Small Business Saturday: Tarabusi Creek Cosmetics

Athena ScalziWelcome to another Small Business Saturday! In case you missed the last one, this is where I write about a brand/company that I have bought and tried products of. These are not paid promotions or instances where I have been given free items in return for a post about them. These are just things I have bought and consumed on my own time, and liked enough to talk to all of you about. So let’s jump right in to the second installment of Small Business Saturday!

Today I’m here to talk about Tarabusi Creek Cosmetics, a Michigan-based skincare brand that makes soaps, scrubs, perfumes, lotions, candles, and more! All of their products are vegan and homemade in small batches. I actually came across them on Twitter, and you can check out theirs here!

The soap here swirly black and white.

Like I mentioned, they make a wide variety of skincare products, and so far I have tried three of their soaps. I have almost never used bar soap in my life, I always use liquid body wash, but I’m seriously loving the bar life. One thing I hate about liquid soap is when it gets low or close to empty, you have to shake it like a fuckin’ ketchup bottle and squeeze the shit out of it. Bars are kinda nice because they just like, disappear and you don’t have to throw away the bottle, so that’s cool regarding like sustainability and whatnot.

The first one I bought was called Toasted, and I chose this one because it was the very beginning of fall and I wanted something that matched the season, and what better to do that with than soap that smells like cinnamon and pumpkin chai? I was really impressed with this soap! I loved the way it lathered and it also smelled super amazing. It lasted about a month and a half for me before I bought a new one, and the second time around I bought two bars!

The second one is called Sunburst, and it’s a much milder soap that’s not as strongly fragranced. I decided on this one because at the time I bought it, it was on sale, and who doesn’t love a good sale? It’s really simple and nicely scented. The third one is called Ren Fest, and this one has such a fun design! It’s all colorful and marbled, and you can really tell here that they’re handmade because no two bars are the same. This one was a little too “manly” scented for me, but it is a really nice scent if you’re into that! I’m more of a floral or classic clean scent person myself, but I still really like the quality of the third one.

So, yeah, be sure to check them out, try a soap or a scrub, or even a candle! I hope you have as good an experience with this brand as I have so far. Oh, and shipping was really quick, too! So that’s a plus.

Have a great day!

-AMS

 

Something To Listen To This Fine Friday

Today I have a song for you, and you may or may not enjoy it, but here it is regardless of your enjoyment levels.

I actually first heard this song because it was used as the background music for the season 7 trailer of Voltron: Legendary Defender. It’s quite fitting for that show, which I’m sure is why they picked it.

But anyways this is definitely a favorite of mine, I listen to it almost everyday or at least every other day, so I hope you like it! Let me know your thoughts in the comments, or if you have anymore “dark pop” genre recommendations similar to this. And have a great day!

-AMS

The Big Idea: Carrie Vaughn

When the main character is away, the side characters and antagonists will play! Ever wonder what goes on behind the scenes in a novel? Read on to hear about Carrie Vaughn’s newest book, Kitty’s Mix-Tape and see what lies beyond the first-person perspective.

CARRIE VAUGHN:

Sometimes a big idea is the culmination of a lot of other ideas. Sometimes, it happens toward the end of a process rather than at the start. 

I wrapped up my series of novels about a werewolf named Kitty five years ago. . .but I had some loose ends. A handful of short stories connected to the series that hadn’t yet been collected anywhere, some crazy rough drafts that needed finishing. . .  I wanted to pull them all together and get them out in the world. 

Collecting a decade’s worth of material is a chance to reflect on characters and a world I’ve lived with for quite a long time now (the first Kitty short story appeared in Weird Tales in 2001). How did I do? What did I miss? Would I change anything? Is there anything left to mine?

Heck, there’s always something left to mine! These are ideas, not molybdenum. They propagate. Short stories are the perfect form in which to explore maybe not big earth-shattering plots. But ideas. Weird ideas that don’t fit in a novel outline, that might not work stretched out over three hundred pages but might pack a punch at 30 pages. For example:  What happens when a werewolf goes to her 10 year high school reunion? I don’t know, let’s find out!

