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The Difference a Day Makes

Two pictures, from just about the same viewpoint on my porch, 24 hours apart. Can you spot the differences? What you don’t see in this photo is that my driveway is already ploughed; sometime in the night whilst I slept my neighbor hooked his snowplow to the front of his pickup and scraped the snow from him driveway, and then mine. Because he thinks it’s fun, that’s why. I like having a neighbor like that.

— JS

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Athena Scalzi

Small Business Saturday: Kannchy

Hello everyone and welcome to another Small Business Saturday! In case you haven’t seen my other Small Business Saturday posts, this is where I promote a small business/artist that I like and am highly recommending to you. As always, I will go ahead and mention that the brands I post about are ones that I have found myself and paid full price for items from. I have not been sent any free products from these businesses or been asked to promote them in exchange for items, I simply like their work and wanted to share with y’all.

With all that being said, let’s get into today’s small business!

Kannchy is an art shop ran by a girl named Kathryn. She mentions in her About the Artist page that she always liked art from a young age, but really found her purpose through it after getting diagnosed with muscular dystrophy.

I found Kannchy through Twitter, and immediately fell in love with her designs. She makes stickers, pins, sustainable items like tote bags and water bottles, and so much more! I absolutely adore her floral pieces in particular, so much so that I bought the 50 pack of state flower stickers, as well as some other bigger ones since all the state flowers are minis.

(Image belongs to Kannchy.)

Shortly after receiving my first order from her, I ordered this incredibly adorable sticker pack (pictured above), and added all of her work to my new sticker book! I was considering getting them as pins instead, but have really been trying to fill up my sticker book lately, so I opted for those instead. Kannchy does have a pin of the month club, though, which is part of her Patreon membership!

Did I mention stickers ship free to US residents? Why would you not buy some amazing stickers with a deal like that!

One thing I really like about Kannchy is the sustainability aspect! I mentioned earlier she makes some items that are useful for reducing and reusing, but she also has a whole page explaining how to recycle her items that you can check out here! Sustainable packaging is such an important thing to consider when you mail out as many orders as shops like hers do, so I think that’s really great.

So, yeah, I hope you enjoyed checking out Kannchy’s shop! I highly recommend buying a sticker or a pin or something like that, but if not then you should totally follow her on Twitter or Instagram. Remember to shop small, and have a great day!

-AMS

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Spice Welcomes You to January’s Last Caturday

She hopes it’s a good one for you.

— JS

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New Books and ARCs, 1/29/21

Is it already the end of January? Just about! But we can’t leave the first month of the year without a stack of new books and ARCs that have come into the Scalzi Compound. What here would you like to take with you into February? Share in the comments.

— JS

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Five Things, 1/28/21

Oooohhh, let’s look at what’s out there today:

Republicans decide to double down on craven know-nothing fascism: Well, I mean, this isn’t really a surprise, now, is it? A few weeks ago I wrote about how the general GOP plan, with regard to even relatively simple moral and ethical issues, is “But… what if we didn’t?”, and predicted that when confronted with the necessity of turning away from the sort of dipshit authoritarian populism of the Trump years, would revert to form. I guess my only real surprise it that it only took a week; I thought they might eke out a couple of weeks, or even a month, before they reverted to form.

Look, I’ve said it before, and you should probably get used to me saying it a lot from here on out: The Republican party as it stands today is a morally bankrupt political tool for white supremacy with no other motivating ethos. It will throw aside actual democracy at the first opportunity — we know that because it already tried — and it will lead the country to ruin because fascism doesn’t play nice with either facts or competence. They couldn’t even pretend for a week that they are anything other than this.

On one hand — cool, we have that out of the way, and the rest of the nation can plan accordingly. On the other hand, well. It’s a shame, isn’t it.

The Gamestop stock drama: Small investors ganged up on the hedge funds to drive up the stock price of Gamestop and other distressed companies, forcing the hedge funds to cover their short positions, and predictably the forces that be put a stop to that, because it’s one thing if you can’t cover your rent, and quite another thing if rich people lose money betting on the death of a retailer.

As an observer of this all, I’ve had two thoughts: One, it really does go to show that there are two different sets of rules for the truly rich and for everyone else; two, as someone with fairly significant stock holdings, this shit is complete madness. I was asked if I had been participating in this stock run-up, and my answer is “hell, no” — my investments are in (relatively) safe and (definitely) boring index funds, and I’m not tempted to day trade in any way because it’s a very fine way to lose all the money you and the next six generations of your family will ever have. Call me conservative, if you like. When it comes to money, I don’t mind.

The New York Times editorial board thinks Biden is making too many executive orders: Which a) is bullshit, b) shows that the New York Times editorial board has the luxury of not living in the real world. I don’t mean this as a generalized diss on the New York Times or its editorial board; I’m a former journalist and I’m usually more than willing to give editorial writers (and the newspapers they work for) the benefit of the doubt. The gig is literally to make hot takes. But the reason this hot take is bullshit is that the majority of Biden’s EOs are reversing the terrible EOs of Trump, and the ones that are not are generally understood to be an immediate action that will hopefully be followed by congressional action; i.e., Biden offering an EO doesn’t preclude congressional action later.

Those latter type of EOs also tend to be ones that benefit the poor, working class and marginalized folks. The NYTimes editorial board is more diverse than it used to be, but ain’t none of them broke at the moment. Basically, the editorial board was making a busy work editorial, and it was foolish.

Sandman series casting: Gwendoline Christie as Lucifer? Yes, please! The rest of the cast also looks pretty good so far, and it’s nice to see that they’re willing to fiddle with the roles in the comics to get good people into the parts. Looking forward to seeing who else gets cast (and also, the series in general).

Google fixing Night Sight on Pixels: Most of you are aware that I really like my Pixel 5 phone, more even than I expected to, but a regular frustration of mine was Google’s decision to let the camera decide automatically when to switch into “night mode.” The problem with that was the camera is super-aggressive in switching over to that mode (much of the time it’s totally unneeded), and in that mode the camera can take up to several seconds to take a picture. You can turn it off, but that takes time. Basically between the camera turning on Night Mode automatically and/or me trying to turn that shit off, grumbling whilst I did so, I missed a whole bunch of photos I wanted to take. It significantly mars what is otherwise a really positive phone experience.

Now Google’s updating so that users can permanently disable automatic switching into night mode, so guess what I’ll be doing as soon as I get that update? Seriously, I think this may be the thing that makes me the happiest this whole week. What can I say, I’m easy.

— JS

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Big Idea

The Big Idea: Mark Matthews

Author Mark Matthews’ Big Idea today brings you a semi-true story about werewolves. Except they’re not actually werewolves, at least not by name. Read on to see how his newest novel, The Hobgoblin of Little Minds, takes the terrifying concept of werewolves and makes it real.

