars Historica, which you can pre-order from a variety of places here!

Table of Contents

Literary cocktails and mocktails

It’s 5 p.m. somewhere, right?

A few days ago the Tome and Tankard blog posted their recipe for the “Lady Trent,” a mojito-like cocktail inspired by the Memoirs of Lady Trent. Our first attempt at making it here at Swan Tower was not entirely successful; it turns out we need to be a lot more conscientious about mixing the honey into the gin before adding other things, lest we wind up with a glob of honey stuck all over with mint leaves. 🙂 But the general shape of the cocktail is a great deal like the “Jimi Hendrix” I asked the internet to help me recreate a while back, so even in less-than-entirely-successful form, I give this one an official thumbs-up.

And for those of you who cannot or do not wish to partake of the booze, I thought I could post the recipe a reader designed years ago for the launch party of A Star Shall Fall. It’s called the Winged Serpent Philter, and it’s made as follows:

  • Blueberry juice
  • Fresh blueberries
  • Lime
  • Lime infused sparkling water
  • Honey
  • Granulated Sugar

In a small bowl, mix two parts water and one part honey. Coat the blueberries (three or four per drink to be served) in the honey water mixture and immediately roll in granulated sugar. Allow to dry. Dip the rim of a martini glass in the honey water mixture and then into granulated sugar to coat the rim. Mix three parts blueberry juice to one part sparking water with a dash of lime juice (all liquids should be chilled). For a sweeter flavor, omit lime juice. Pour into the martini glass. Put three or four sugar coated blueberries on a garnish pick and hang on the rim of the glass. Add a curl of lime peel. Serve promptly.

Enjoy!

Spark of Life: David Walton on THE GENIUS PLAGUE

According to gossip, Clive Cussler hated the movie Sahara for exactly the reason I liked it: because the hero, Dirk Pitt, isn’t the suave unflappable type who shrugs off ridiculous action sequences as if they’re all in a day’s work. He pants for breath, whoops in joy when crazy plans work, and generally acts like somebody you would want to know. So I have to applaud this week’s Spark of Life guest, David Walton, for recognizing that it’s vulnerability more than sangfroid that can make us connect with a character.

***

David says:

cover art for THE GENIUS PLAGUE by David WaltonAction heroes are hardy folks. They run from fist fight to car chase without pause, shrugging off bullet wounds and never stopping for breath. But most of us aren’t action heroes.

In my latest novel, THE GENIUS PLAGUE, Neil Johns is no different than the rest of us. But his life is turned upside-down when his brother becomes the vector for a fungal pandemic that alters the minds of its survivors. Neil runs from crisis to crisis, avoiding those who would intentionally infect him, ducking terrorist bombs, trying to stop a war, and restraining his own father from murderous violence. It’s a breathless sprint, made all the harder by the anguish of watching those he loves succumb to the plague and become his enemies.

I hadn’t planned to write it this way, but at one point in the story, I realized it was all just too much for him. This guy wasn’t James Bond. He’d been eating poorly, he’d barely slept, and he could only keep it up so long. And so in a public hospital cafeteria, Neil breaks down. Once he starts crying, he can’t stop, all the pent-up emotions crashing in on him as soon as he takes a moment to breathe.

James Bond wouldn’t have done that. A traditional action hero would have found something extra-macho (and probably incredibly stupid) to do instead. But Neil is a mathematician, not a Navy Seal. He’s fighting this battle because he cares about his family members, not because he has something to prove. He’s an ordinary person, and ordinary people have limits to how much they can endure.

It was one of those moments when a character becomes real on the page with an authenticity that had nothing to do with the needs of the plot, and as an author, you have to recognize those moments and just go with them. When planning a novel, it’s easy to let the plot rule events, but sometimes the characters know better.

In THE GENIUS PLAGUE, that moment gives Neil a chance to regroup and gather his courage. And he’s going to need all the courage he can get for what’s coming. The plague impacts world politics, tearing governments apart from the inside, and putting control of the US nuclear arsenal in jeopardy. Neil is one of the few who understands what’s happening and has the knowledge to contain it, if he can manage to avoid being infected himself.

It wasn’t much: just a small, unexpected spark of life that pulled Neil off the page and made him more real, but despite its quietness, it turned out to be one of my favorite moments of the book.

***

From the cover copy:

In this science fiction thriller, brothers are pitted against each other as a pandemic threatens to destabilize world governments by exerting a subtle mind control over survivors.

Neil Johns has just started his dream job as a code breaker in the NSA when his brother, Paul, a mycologist, goes missing on a trip to collect samples in the Amazon jungle. Paul returns with a gap in his memory and a fungal infection that almost kills him. But once he recuperates, he has enhanced communication, memory, and pattern recognition. Meanwhile, something is happening in South America; others, like Paul, have also fallen ill and recovered with abilities they didn’t have before.

But that’s not the only pattern–the survivors, from entire remote Brazilian tribes to American tourists, all seem to be working toward a common, and deadly, goal. Neil soon uncovers a secret and unexplained alliance between governments that have traditionally been enemies. Meanwhile Paul becomes increasingly secretive and erratic.

Paul sees the fungus as the next stage of human evolution, while Neil is convinced that it is driving its human hosts to destruction. Brother must oppose brother on an increasingly fraught international stage, with the stakes: the free will of every human on earth. Can humanity use this force for good, or are we becoming the pawns of an utterly alien intelligence?

David Walton is the author of the international bestseller SUPERPOSITION and its sequel SUPERSYMMETRY. His novel TERMINAL MIND won the 2008 Philip K. Dick Award for the best SF paperback published in the United States for that year. He lives near Philadelphia with his wife and seven children.

an authorial self-indulgence

Back in July, I got an email from a reader in Sweden named Gillis Björk, saying they’d loved the Memoirs of Lady Trent so much, they were inspired to make a carved wooden slipcase for the series, and would I like to see pictures/a video of the crafting process.

WOULD I EVER.

In fact, having seen the slipcase . . . I sent Gillis an email, asking how much they would charge to make one for me.

Because seriously, the Memoirs are so damn pretty, with Todd Lockwood’s cover art and the three-piece cases and the deckled edges and so forth. Didn’t they deserve a good house to live in? It was a total self-indulgence, but I thought, hey, if Gillis was willing . . .

Behold the result! (Turn up the volume to hear the narration — it’s quite faint.)

It is even prettier than the original. We went for oak instead of beech, and Gillis got a lot more detailed with the carving of the dragons and so forth. At the end of the video you can see the slipcase on my shelf, with the books inside! And if you want to watch the making of the original version, that’s here:

Complete with accidentally-decapitated dragon and guidelines for avoiding spontaneous combustion. 🙂 These videos make for a fascinating watch if you enjoy seeing crafters do their thing; since I know bugger-all about woodworking and carpentry, they were hugely educational to me. And my endless thanks to Gillis for the lovely result!

In Better News

I recently signed up for an email service called “In Better News” (formerly, I think, “Kittens and Kindness”). Every day it sends an email with three pieces of news concerning people doing good deeds in the world, at various levels: everything from Coca-Cola giving men permission to break into one of their warehouses and take bottled water to help hurricane victims to a six-year-old girl setting up a lemonade stand with the goal of eliminating lunch debt at her school. Then, after those, you get three links to things involving cute animals.

It’s basically these tikkun olam posts, delivered to your inbox every day. With bonus cute animals.

Share with us your better news, however great or small. Your efforts to repair the world, one brick at a time, building a wall whose purpose is not to exclude but to shelter others from the storm. Donations, volunteering, random acts of kindness, alterations in your life that make you a better neighbor and friend. Anything to lift the spirit.