The novels were all written in first person point of view. First person is great for getting inside a protagonist’s mind, for intimately sharing their perspective, experiences, and emotional journey. It’s popular with many readers because it’s so immersive. But it has one big drawback:  you can only tell the reader what the main character knows. Their knowledge is limited to her knowledge. And it turns out a lot of Kitty’s friends—and enemies—weren’t very forthcoming with their own secrets and stories. Kitty kept asking and they kept not talking.

But I wanted to know what they were all about. Many of the short stories I wrote set in the Kitty universe are the back stories of other characters. (Rick the vampire needed his own whole collection, The Immortal Conquistador, which came out earlier this year.) What do these people do when Kitty isn’t around? A lot, it turns out. Not to mention the other random questions that come along. Like, it turns out if you’re writing a long-running urban fantasy series, and to relax from that you obsessively watch lush adaptations of Jane Austen novels because they’re the opposite of urban fantasy, eventually you begin to ask the question:  What would Regency society look like with werewolves? So yes, that topic gets covered here as well.

These are the Bonus Features. The Easter Eggs. I hope my long-time readers will enjoy these glimpses into other corners of Kitty’s world. I hope that through them, new readers will get a fine introduction to my series. Starting a fourteen-novel series is sometimes a big ask. But a short story? An appetizer? A taste? That’s easy, and new readers might just like it enough to ask for more.

So, that’s my Big Idea: short stories are gold. They’re my R&D department, my container garden where I can work on ideas that maybe don’t fit anywhere else. If I want to cut loose and shake off some cobwebs, run a sprint and not a marathon. . . I write short stories. And for readers, they’re a sample tray, a tasting menu, those delightful bites carried around by elegant servers at a high-end party. Or at least, I like to think so.

—-

Kitty’s Mix-Tape: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Visit the author’s site.

Today In “I’m Occasionally Reminded I Live the Life of a Hermit, Even Without COVID As an Excuse”

John ScalziI went into a bank for literally the first time in years. 

Why would I do such a thing? Because Krissy, who usually does our banking, is currently laid up recuperating from her foot surgery (she’s doing great, thanks for asking, but she’s not up to doing errands out of the house yet) and I had some checks I needed to deposit. And yes, I still get checks sent, because I like to see some physical form of my money before committing it to the banking system.

So, off I went to the bank, as part of a whole day of errands, which also included grocery shopping and going to the post office, two things I also do seldom, but not seldom as going to the bank.

And it was fine — I handed the checks over to the teller along with a deposit slip (which Krissy filled out in advance, because she’s good like that), she handed me a receipt and some cash that I has asked for, we made chit chat while the transaction was happening (she recognized my name and noted Krissy was usually the one depositing the checks), and we both wore masks as we did it, because neither of us are fucking monsters who wish to potentially infect other people with disease. It was all very civilized.

But as the headline suggests, it did remind me both how infrequently I get out of the house, not just now, when it’s best to stay at home unless you have a compelling reason to be elsewhere, but in general. I work from home and when I am home, and not traveling, I generally don’t have much call to wander. Krissy is the one who works out of the home, usually, so she handles most of the out of the house errands, if for no other reason than she is already out and about (well, there’s also the fact that I am notoriously lackadaisical about things and that if it were left to me, the checks and bills would pile up for months, and Krissy, who likes and expects order, would have to murder me. But never mind that right now). It’s a good system for the both of us.

It also reinforces how much I rely on my spouse for, well, lots of things. Which is why when she is unable to do things — or asks me to do pretty much anything — I snap to and pick up the slack as directed. Even when it means (gasp!) leaving the house, and walking into an actual bank.

Question: Is there some formerly regular task outside the home that you have not done for a very long time? It can be because of COVID, but it could also be just because. I’m curious to know.

— JS

The Big Idea: Amanda Bridgeman

Cover to

Ever feel like your tech knows too much about you? Like it’s literally in your head reading your thoughts? What if it was literally in your head? In Amanda Bridgeman’s newest novel, The Sensation, she explores a world in which neural implants are a reality, but much like the tech we have today, it might do more harm than good.