MARK MATTHEWS:

The Hobgoblin of Little Minds is a piece of speculative fiction that rewrites the Werewolf mythos without ever using the “W” word. The Big Idea is to use well recognized tropes from horror and science fiction, make them my own, and tell the dark and challenging truths of what it means to live with a mental illness, largely through the lenses of lycanthropy.

Much of my fiction is inspired by the immense challenges the human spirit must endure that I’ve witnessed working in behavioral health. It is also based on personal experience, since before I went to get my Master’s degree, I first had to battle my own addiction, and am now 25 years sober. Addiction Horror has been my jam, but the focus of this novel has turned to mental illness and its treatment, particularly bipolar disorder.

The premise of werewolf as a metaphor for bipolar mood swings is a concept that was with me for years, and after researching the topic, I found I was not alone. There are numerous first-person accounts of those living with the diagnosis who cite it as a metaphor, as well as scholarly research articles. One example is titled: “Folklore perpetuated expression of moon-associated bipolar disorders in anecdotally exaggerated werewolf guise (University of Cologne, 2018) The article concludes that, “Rather than ignoring folklore, scientists may want to think what biological roots may manifest in folklore tradition and tales—including the werewolf legend.” In other words, the best way to tell the truth is through a story, and very often, a work of horror.

Werewolves have always represented the primal part of humans, the Jungian self-gone wild. My version of werewolves are definitely beasts, but they are not necessarily monsters. They love. They have hopes and dreams. They speak as much as howl. They visit their churches and their childhood homes, mimicking much of their human behavior (one werewolf is an electrical line worker, and she is able to climb up utility poles in beastly form and travel in near perfect disguise). They do not grow hair, but they do grow stronger with explosive rage when the moon is full. They are propelled by boundless energy and amazing powers of perception. All of this is not dissimilar to what happens in a manic state. (“What you mistake for madness is but over-acuteness of the senses,” Edgar Allan Poe)

The word Werewolf is never mentioned in the novel even once, (because Werewolves don’t exist, and this story is true) and they are not triggered by the supernatural, but by a manipulation of psychotropic medications and genetic loading. There is even a ‘silver bullet’ called Luminex, a mix of Lithium, Benzos, Haldol, and other psychotropics. 

The mastermind behind these concoctions is the psychiatrist Doctor Zita, my derivative of the Frankensteinian mad scientist’ trope. Zita grew up as a caretaker for her mom who struggled with mental illness. After one of Mom’s many suicide attempts, her dad abandons the family, saying “you fix her” as he leaves out the door. This becomes Zita’s driving principle and obsession—to ‘fix’ bipolar disorder—and not repeat the foolish mistakes of ineffective mental health treatment of the past. 

“She was going to find a way to fix bipolar disorder. To siphon out the worst parts, and make the best parts boil to the top. She had to try something new, because ‘foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.’ The same efforts bring same results.” The quote is easily recognized for those who’ve read Ralph Waldo Emerson.

According to the Doctor, Bipolar does not need to be blunted, but magnified. Not diminished, but harnessed. The boundless energy of mania, the primal passions, acute senses, and savage strength are what helped humans persist. Natural selection has ensured that bipolar survives, and these strengths come out when the moon was full, since “Humans were meant to hunt by the light of the moon.”

Doctor Zita is certainly the hero of her own story and is an antagonist who understands the protagonist in a way nobody else does. The hero, of sorts, is a young adult who trespasses inside an abandoned psychiatric facility, the last place her dad was treated but never heard from again. 

Asylums themselves as a setting are a trope. (For a deep-dive into this, check out Nightmare Factories: The Asylum in American Imagination) My version of this trope is based on an actual abandoned facility near my home, Northville Psychiatric hospital, a huge compound legendary for trespassers. In this way, I aimed for the novel to read as historical horror. I traced actual events of the hospital’s history and wrote the climax to occur during the dates of the demolition. I parked in the spot the main character parks before she trespass inside. I watched hours of videos of the dark tunnels and hallways and interviewed those who’ve been inside. I avoid misnomers like ‘asylum’ or “madhouse for the criminally insane’ and perhaps above all, used my own experience working in such mental health settings. 

Writing and publishing this content comes with a risk of further stigmatizing mental illness rather than offering empathy and raising awareness. To gauge the temperature and tone, I gathered specific beta readers and did hours of research. Early reader responses have been incredibly encouraging. The big idea to adapt tropes and raise awareness of some real-world challenges seems to have paid off based on advance reviews. Today is release day and the audience expands. I certainly hope readers will see that this is a true story, even if it never happened. 


The Hobgoblin of Little MindsAmazon|Amazon (Paperback)|Barnes and Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Visit the author’s website. Follow him on Twitter.

 

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I Was Gonna Complain About Something Today, But This Video of an Acapella Group Doing Windows Sounds is Much Nicer

See what I mean? Enjoy your evening, folks.

— JS

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Big Idea

The Big Idea: Jeff Wheeler

With great power comes great responsibility. But what if you don’t know what those powers are, or how to use them? What if you had to figure everything out on your own? Author Jeff Wheeler explores the idea of what it’s like to go through things alone, read on to see how this shapes his protagonist in his newest novel, Knight’s Ransom.

JEFF WHEELER: 

After having his butt kicked by Tusken raiders, Luke Skywalker is saved by the enigmatic Obi-Wan Kenobi, the strange old hermit he’d always known as Ben. That’s when he learns about his father, the Jedi order, and starts the path of using the Force that will bring him to his destiny. 

Having a wise mentor to guide a hero on the journey is a trope that’s been around for a long time and a prominent feature of Campbell’s Hero with a Thousand Faces. We’ve seen this type of character in Gandalf, Dumbledore, and Haymitch to name a few. 

I used it myself in the original Kingfountain trilogy, where the child Owen Kiskaddon is tutored in Fountain magic by the reclusive poisoner, Ankarette. He learns how the magic is strengthened (by performing repetitive tasks that fill his reservoir, so to speak), how he uses it to trick the king into believing he knows the future, and how those who possess these gifts of the Fountain are rare and special.

When I decided to go back to the world of Kingfountain in my new series, The First Argentines, the big idea I wanted to tease was not having a mentor character to explain the important details to the hero, a knight-in-training named Ransom Barton. He’s got to figure things out all on his own. 

That idea caused some delicious tension throughout the story. Ransom begins to realize he has unusual powers after an incident in the training yard when he’s ambushed by some of his peers because he’s out-classing a duke’s son. Instead of getting bullied into subservience, he nearly kills them all. But there’s no one to explain to him how he can do what he does. The stories of the Fountain-blessed, at this point in Kingfountain’s collective history, haven’t been written yet and aren’t as obvious as they were in Owen’s day.

To make things worse for Ransom as he grows older, the enemy of his future king has someone who is Fountain-blessed in their employ. Ransom and this mysterious cloaked lady can sense each other. Again, Ransom doesn’t know why this is, but he knows the other person is dangerous. And she know the rules whereas he doesn’t. 

