Obligatory Guest Cat Post

As you are probably aware by now, John is away from the intarweebs. The last I heard, he battled a rather large, fire-breathing dragon in the foothills of some foreign land with nothing more than a piece of crispy bacon, a tub of frosting and a rubber chicken.*

In his absence aside from gleefully wielding the mallet with tender rage, I figured you would appreciate this rather lovely picture of Chloe that I took right after Christmas. By no means is Chloe trying to usurp the hold on your heart that the animals of the Scalzi compound currently enjoy. I just happened to be trying out my new 35mm lens on my Nikon D3100. The lens is one of the least expensive out there and does a fantastic job. Although, Chloe does not look as impressed as I was with the new toy. Also, look! It’s a cat picture! We need those!

*Unconfirmed and conflicting reports. Some accounts say Krissy defeated the dragon with her bare hands, while John ate the bacon, the tub of frosting and the rubber chicken. What happens in the foothills, stays in the foothills, people.

Something Really Old V: Adventures in Pig Roasting

From the AOL years (1996 – 98).


Last week I mentioned to a co-worker of mine at America Online that I was going to attend a pig roast that weekend. This being the first time I had been invited to one, I was unsure of what exactly was going to happen. My co-worker, apparently a veteran of the pig roasting genre, was only too happy to fill in the details.

“It’s the only way to cook a pig,” he declared, negating thousands of years of bacon, pork chops, Spam and potted meat food product with one imperious sweep. “What you do is you take a pig, stick a rod in it from mouth to tail, and cook it in an open pit for several hours.”

“So you even cook the head?” I asked.

“Absolutely,” he said. “In fact, you can tear a chunk right off the pig’s forehead and eat it while it’s still cooking.”

“That sounds sort of disgusting,” I said.

“Disgusting?” he appeared shocked. “Man, that’s the best part!”

I came away from this discussion with two thoughts. The first was simply the observation that there’s a certain class of folk who seem drawn to eat the most disturbing parts of an animal (“Pig forehead/orangutan lips/fish genitals? Man, that’s the best part!”).

While one can appreciate this in that sort of Native American, “use all parts of the animal” sense, it’s still unsettling. If God had truly meant man to think about the fact he was eating pig forehead/orangutan lips/fish genitals, He wouldn’t have invented the hot dog. My second thought was that this pig roast thing might be more complicated than I originally suspected.

Indeed, it is. The flame-broiling of an entire mammal is not something to take lightly. You don’t approach the task of cooking a whole pig like you would approach a hamburger. You can’t just slap it on the grill, flip it over a couple of times, lay some cheese on top, and then accidentally drop it into the flaming briquettes and end up trying to fill up on potato salad. There’s some serious planning involved.

Here’s what you need to cook an entire pig:

1. The Pig. This no doubt to the great displeasure of the pig itself. Our pig was neither one of those polyploidal monstrosities that show up at county fairs, looking horrifying like the farmer that brought it, nor one of those toupeed piglets that were so darn cute in “Babe”. It was medium-sized, which in human terms is about the size of Macaulay Culkin or Labor Secretary Robert Reich, take your pick.

Our pig came without the head, which meant we had to forgo the forehead-gnawing portion of the day, but which also made it easier for most of us to get through the food preparation process without thinking of Wilbur from “Charlotte’s Web.” Our pig was also spared the indignity of having a metal rod pinioning it through its anterior and posterior orifices. On the other hand, it was split right down the middle and halved like a red banana, so I wouldn’t suppose from the pig’s point of view that that was any better.

2. The Cooking Apparatus. Entire pigs are generally cooked over a pit, which is dug in the ground, filled with some sort of long-burning flammable object (charcoal briquettes, mesquite logs, Kenny G compact discs) and set ablaze. For our pig roast, digging a hole in the ground wasn’t practical, so we had a huge, industrial-strength grill, large enough to grill a Ford Explorer, if one were in the mood (“The alternator? Man, that’s the best part!”).

3. The Pig Roastin’ Guy. Unless you’re itchin’ for a Family Fun Pak of trichinosis, you want the guy who’s roasting your pig to have some experience, a Pig Roastin’ Guy who comes from a long and proud line of Pig Roasters. Our Pig Roastin’ Guy was “J.D.”, whose pig roastin’ skills were not in dispute: Every July 4th, J.D. would roast three entire pigs over a pit and invite most of the county for a party. Pigs were known to run squealing if he came within 30 yards.