AMANDA BRIDGEMAN:

A discussion on our deepening relationship with technology has already begun in society. Whether it’s our spiraling addiction to social media, organizational data breaches or political hacking, many believe that technology is actually starting to make our lives worse, not better. We’re more hooked to our notifications than we are to our loved ones, and advertisers have harnessed our data to create powerful selling tools that know more about us than we do ourselves. That said, there’s nothing really wrong with being social online or buying things you want or need, right? But what if technology was used to control people in more overt and sinister ways? 

The Sensation, book 2 in the Salvation series, follows homicide detective, Salvi Brentt, as she hunts down sadistic killers in a world left divided by a tech-terrorist attack known as The Crash. In the wake of The Crash, which left early adopters of connected neural implants either dead or brain damaged, some elements of society turned their backs on technology and set up tech-free communities outside the cities. Some of these communities are religious, some are survivalist, some are neither. Meanwhile, those who remain in the cities, hold on to their tech tighter than ever and some even fight to have connected neural implants made legal again. 

In my previous book, The Subjugate, I explore the divisions created in this near-future society. Firstly, the division between those for and against neural implant technology (and technology at large). Secondly, the divide between saint and sinner; between organized religion and the penal system – and the places where these two worlds of control overlap. In this universe, Salvi investigates the murder of a young woman in a religious tech-pullaway community, Bountiful, which soon turns into a series of murders and the hunt for an escalating serial killer. The case is complicated, however, by a nearby high-tech prison, the Solme Complex, which legally uses neural implants to reform its violent criminals and then set them free in the religious community to serve and repent. But now women are winding up dead. So just who is responsible? Are these criminals truly cured?

The main idea in this book, which carries through into The Sensation, is on the use of neural implants to control people. In the case of The Subjugate, it’s to ‘cure’ violent criminals and stop them from reoffending. Essentially a tracking bracelet for the brain, the neural implants, attached to an external device worn on the skull, known as a ‘halo’, are used to analyze electrical activity in the areas of the brain that control such things as anger, violence and sexual arousal. When activity in these parts of the brain begin to spike, the halos act as a warning system – coding blue – which allows those around the offender to take the necessary measures before they can reoffend. And in a worst-case scenario, the implants can be used to subdue the offender. Between this ‘alarm’ system, chemical castration, and a healthy dose of religious repentance, these criminals should be tightly controlled, right?

I’ve always been fascinated with the ‘why’ of violent criminals, and a lot of research indicates a prevalence of neurological disorders that cause them to act the way they do (though one can’t ignore sociological or economic issues either). So, I explore the big idea of using this technology to possibly ‘cure’ violent criminals, but I also explore whether this cure, which essentially uses violence and oppression to cure violence and oppression, is the right answer.

And this same idea in threaded through into The Sensation as well. Though this time, I flip the idea on its head. Here the focus shifts back to the city (San Francisco) and a new drug-tech experience that has hit the streets, resulting in an epidemic of violence and a spiraling body count. I pose the question – if we can use neural implants to deaden the areas of the brain that control anger, violence and sexual arousal, what would happen if we used neural implants to intentionally heighten these areas? Could this be the ecstasy and methamphetamine use of the future, where the drugs are used in conjunction with neural implants that stimulate these areas of the brain to maximize their effects? And what would be the result? Some would use it purely for pleasure, yes; a drug-tech party experience that would blow everything that came before it out of the water. But in the wrong hands, without a doubt, some people would use it to control others in ways that could be incredibly detrimental to society. 

And what would happen if those seeking to control others with this technology had a lot of money and power behind them? Would they become an unstoppable force? Neural implants could be used to stop killers, but they could also be used to create them too…

So, these are the big ideas behind the Salvation series: the good, the bad and the ugly of our relationship with technology, and the desire for control – those who seek control over others, those who submit to it, and those who fight against it.

—-

The Sensation: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s 

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

Once Again, My Annual Unsolicited Appreciation Post, Regarding WordPress

The WordPress logo

Every year around this time I take a moment out of my day to express my unsolicited appreciation for WordPress, which, in October 2008 and after a particularly rough year keeping my site up and running due to surging traffic, helped me transfer Whatever over to their tender care (specifically via their VIP service). In the dozen years since, I can count on a single hand the number of times there have been any connection issues with the site, and in each case, they were resolved quickly enough that sometimes the only person who noticed was me. That’s good service.