I loved writing this book with the main character so hindered by ignorance. He has to figure out his powers, how to replenish them, and more important what feeds them and makes them stronger. His loyalty to the Argentine family plays an intriguing role, which he only starts to figure out in the first book. And when he finds out who his nemesis is, let’s just say it’s not his father offering him a chance to rule the galaxy.

For me, not having an Obi-Wan-style mentor made this story more interesting to tell. The hero is in the dark but he senses that things aren’t the way he sees. That there is an undercurrent going on between the rival kingdoms that has more at stake than he can possibly realize. 

A hero without a mentor who faces off with a villain who believes they are the hero of the story. It was just the right twist to add more magic and suspense to this story. 


Knight’s Ransom: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Bookshop

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s website. Follow him on Instagram and Twitter. Connect with him on Facebook.

 

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Athena Scalzi

Views On “WandaVision”

If you have Disney+, I’m willing to bet you’ve seen WandaVision. I’m also willing to bet that you have a ton of questions, and if you’re anything like me, you struggle with patience. Putting out one half hour episode a week?! They must be kidding! Alas, they aren’t, and Friday can’t come soon enough!

WandaVision is the newest installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and the first three episodes are available to stream on Disney+, with six more on the way. Today I’m going to be talking about these three episodes and WandaVision as a “ship.” This will involve talking about several other MCU movies, so here is your OFFICIAL SPOILER WARNING, not just for WandaVision but for other movies such as Avengers: Age of Ultron, Captain America: Civil War, and Avengers: Infinity War. 

With that spoiler warning out of the way, let’s get to it!

WandaVision starts off with Wanda and Vision moving into the suburbs. They’re now married! Also it’s the fifties! And Vision is alive! Obviously, there are many things wrong with this picture, but the first episode gives us literally no info as to what is going on. It merely sets the scene that something is very amiss, but no one knows what. Wanda and Vision can’t seem to remember where they moved from, or when they were married, or how long they’ve been married. But other than that, there’s nothing too funky going on.

I’m sad to say the second episode is very much the same, only now it’s the sixties! However, the weirdness continues to grow as Wanda has some very strange experiences, some of which involve seeing color in their black and white sitcom world. The color always seems to be the same one, too. Red.

At the end of the second episode, the strangest thing yet happens. A beekeeper emerges from a sewer, and Wanda rewinds time by a few minutes, and then she’s pregnant! I mean, this show really does not want you to have any inkling of an idea of what is going on. What was with the beekeeper? How did Wanda rewind things? Not to mention she is suddenly months along in a pregnancy and neither of them are questioning it?

The third episode, though still adhering to that classic wacky sitcom formula, is finally starting to really show that things aren’t quite right. After Vision’s experiences with the neighbors acting strangely, you can tell he’s a bit freaked out. He approaches Wanda and tells her that something isn’t right with this place, or this situation, only to be rewound in time and say something completely different instead, maintaining the sitcom’s normalcy.

This isn’t the only bizarre moment. The weirdness only intensifies when Wanda is talking to a neighbor named Geraldine, and her brother gets brought up. The way Wanda talks about her twin is like she suddenly remembered he existed at all. For some reason, Geraldine knows what happened to him, and brings up the fact that he got killed by Ultron. Wanda confronts her, but she tries to pretend everything is alright, and then when Vision comes back inside, she’s gone.

Then we get our first glimpse of the real world, where Geraldine has just been thrown out of whatever simulation Wanda and Vision are being held in, and is immediately surrounded by people with guns and there’s helicopters and — yeah, basically a lot of shit going on and we have no idea what any of it means or why it’s happening!

For me, this is a really frustrating show. Obviously there’s so much amiss that the characters definitely notice, but just generally brush off, and you just want them to figure it out so badly. I lack patience so not knowing ANYTHING that’s going on and it only getting more and more weird and confusing is super aggravating.

That being said, I think it’s really entertaining to watch so far. I love how they go through the decades. I like seeing the outfits change and the house change to match the time period. To be honest, I didn’t notice a difference between the fifties and the sixties when I first watched it. Now that I realize they’re doing one decade per episode, if I think back on the first two, I can see the differences, though they’re pretty slight, in my opinion.

I’m not really a big fan of the older sitcom format. That brand of humor just isn’t for me, and the laugh track is so dang annoying. I found the first two episodes of WandaVision annoying for the same reasons. The humor and plot is literally peak sitcom. The miscommunication humor, the dinner party mishaps, Vision being sort of in a “drunk” state and messing up the talent show, it’s all just that same wacky shenanigan stuff.

Regardless, I’m excited to see where this all goes. I can’t wait to find out what’s really happening, and with only nine episodes, I know things are probably about to get very interesting. So while I currently don’t exactly love WandaVision, I have high hopes for it and will definitely be keeping up with it as new episodes release.

You know what I do love, though? WandaVision as a ship.

For those who don’t know, shipping is where you pair characters together in a romantic way. Even if they’re not canonically romantic, or even friends! If you think two (or more) characters would look good together, you ship ’em!

Something to know about me is that I’m a very easy shipper. Oh, these two characters have only talked to each other one time? Doesn’t matter. They belong together. What’s that? They accidentally touched hands once? I hear wedding bells!

So in 2015, when I saw Age of Ultron in theaters, I became a WandaVision shipper immediately. I know they don’t really seem to have that sort of chemistry until Civil War, but I saw the spark before the flame ever even ignited. That moment when Vision swoops in and saves Wanda, carrying her in his arms away from certain death, is pure magic. The way he looked at her when he picked her up, ugh, I can’t get over it!

Skip ahead to Civil War when he attempts to cook for her to make her feel better? A being that doesn’t eat is trying to cook! For her! My heart can’t take it, it’s too sweet. Then when he reaches an arm out to stop her from leaving, he ever so gently grabs her upper arm, and says he wants “for people to see you… as I do.” AHHHH.

Then, of course, tragedy ensues in Infinity War, when Wanda must destroy the Mind Stone, killing Vision in the process. She’s the only one powerful enough to shatter the gem. As Vision pleads with her to destroy it, he says, “It’s not fair. It shouldn’t be you but it is.” And he’s right. It’s not fair. The only person in the world who loves Vision, must destroy him. “It’s alright. You could never hurt me. I just feel you.” AHHHHHHHH. Just to amp up the sadness, he tells her he loves her the moment before he dies.

Only to have Thanos rewind time, bring Vision back to life, and brutally rip the stone out of his head. DOUBLE DEATH.

So, he’s dead. Yet, he’s in WandaVision?

Part of me thought maybe he was just part of the simulation, or whatever it is, and Wanda is the only one actually stuck, and he’s just part of the illusion. But I don’t think that’s the case because he has so many scenes of his own where he is noticing the weird stuff going on, and even tries to tell Wanda of the weird stuff. If he were part of the simulation wouldn’t he be acting normally and trying to play his part instead of also experiencing the strangeness of the sitcom world?