J.D. came complete with seasonings, barbeque sauce, and a dazzling array of electric utensils, but the most interesting things about J.D. were his gloves — thick, black galvanized rubber monsters, glistening with grease, just the sort of thing you’d want to wear if you were handling live high voltage wires or planning to strangle the mailman.

For the life of me I couldn’t figure out what they were for until J.D. put them on, hopped over to the grill, grabbed the pig with both hands and flipped the entire thing over in one disturbingly graceful motion. This was the Greg Louganis of the pig roastin’ world.

Once you have all these things in one place, the pig roasting pretty much takes care of itself — all you have to do is stand around with the other guys, drink beer, and every now and then nibble on the steaming hot chunk of flesh your Pig Roastin’ Guy offers you in advance of the formal pig devouring.

Each time you get an advance pig chunk, you should chew appreciatively, gazing out into the distance, as if lost in thought, then turn to your Pig Roastin’ Guy and say “now, that’s damn fine pig!” It’s the standard response. Any deviation from the norm will cause your Pig Roastin’ Guy to look at you with suspicion; the next time he offers you a pig chunk, it’ll probably have come from some part of the pig you’d’ve rather not known about.

Take it anyway. Because, man, that’s the best part.

The Big Idea: Jamie Mason

The “whydunit”, is arguably the more intriguing of questions asked along a literary journey suggests Jamie Mason, author of Three Graves Full.  In today’s Big Idea, Jamie explains the method and mentality that went into polishing her debut novel.

Jamie Mason:

I’ve never written anything that went theme first, story second. Probably someone could do it. No doubt someone has – or likely many someones. Lord knows maybe even I could do it if I wanted to or was paid a million dollars to do it that way. It’s just that neither of those scenarios has presented itself yet.

So, I got a Big Idea: There is a man, a mild man, not a bad guy, but a guy prone to doing the wrong thing. Then he kills somebody. In a panic, he plants the problem a little too close to home, if you know what I mean. And because, in fine non-psychopathic form, he can’t stand doing any yard work after that, he hires a landscaper to keep the front of his house − just the front – nice and presentable. He’s concerned that that the neighbors will start looking at him funny if his grass grows up to the windows and the hedges jump their beds.

Wouldn’t you know it, those landscapers discover a buried body on his property – only it’s not the body this guy buried.

And then this guy has about 300 pages of problems after that.

Since the foundation of Three Graves Full is one hell of a coincidence, I realized as I went along that the characters were going to need to be latched onto this ridiculous ride with some thematically very sound bolts. I noticed that, within the bounds of this story, everything seemed to turn on how inclined each character was to take the bald truth full in the face. The more they lied – and there were little lies and great big whoppers in the spectrum from omission to full on fabrications – the more the breadcrumbs fell to lead me back to why they were the way they were, and why they did the things they did.

I became fascinated with the idea of what I called “The Liar’s Margin” which was, in fact, the original and working title of the book. Here’s a little of what I had to say on it:

“Every event is boxed in by a set of facts; the truth as it were. There’s the what and the when of a deed; there’s where it happened and how it was done. But it’s at the why that the liar’s margin begins. It’s from this border that we launch the justifications for everything we do, and for all that we allow to be done to us. Only our distance from the hard truth and the direction of our push—toward or away from it—is the measure of our virtue.”

What I’d set out to do, and hope I’ve managed, is to take one fictional character’s worst nightmare, and gild that nightshade flower with a caper at the intersection of a few more fictional character’s worst nightmares. Then, as we seem more readily able to do with someone else’s problems, I wanted to find the humor there − and most importantly, to find the why. For me whodunit is almost always less interesting than whydunit.

The Big Idea of the liar’s margin is that it is the perfect laboratory for distilling ‘why’. If we know that she won’t face her reasons for putting up with a cheater, or that he’s not entirely ashamed of the murder he committed, or that another person is unwilling to admit how very like his father he really is – well then, we’ve done more than solved a fictional crime. We’ve earned ourselves a Diploma of Advanced Amateur Anthropological Studies from The University of Armchair.

And that’s not too shabby for just the price of a book.

Three Graves Full: Amazon|IndieBound|Powell’s|Barnes&Noble|Simon & Shuster

Read an excerpt.  Jamie Mason can be found via:  Website|Blog|Facebook|Twitter