These days, more than ever, I think it’s important for creatives, journalists and anyone else who wants to keep control of their own online presence to have their own website. For a dozen years WordPress has helped me to do just that. If you are looking for your own site online (or looking to revive a site you once had but let lie fallow), I can easily and enthusiastically recommend WordPress, which has all sorts of options available to fit whatever your need and/or budget. Check them out. They’re really worked for me, and I look forward to keeping the site going for another year, and beyond, with their help.

— JS

 

This Just In: I Shaved

Me, smiling, clean-shaven

Why? Because, one, I was bored of my face as it previously was, and two, it’s been a couple of years since I saw my chin, and I was wondering how it was holding up. Turns out, it’s holding up okay! Also, the last time I was clean-shaven I was about 30 pounds heavier, and I was curious how losing that weight would affect my face. The answer is: Some, but not a whole lot — I still have jowls, for example, which I think is a natural consequence of having a 51-year-old face. Barring plastic surgery, which I’m not currently inclined to do, the jowls are here to stay. So it goes.

Me being me, I couldn’t resist making goofy faces, either, as evidenced by the following tweet:

It turns out I have a fairly rubbery face. The world lost a very fine character actor when I determined that I can’t actually, you know, act. Luckily the writing thing is doing okay for me.

I think I’ll stay clean-shaven for a bit; I made the effort of shaving, after all. Seems a shame not to let my chin get some sun.

— JS

The Big Idea: C.L. Polk

The cover to

As C.L. Polk reveals in this Big Idea for her latest novel The Midnight Bargain, the state of affairs in our world can have a significant effect about the state of affairs in a fictional one… even if the connections are not immediately evident on surface of thing.

C.L. POLK:

When people talk about The Midnight Bargain, they say nice things about how it’s a romantic fantasy with sharp social commentary. I’m glad they do, because while I wanted to write a story with the flouncy dresses and big hairstyles of the 18th century, the true big idea behind The Midnight Bargain is an image that I’ve seen on more than once over the years: a woman, with the silver curls and don’t-give-a-fuck aura of a crone at a pro-choice rally holding up a sign that reads, “I Can’t Believe We Still Have To Protest This Shit.”

Because wow, I can’t believe we’re still fighting for the right to control our bodies. I am astounded that even today, a person capable of carrying and birthing a child will not have their wishes respected if they become pregnant, when they don’t want to be pregnant anymore (and I don’t care what the reason is!) that in many states in the U.S., they can’t end that pregnancy. If I think about it too long, I start clenching my fists.

When I’m angry about something, it usually winds up in one of my books. This time, I’m digging into the dark side of hereditary magic. When magicians are born and not made in a fantasy story, we all assume that magicians will occupy a special place in society–advisors to rulers, if not rulers themselves, or members of groups with the ability to manipulate power on multiple levels. It seems almost inevitable that magicians will wind up dominating whatever society they’re a part of.

But that’s not the dark side I’m talking about here. Because you can imagine a world where natural born magicians have shaped a society where magic users are expected to improve the lives of others, and all kinds of noble things that I’ve enjoyed reading about. I spent an afternoon thinking about the creeping influence of hereditary magicians on institutional power, and then stumbled into wondering–what happens to the mothers?

Let me back up a little bit. If someone is a magician living in a society where magic is an advantage, and some people are born with it, and other people are not, then they’re going to want to pass that on to their children, to give them the same advantages.

Right? I mean we see that all the time in our history. We know that most of the places in expensive, prestigious schools don’t go to the best scholars across the society, but to the children of alumni who also attended that school, sometimes for generations, regardless of how well they performed in school previously. We know that wealthy people generally had generations of wealthy people behind them. We know that working class people are less likely to hold political office than wealthy people. We know that people want their children to have all the advantages they can give them. I don’t think that the inheritance of magic would be any different from the inheritance of land or wealth or power. But what does that mean to the people who can carry children?