Anyways, I guess we’ll find out eventually!

(Oh, side note, I have been told that WandaVision has been a ship in the comics for a long time, so their ship in the movies makes perfect sense and whatnot, but I have never read the comics, and my only experience with Marvel is watching the MCU movies. So I had no idea they’d get together. I was pleasantly surprised by their ship actually sailing.)

Have you seen WandaVision? What are your thoughts? Do you love Vision and Wanda together as much as I do (they’re just so cute)? Let me know in the comments, and have a great day!

-AMS

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Big Idea

The Big Idea: Katharyn Blair

How did Katharyn Blair know she was on to something compelling for her novel Unchosen? It involves her office, and something she was thinking of, waiting for her in it.

KATHARYN BLAIR:

So everyone thinks you’re the prophesied “chosen one.” Probably because you told them you were (you had good reasons, seriously). Now you’re humanity’s only hope. Now what? 

When I set out to write Unchosen, I had no idea what the plot was going to be. I had an inkling that it would be set on the ocean, a vague hope that I would be able to pull off a new take on zombies, and a deep love of pirate history. But I knew the main character would be the not-chosen-one. The issue I faced was making sure that all of the elements worked together instead of against each other. And I had my work cut out for me. 

The trickiest part about having an unchosen protagonist was finding a way to make it so that Charlotte, the main character, could claim something that wasn’t true—that she was the Chosen One—while still being a sympathetic, likeable character. I find that making your protagonist a liar comes with a unique set of challenges. How could I make it so that she could develop genuine relationships with people she was deceiving? How does that work? 

And then there was the worldbuilding around the crux of the story: the Crimson, a virus that is passed through eye contact that turns people into zombies. As an avid Walking Dead fan, I’ve become very familiar with the traditional threat/stakes of zombies. I wanted to do something a little different, while also making sure not to veer so far into the weeds that I was creating a different sort of monster, entirely. And it was very important to me that these things were scary. Eventually, I figured out a system that worked.

It’s important to note that I’m a thirty-one-year-old mother of three. A full-grown woman. I have a couple years’ worth of experience doing MMA training—Ju Jitsu and Krav Maga and Muay Thai. Still, every time I get up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom, I have to walk across my hallway. And at the end of my hallway sits my dark, empty office. My wonderfully comfy writing chair rests under a window, vacant and expectant in the shadows. And I can rest assured, no matter what, that if I have seen or read anything that’s even vaguely frightening that day, I will imagine it standing in my office (I don’t think I will ever stop seeing the Bent Neck Lady from The Haunting of Hill House— it’s burned in my brain). I knew that if I could think of a take on zombies that scared me when I pictured it in the middle of the night, I was on to something good. When I eventually thought of Vessels, with their red eyes and still-eloquent voices, I was freaked out, so I knew I was on to something.  

While I thought about the issue of Charlotte’s relatability and started fine-tuning the Vessels, I dove into research for the backbone of the story: the history of piracy. I’d long since been fascinated by the rather (sometimes) subversive role of women in piracy, and I read a wonderful book called Pirate Women: The Princesses, Prostituted, and Privateers who Ruled the Seven Seas by Laura Sook Duncombe. Anne de Graaf’s story stuck with me, percolating in the back of my mind as I set to sort out what exactly this book would be, because I had a lot of things going on at once:

Pirate lore! A virus/curse! Prophecies! Backstories! Zombies! 

And I knew I needed to really get in the weeds if I was going to untangle everything and find the heart of the story. 

And the heart of the story is about a girl fighting to save the ones she loves. Specifically, her sisters. I’m the oldest of four sisters, myself. I know what it’s like to love someone so much and at the same time kind of want to strangle her because you know she used your mascara without asking again. While everything else—the history, the worldbuilding, the stakes—all needed ironing out, the heart of the story was always clear. I could hear Harlow, Charlotte, and Vanessa without any static. I knew if I leaned into the love they had for each other, the rest of it would work out. 

That optimism was eventually right, though it took a couple of failed drafts to get there. I found that every aspect of the story leaned on each other, making a tangled web that made sense to me one day and confounded me the next. It took months of work and the guidance of my lovely editor, Sara Schonfeld, to get the book to a place where every element was perfectly balanced. 

And at the end, the story finally made sense. The Vessels were scary, the lore was clear, and the stage was set for an unexpected girl to save the world. 


Unchosen: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Bookshop|IndieBound

Read an Excerpt. Visit the author’s site. Follow her on Twitter.

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Five Things, 1/25/21

I’m back on my novel-writing thing now, but for you — just for you! — I took a quick look at the news and world to see if I had thoughts on any of it. Here’s what I’ve got for today:

Rob Portman retiring from Senate: He’s Ohio’s Republican senator, and he says he’s retiring because things have become “too partisan,” which I think is his polite midwestern way of saying “The GOP has become entirely batshit and I don’t want its traitorous stink on me any longer than it has to be.” I’ll be curious to see who in the Ohio GOP steps up to take his spot, and whether it will be someone like Jim Jordan (shudder) or someone somewhat more moderate. Given the current state of the GOP, I suspect it might be more toward the former than the latter. I also suspect that if someone like my own district’s Warren Davidson gave it a shot, he might do reasonably well. I’m not happy with Davidson at the moment — he’s part of the brigade that voted against certifying the election — but I’m not exactly his ideal voter anyway. On the Democratic side of things, I have no idea who they’ll run, but whoever it is will have a reasonably good shot; note Ohio’s other senator, Sherrod Brown, is a Democrat. Should be exciting, to the extent that Ohio politics is ever exciting.

Harry Potter, the TV series (maybe): A very preliminary report in The Hollywood Reporter suggests something is afoot at HBO Max. This strikes me as not entirely unlikely, given the enduring appeal of the series, even in the face of JK Rowling’s divisive public statements regarding transgender issues (disclosure: I know JK Rowling a bit, and it’s safe to say she and I don’t see eye-to-eye on these matters). I don’t have any inside or personal knowledge of any plans or negotiations with regard to a HP series, or anything else regarding the Wizarding World, and I’m not saying that what I’m about to suggest is likely to happen, but I would be surprised if Warner Bros/AT&T hasn’t offered Rowling a huge friggin’ pot of money — like, billions — to buy up all the IP of, and rights to, the Wizarding World, similar to how Disney bought LucasFilm from George Lucas. The franchise is that important to Warner Bros, and buying it lock, stock and barrel would get the franchise out from under any controversy regarding Rowling’s opinions. I don’t think Rowling has an interest in that (she certainly doesn’t need the money), but, again, I would be surprised if the offer wasn’t at least in the air out there.

Biden repeals Trump transgender military ban: Speaking of transgender issues, Biden tossed out Trump’s bigoted and awful executive order barring transgender folks from serving openly in the US Armed Forces. And, obviously, good on him for doing so, because a) it was bigoted and awful, b) it stole rights from our citizens, c) it made us less safe in a military sense, not more so. I do realize some folks are upset and/or scandalized about transgender folks once again being able to serve openly in our armed forces, but, you know what, fuck ’em. Being in the military is hard enough without being able to be fully one’s self. Biden continues to make me reasonably pleased with his policy decisions. Sure, it’s less than a week in, but so far, so good. Oh, and:

Majority of Americans approve of Trump impeachment and conviction: Which makes sense because Trump was an awful human who fomented an insurrection against our nation’s government, and more news comes out daily about how all the shocking things he tried to do in order to illegally stay in office. That said, I’m not betting the Senate actually convicts him, because the senate Republicans are cowards and even now you still have someone of them who can’t admit that Biden fairly won the election. Prove me wrong, senate Republicans! I know you won’t, but I’d be thrilled if you did.

State of the Scalzi: As noted last week, my plan is to get back into the fiction writing groove starting today, and while it’s waaaay too early to say anything about it, I will say that so far I’m feeling good, and somewhat more focused than I was. Again, part of that is not feeling like there’s a possibility that the world will fly apart if I take my eye off of it — honestly, it’s amazing what a decent, sane president in a decent, sane administration can do, even in the space of a few days — but a lot of it is some psychic impatience at not having the work done already, inasmuch as I’m already so late with it. My brain wants to get going on it, which is… nice!

And that’s five things for today.

— JS

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Uncategorized

How I’m Spending My Sunday

I’m playing with Photoshop and seeing what I can do with photos from the late 1800s! Photoshop these days has a lot of nifty capabilities baked in (including an automatic “colorize” feature, and the ability to replace backgrounds without having to mask it out) and combined with a bunch of filters I have to play with, I’ve discovered once can do quite a lot in just ten minutes. This is a delightful use of one’s weekend downtime, I have to say. I hope you are likewise having a lovely Sunday and are enjoying yourself, with or without photoediting software.

— JS

Categories
Athena Scalzi

Showcasing My Collection: Enamel Pins, Volume Three

Hey, everyone! Hope you’re having a great weekend, or whatever day it is when you happen to read this. Let me welcome you to the third installment of me sharing some of my pins with you! Let’s just jump right in.

First up, we have this pin my cousin gave me for my birthday:

If you don’t understand what it’s a pin of, you may be one of the few people who isn’t obsessed with The Office. I watched The Office about two years ago, and I totally loved it. After all this time, the only merch I have to show of it is a sweater, but now I have this pin, too! It’s just coincidence they say the same thing, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Next up is another moth in my collection:

You may remember my luna moth from a previous installment of these posts, but this is a new one I’ve added to my collection! I told myself no for a couple weeks, because I already have a big moth! But eventually I talked myself into it because this one is obviously very different from the green luna moth I have! I ordered this from an artist named Carissa Williams, you can find her Etsy here!

If you don’t immediately recognize this super adorable turtle duck, then I highly recommend you go watch Avatar: The Last Airbender right away! This super cute pin is one of the many fantastical animal hybrids in ATLA and is by far one of the cutest to exist. You can get this pin here!

Finally, I decided to do a 3-for-1:

Basically, I have three strawberry milk pins, and I really like all of them, so I couldn’t pick just one to show off. Now that I’m looking at them in the picture, though, I think I like the one in the front the most, but don’t tell the others I said that. I don’t remember where I got these ones, actually, but I think the two glass bottle ones are from the same place.

I hope you enjoyed seeing more of my pin collection! I’ve been collecting pins for years, but in the past couple months I’ve just started getting into sticker collecting! So maybe sometime in the near future I can show off a bit of my sticker book. If you have any Etsy shops or artists that make pins/stickers in mind you think I should check out, let me know in the comments. And have a great day!

-AMS

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Uncategorized

Two Days In

We’re now 48 hours into the Biden Presidency, so obviously it’s time for a checkup on how things are going. Once again to assist me in the task, I am bringing out my Fictional Interlocutor. Say hello to the people, F.I.

Hello! Beautiful morning in America, is it not?

It is indeed sunny and the sky is full of picturesque fluffy white clouds at the moment.

And it’s all because Biden is president!

Well, to be strictly fair, he has no control over the weather.

Yet.

Stop that.

Sorry. So, how do you feel about being two days into the Biden Presidency?

In an entirely unsurprising turn of events, I feel pretty darn good about it! I’ve spent the last two days basking in the fabulous competency of its governance — which is to say that whether one agrees with the Biden administration’s policy goals or not, the sheer non-chaotic way it is going about them at the moment is utterly delightful. And while in fact deep down I hold an abiding and ceaseless rage that the last four years have been so awful that mere competence feels like a gift, yea verily as if manna from friggin’ heaven, on the surface at least I’m pretty placidly pleased. Hey, you know what I did two days in a row?

I do not.

I watched a White House press conference! Just to see how boring they would be. And the answer is: Pretty damn boring! White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki gets in there, is smiling and pleasant to the reporters, answers most questions directly, and the ones she wants to evade she does so pleasantly, not by suggesting the reporter who asked the question is a traitor to the nation and all that is holy. Did you know a White House Press Secretary could do that?

I had heard rumors, yes.

It’s wonderful! And boring! Wonderfully boring!

Well, you may think the Biden presidency is competent and boring, but it appears conservatives and/or Republicans are already upset with it.

Shocked! Shocked! I am! Give me an example, please.

To start off, all those executive orders Biden banged out. Seventeen the first day. Ten the second. More on the way.

Well, Trump did a lot of stupid shit, didn’t he, and he did a lot of it via executive order. Biden didn’t want to waste any time hosing out that nonsense. Most of the executive orders not relating to COVID are, as far as I can see, less about advancing a radical agenda than they were getting us back to where we were before an ignorant virulent bigot got into office. I can’t say I’m generally upset about it.

Well, not you. But conservatives and Republicans. They do seem especially upset about the executive order “On Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government.

That’s because transphobia is the new hotness in conservative bigotry. They lost on race, they lost on sex, they lost on sexual orientation, and now they think that gender is the place where they’re finally going to win and in doing so, start shoving everyone else back into their respective closets, kitchens and colored facilities.

You’re not sympathetic, then.

No. Fuck ’em. Fuck transphobia, first of all. Fuck it for itself, because in itself it is wholly bad enough. Then also, fuck it for being the lever that these bigots are trying to use to roll back the rights of anyone who is not, in fact, a cishet white dude. Fuck all the performative handwringing about bathrooms and locker rooms and women’s sports and hormones and especially fuck all the concerns about “the children,” not in the least because, as the parent of a Gen Z person, I can tell you “the children” are generally embarrassed at the actions of their obviously transphobic elders. Good on ya, Gen Z!

Wow, I didn’t notice that soapbox you had there until you stood on it.

Well, I’m short.

Fair enough. So basically your position on executive orders is, cool, keep going?

To the extent they’re wiping out Trump’s executive order bullshit and/or managing the COVID response — which, by the way, we just discovered there was really no Trump Administration plan to manage a federal-level response to the COVID crisis, so that’s fun — I’m fine with them. Biden, to his credit, has noted that executive orders can do only so much, so there will have to be legislative action as well. So I don’t think he’s planning to rule by fiat. And he does have the (bare) majorities of both houses.

But what about the Senate and the filibuster?

I’m not a huge fan of the filibuster and given the fact that the current GOP is a billionaire-supported white supremacist organization with no motivating principles other than the aforementioned racist bullshit and the idea that “whatever the Democrats want, they shouldn’t get,” I wouldn’t cry any tears over it going away so that the Senate can get work done that Americans actually want.

But 75 million Americans voted for the Republicans! Who will speak for them?

Nnnnnnnnnngh this bullshit line. Okay, first: Closer to 74 million, and of course 81 million people voted for Biden in this election. Second: Let’s not pretend that when the GOP is in the majority that it ever gives a shit about what the millions and millions of Americans who voted for the Democrats thought about any fucking thing, or that it didn’t move with alacrity to trim back the filibuster whenever it wasn’t convenient to its own goals, so the special pleading here doesn’t move me. Third: 74 million Americans voted for Trump and also polling tells us there are clear majorities in the American population for things Biden wants to do, with respect to health care and climate and human rights and so on, which is to say the GOP is to the right of the people who vote for them (or at the very least, they people they represent), which makes sense, because, again, at the moment the GOP is a billionaire-funded white supremacist organization. Fourth: The filibuster is a guideline, not a rule, which is to say it’s not constitutionally mandated, it’s a thing the Senate decided to do for its own reasons, which, if you look into them, are mostly not good reasons.

Finally: A Republican president, aided by a substantial chunk of the GOP in the Senate and the House, just tried to overturn a legal election because they didn’t like the result, and a large portion of the party still can’t admit that Joe Biden won the election fair and square. You know what? 74 million voters deserve better than the current GOP for their representation.

So, yeah, really not feeling the “but 74 million voters” whine right now. The national GOP needs to spend time in the fuckin’ wilderness, as far as I’m concerned, and the removal of the filibuster would be the absolute bare minimum of the penalties they ought to accrue. Those “74 million voters” would probably be just fine with the majority of what Biden would do for them, if the filibuster were not an impediment.

That said, I don’t actually expect the Democrats to get rid of the filibuster entirely, because when have the Democrats ever done anything the GOP would happily do in an instant if their roles were reversed. So we’ll see what happens next, I suppose. And I guess there’s always budget reconciliation if it comes to that.

You don’t sound all that optimistic.

I mean, I’m not unoptimistic? Look, just the fact that our executive branch is no longer headed by, or majority staffed from the ranks of, incompetent racist grifter chucklefucks, is a huuuuuuuuge load off my mind. I’ve had two whole days of not worrying about what awful, undemocratic-and-likely-fascist thing the president and his pack of malignant fuck-knuckles are up to today, and it’s delightful. Now, for example, if Stephen Miller wants to separate babies from their parents, he’ll have to attempt to do it himself, and the mental image of the absolute asskicking that would ensue from that keeps me warm at night.

In a larger sense, look: it’s hard to create during chaos, and four years of constant chaos took its toll on me and my ability to just sit down and shut out the rest of the world. And I am, as I remind people frequently, a well-off cishet white dude; how anyone further down the privilege pyramid got anything done in the same span of time is beyond me. I did get work done, and other people did too, but it wasn’t as congenial a process, shall we say, as it could have been. Now I have a few years — hopefully! — of not just “no chaos” but of actual, boring, unremarkable governance. I’m looking forward to not feeling like I need to witness the world breaking on a daily basis. I’m excited about the work I can do in that state.

Again, I fucking hate that “boring governance” feels like a balm and a gift, instead of just the way things are. But it is what it is. What I hope from a Biden administration is that, regardless of people’s politics, everyone will look around at the not-chaos that his administration offers and goes “I want more of that.” Maybe not of Biden, if you’re not a Democrat, but his similarly not-dramatic counterpart on the other side of the aisle (hint: Not Cruz. Not Hawley. Both of those motherfuckers need to be drummed out of the Senate).

Speaking of work, are you going to get back to it now?

Yes! I mentioned earlier I needed to get to the inauguration and then a little bit past it to see how I felt about things. And like I said, I feel not bad at all. And, uhhhhhhh, I still have a book due, which is now late. So the plan is to, if not disappear, at least make myself more scarce until the book is done.

I’ll miss you.

Thanks. That means a lot, coming from a fictional interlocutor.

— JS

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Uncategorized

I Forgot to Update Earlier, So Again, Here’s a Picture of a Cat

Look, it was a busy day! Hope it was a good one for you.

— JS

Categories
Big Idea

The Big Idea: Alexander Weinstein

Is love feasible in this bleak world we live in? Is connection possible in a world where everyone seems so blatantly disconnected from each other? Author Alexander Weinstein says it is! Read on to see how he expresses a hope for love in this world in his newest release, Universal Love

ALEXANDER WEINSTEIN:

In the early years of the new millennium, we often worried about our battery life. We needed outlets, power banks, rubber sleeves with extra juice. We asked shopkeepers about passwords, made sure there was wi-fi flowing through the atmosphere of every place we settled, and found charging stations at the airport where we could sit, wires stretching our bodies to small islands of electricity as other wires hung from our ears. From the fortresses of the Social Media empires, they stressed that the addictive apps they provided us with were all about connection. We were one global community, they said, as we sat scrolling through our phones, alone on busses and subways, laughing silently through lol echo chambers, our faces reflected in the selfies and dead screens of our smartphones. 

We weren’t alone—it seemed everyone was looking for connection. And it wasn’t just electricity we needed. We wanted human connection as well.  It was, after all, what the internet had promised us. We were searching for love. And if we couldn’t find that—then sex at least. There were plenty of apps to find the latter, all advertised with promises for the first. And as we scrolled through face after face, trying to open our hearts, we also learned to swipe people into the trash more quickly. We went on hopeful dates, and when we were in the bathroom, our dates scrolled through messages from other, hopeful dates. We unfriended. We blocked.  We ghosted. We deleted our dating apps, sickened by the emptiness of seeking love online and endless unsolicited dick pics, and then we uploaded the very same apps a couple weeks later.  

As a speculative fiction writer, I find the ways our lives, hearts, and families are being rewired by cybernetics both fascinating and worrisome, and it was the omnipotence of our internet culture alongside our secret hopes for love that led me to write the stories in Universal Love. Because though our interactions had become increasingly robotic (monetizing algorithms & getting-more-clicks are now legitimate personal goals), I sensed that we were yearning, more than ever, for real human connection, and it seemed that beneath all our clicking, scrolling, emailing, and endless messaging, there was a deep need for love arising in our culture. 

Speculative fiction often begins with a what-if.  What if we tried replacing lost loved ones with holographic replicas?  What if we purchased sentient robotic children and they began to use drugs like regular teenagers?  What if the world became flooded from global warming and a father and son were stranded on a small island with diving gear, exploring the drowned world below? Such what-ifs conjure vast landscapes, and part of the pleasure of writing is the world-building these stories demand.  And yet, speculative fiction cannot simply rely on a premise or it risks sacrificing character. For my stories to succeed, they have to go deeper than simply a what-if plot/premise; they need to explore the hearts of the characters. To achieve this goal, I must intertwine something that I deeply care about—my fears, hopes, and dreams—and give them to the very characters within the stories. 

This doesn’t merely deepen the stories, it deepens the mystery of the writing process itself, because the what-ifs suddenly take on new lives as much more meaningful metaphors. A story about children getting cybernetic brain implants to telepathically access the internet (We Only Wanted Their Happiness) suddenly becomes a way to speak to the struggles of limiting our children’s data usage. Holographic parents reveal a truth about the mystery of my own parents and the importance of connecting deeply with the people I love. And a father and son diving for buried treasure is secretly also a tale of watching my teenage son prepare to sail away for college, and the treasures I hope he takes with him.  

Writing about love is challenging.  There’s always a risk that the work will be overly sentimental, cliché, or schmaltzy. The process itself requires a great deal of vulnerability.  For writing about love is similar to loving in real life, it requires opening your heart, and part of the writing process for Universal Love involved finding ways to tap into the deepest parts of my own tenderness. I found these moments through my life as a father, as a partner, through yoga and meditation, and by listening to music which directly works to open the heart (such as Krishna Das and Nada Sadhana).

Interestingly, heart-filled writing is not always good writing. I tend toward the ecstatic too easily in first drafts, and when I do, my language becomes overly verbose and epiphanic. Unlike learning to love in real life, the editing process involved a great deal of holding back, allowing the element of love to remain beneath the surface of the stories rather than always being openly expressed on the page. My challenge was maintaining the humanity of my characters while realistically portraying their struggles within a world which has often gone awry. And though I may want my characters to find love, transform, and transcend, I often had to cut overly happy endings from early drafts. The robotic children in my story, Childhood, were indeed addicted to smoking their own emotion chips, the children of We Only Wanted Their Happiness had learned to use their brain-implants for authoritarian power over their parents, and the air in Beijing was nearly unbreathable, forcing my characters to choose between air tanks or food.  

In this struggle of portraying both love and grief, there’s a truth about being alive. For as much as I’d like to write about the beauty of parenthood, I’ve also failed in the battle against my son’s data-usage and we’ve had the teenage fights all parents struggle with. And right alongside my memories of those fights, are memories of a snowy Michigan day, when I found cross-country skis and my son and I set out together through the woods, huffing and happy as we struggled to learn.

It’s this constant back and forth, between moments of grace and the battle against losing our human connection that fuels my writing. Because within the dark political and cybernetic frontiers of our increasingly digitized reality, there’s simultaneously a great wealth of human kindness. It’s present when we gather together to listen to musicians at concerts, or hear poetry readings, or in the hugs of our friends and family at the in-person gatherings we once went to. During this pandemic, our choices to stay inside—alone and online—also demonstrate a love for others, and our human connection has emerged in beautiful ways.  In Italy, when people stepped onto their apartment balconies to create a cross-balcony concert together, or when a lone trumpet player played “Imagine” for a morning solo—what was revealed was the beauty of the human heart, projected on all of our screens to see. 

Beneath the robots, holographic parents, and virtual-reality-love-making couples of my speculative worlds, are stories of my own life. The challenge for me has always been to give my fiction a piece of what I hold sacred.  Sometimes its fatherhood, kindness, or compassion, other times it’s the vulnerability of heartbreak, grief, or the nostalgia of parenthood, where one day your child is holding your hand, and the next they’re waving goodbye.  These are the hearts of my characters, and the work of every story I write is to risk such truths in my fiction. While my near-future landscapes are sometimes dystopian, the stories in Universal Love believe a deeply utopian idea: that we can care for each other more deeply, that we can love one another more fully, and that we can work together to make this world a better place.

—-

Universal Love: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Bookshop

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s website. Connect with him on Instagram. 

 

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Uncategorized

Housekeeping 1/20/21

Small note here that thanks to the lovely people at WordPress, there are a couple minor improvements that have been implemented here today. The first is that now each post has a byline up top, so that you’ll know who is writing a piece even without our pictures and our initials at the end. I think we’ll probably keep up the “picture and initial” practice for now at least, but if we forget and/or write a piece too short for a photo, you’ll still know right away.

The second is that the individual post pages will also feature bylines and dates at the top, which was a thing that temporarily went away when I picked this new theme. I’m very happy about this.

The third thing is that comment preview is back, albeit slightly in a slightly different form than it was before. You’ll see the ability to check your comment when you track down to the comment form, and you’ll be able to switch back from one format to the other. I hope it’s useful for you (here’s a hot tip, whether you use the new form or not: Read your post aloud before you post it. You’ll catch more errors that way. It’s what I do).

Hopefully these small but useful changes will make the site easier to use for those of you who come visit it directly. Enjoy!

— JS

Categories
Athena Scalzi

A Brief Installment Of Plant Based Food Reviews

As some of you may know, I used to be a vegetarian. In fact, I was a very strict vegetarian for about five years before I stopped on my eighteenth birthday. I don’t know why I stopped; some part of me just got bored of it, I guess. I just was tired of putting in effort. But now that it’s been a few years, my morals are reinvigorated and I feel ready to make a new change!

Lately, I’ve been thinking of being vegan. Maybe not completely cold turkey style, like I did when I became a vegetarian. But I would definitely like to cut down on my animal product consumption, if not cut it out of my diet completely.

One of the main problems for me, though, is that I don’t particularly like any substitutes for the real things. When I was vegetarian, I rarely ate fake meat, because I didn’t especially like it. Sure, there are some fake chicken nuggets or sausages here and there that taste alright, but to me it wasn’t really worth it go through all the trouble of eating fake meat when I could just, not. I was totally fine with that.

With milk, it’s a different story. I love milk, whole milk especially, and don’t even get me started on chocolate milk! In my pursuits as a vegetarian, I dabbled with the idea of being vegan, so I tried some milk alternatives. I hated all of them. Soy milk, almond milk, oat milk, rice milk, coconut milk, I couldn’t stand to drink any of them, or even use them in cereal. I even tried chocolate soy milk and I still didn’t like it. Even when I got the sweetened or vanilla versions of these milk substitutes, they just didn’t cut it.

That being said, in my newest pursuit for veganism, I decided to give milk alternatives a shot again. There had to be at least one I could tolerate, right?

Well, the other day, I happened across an ad for a new almond milk, Simply Almond. I had had the Simply brand of beverages many a time before; their orange juice, apple juice, lemonade, watermelon juice, etc. So to see them make a milk of some kind really threw me off.

I was skeptical to try it, but I picked up one of the vanilla ones anyway, which looks like this:

I’m not kidding when I say this is the best plant based milk I have ever had. Not only do I tolerate it, I actually really enjoy it! This almond milk is very good, and I can absolutely see myself making the switch from regular milk easily. It’s perfectly sweetened, creamy, and doesn’t taste significantly off like all others I’ve tried. I really recommend giving this a shot if you have been a milk-alternative hater for years, like me. This is the shining beacon in a world of dark fake milks.

While I was at the store picking this up, I also thought about how I would never be able to give up eggs. Even when I was vegetarian, I ate them, because I didn’t really count them as meat. I seriously love eggs, cooked in any style. Scrambled, omelet, fried, poached, deviled, hard-boiled, soft-boiled, they’re all amazing! They’re so cheap and easy and you can do so much with them.

Clearly, I was dreading giving them up. That’s when I saw this egg substitute.

JUST Egg. The packaging looked appealing to me, so I decided to give it a try, as well. And I was very pleasantly surprised! These cooked exactly like regular scrambled eggs, as evidenced here:

Tell me those don’t look like some regular ol’ scrambled eggs (yeah, I might’ve overcooked them, but I do that with regular scrambled eggs, too (I fear salmonella!)). Not only do they cook like and look like the real thing, but they taste like it, too! Sure, there’s a little bit of a difference, but it’s not even in a bad way, like these honestly taste really good!

While I definitely feel like I could absolutely make the switch from regular eggs to this alternative, it is a bummer to me that you can pretty much only make scrambled eggs with it. It comes as a liquid that you pour into a skillet, and you can scramble it or make it into an omelet. While that’s great and all, you could never make something like poached or deviled eggs with this, which are like my two favorite kinds.

When it comes to veganism, I worry about baked goods a lot. How can you make delicious baked goods without milk and eggs? Most milk alternatives are too thin to replace milk in recipes efficiently, and I didn’t even know about egg alternatives until the other day. Thankfully, both of these brands’ websites have a recipes page. While the Simply one doesn’t have any recipes for their milk alternatives yet, I would imagine they will soon, since their almond milk pretty much just launched. So I’ll check back with that later. However, the JUST one has many a recipe showing you ways to use their product, including oatmeal chocolate chip cookies!

So, yeah, I’m really glad I found these two products. I was very skeptical of both of them, but they turned out to be amazing, and I know if I do decide to go vegan, or at least cut down on animal products, these will both be essential parts of that.

Have you tried either of these? Are there any milk/meat/ice cream alternative brands you’ll swear by that I should check out? Let me know in the comments, and as always, have a great day!

-AMS

 

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Uncategorized

So Begins the New Year and Era

Because, after all, it was not 2021 until noon today. Now it is. And while there was much good to take away from the inauguration of President (!) Biden (!) and Vice President (!) Harris (!), this is the moment that will stay with me, from Amanda Gorman. All the tears I wasn’t yet crying went out here. This was a good day for our nation. Hopefully one of many.

— JS

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Uncategorized

The Unlamented Man

First and always, a liar.

Then a con man, a thief, and a grifter. A man who never saw a venture he couldn’t make fail, which is why he was always starting new ones: It was easier to jump to a new ship than stay with the sinking one. A cad, a harasser, allegedly a rapist. He treated women like they were disposable vessels for anxious manhood and was loved by the “family values” contingent for it, because they see women the same way he does. A racist, a bigot, a white supremacist. He saw neo-nazis march in Charlottesville and some part of his brain knew then that he had found his shock troops for an insurrection. A bully, a boaster, a braggart. He looked up to the worst leaders in the world because he wanted what they had: To be unquestioned, feared, and obeyed.

A bad man, a bad human, a bad person. And a bad president.

Not just bad, of course: In fact, the worst. A recitation of his moral failures and actual probable crimes would have us here all day, so let’s pick just one: 400,000 dead, so far, from COVID during his presidency. He is not responsible for the virus. He is responsible for denying its seriousness; for choosing to downplay it because he thought it would make him look bad; for making something as simple and useful as wearing a mask a political issue; for bungling a national response to it and then the distribution of medical supplies and, later, vaccines; for spreading misinformation and lies about it; for, fundamentally, not caring about his fellow Americans, and viewing the pandemic through the lens of him, not us. Hundreds of thousands of Americans who are now dead would be alive under a better president. Their deaths are on his hands, and he simply doesn’t care. He never will.

If there is a silver lining to any of this, it is that he was never popular, never the choice of the majority of Americans. He lost the popular vote in 2016; his electoral win came from razor-thin margins in a few states. This was enough to legitimately make him president, thanks to an electoral system rooted in having to accommodate slaveholders, which still disadvantages the descendants of the slaves. But he was never the people’s choice. He knew it and it rankled him. He was reminded of this fact every day of his administration, because never once did the average of his popularity polls crack fifty percent: indeed, according to FiveThirtyEight, which tracked it for his entire presidency, it never even cracked forty-six percent approval. There has been no president in the history of modern polling who was as unpopular in their first term for as long as he was.

This was how he, in turn, lost the House, the presidency and the Senate for the Republicans, even in a system that had been engineered over the years to value that party’s voters more. It takes effort for an incumbent to lose the White House, not to mention the legislature. He is the first in 80 years to lose it all.

But this silver lining is indeed just a lining to a very dark cloud. Americans are dead, the worst of us are emboldened, and our country’s standing in the world is at a historic low. One of the major political parties of our country simply abandoned what principles it had remaining to serve his will to power, choosing to abet his lie that a legal election had been tainted rather than to acknowledge he had, bluntly and widely, lost. We are nowhere good right now, save for the simple fact that very soon, someone else will be president. We did not so much lose our way as we were driven to a terrible place and abandoned there. We have to wait for someone else to come bring us home.

He will be gone after today; indeed as I write this he is already gone, winging toward Florida to an uncertain future. It is alleged he plans a new political party; I imagine the impending lawsuits and criminal investigations will keep him busy enough. Most importantly, he will no longer be president. He will no longer have the levers of power to injure the nation as he has done for four very long years. He is gone, and his administration is gone, and all that is left of him is an enduring stain on the presidency and the judgment of history. The judgment of history, I assure you, will not be kind. Its unkindness has already begun.

Here is my hope for the man: That no one ever has to think about him again. That his capacity for injury is limited only to those who choose to put themselves in his path. There will always be some; some people can’t, or choose not to, learn. I leave them to their own fate.

But for everyone else, a blessed silence — not an expungement of memory but the knowledgement that this man, this sad, defeated man, this piteous though not pitied man, this liar, this bigot, this churl, this failure, never has to be thought on in the future. After all he has put this country through because of his own ego, it would be a perfect goodness to never again have to say his name.

We’re not there yet. But soon. Let it be very soon indeed.

— JS

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