I am a bit of a pessimist. I can’t look at ages of sexist beliefs and practices that perpetuated themselves in society after society for thousands upon thousands of years and even entertain the idea that child-carrying people in a world with hereditary magic would be given a scrap of meaningful choice about how they put those bodies to use. I simply cannot. And so I am certain that the addition of hereditary magic would only mean more oppressive control placed on the people who can carry and birth children.

But I wasn’t sure that the simple cruelty of sexism was enough. And so, I tied the essential element of magic–the assistance of a spirit capable of altering reality in specific, individual ways–to the desire to have the home of a body. To feel, see, touch, hear, taste, and smell with a body. And that it was possible, if a spirit managed to inhabit a developing fetus at just the right time. Faced with this problem, a sexist society is simply going to find a solution that puts all the burden on the person capable of carrying the child. Sound extreme?

Okay. Go ahead and list ten methods you can use as a sexually active person to reliably prevent pregnancy in the 21st century, assuming that there’s a penis and a vagina in intimate congress. You have one minute. Go!

Time’s up! How many of those methods placed the responsibility on the person with a penis, compared to how many of those methods placed the responsibility on the person with a uterus? You probably came up with two – condoms and vasectomies. Any more? No?

That’s because there aren’t any. Oh, I know there’s a contraceptive pill that reached clinical trials that effectively stopped sperm production. Can you walk into your Wegmans and get it? No? Then it doesn’t really count, does it?

And that’s the simmering, terrible anger that lives under the flouncy dresses and genteel conversations in The Midnight Bargain – that some people bear almost all the responsibility of carrying and birthing children, and some people barely have to think about it at all, and it is that way because the societies we live in deliberately shaped themselves to be so. And if that wasn’t enough, the people who don’t have to worry about it have more personal and institutional power over the bodies of the people who do.

It infuriates me that we still have to fight for the most basic right to control our bodies. It enrages me that we still have to choose between career advancement and childcare when the chips are down–today, right now. I can’t believe we still have to protest this shit.

But we do. So here I am. And if this is where you are, please know I wrote The Midnight Bargain for you.

—-

The Midnight Bargain: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

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

Mars Through the Trees, 10/13/20

Tonight we’re as close to Mars as we’re going to be for a few decades. I thought I’d go out and get a picture of it. You can see it just barely clearing the trees here. It’s bright and beautiful and I’m glad I got to see it tonight. If you have time and a clear sky, go and take a look at it yourself. You won’t regret it.

— JS

How “The Good Place” Kinda Messed Me Up

Ponts from Athena ScalziDo you ever wonder about life after death? If you’ve ever seen The Good Place, you know that their version of the afterlife is based on a point system that determines a person’s goodness. When a person dies, they either have negative or positive points, depending on what they did in their lifetime, and that score determines whether or not a person goes to “the Good Place” or “the Bad Place”. It’s very much like a Heaven and Hell sort of thing, but without the religion/faith aspect and just based purely on if you were a good person in your lifetime or not.

For me, I’ve always believed there’s nothing after death. But I really like the idea that the only qualification for a nice eternity is that you’re a decent person. But it makes me wonder about how many points things are worth. In the first episode, they mention that you even get good points for making a sandwich! Does that mean that Subway workers get a shit ton of free good points? Is anyone who works at Jimmy John’s for ten years guaranteed to get into “the good place” even if they do a lot of bad stuff just because they’ve been racking up points for years?

I’ve only seen the first season of The Good Place, so maybe all of this gets explained later on (or maybe I just don’t remember since I watched it when it came out), but it really makes me wonder which actions are better than other actions? Is it better to give money to a person standing on the corner with a sign asking for help, or is it better to offer to buy them a meal? Is it better to volunteer at an animal shelter or adopt a highway? What gets you more points, helping an old lady carry groceries, or helping your neighbor change a tire?

Who is the decider of how many points something is worth? Who dictates what is a good action and what is a bad action?

Anyways, I’ve lived my entire life not believing in an afterlife, so I didn’t really think of whether or not my actions would affect anything like that, except maybe in the ways of like, “karma is a bitch”. But after watching The Good Place, I started thinking about the point value of every single one of my actions. Like obsessively. Would doing this make me go into the negatives? How close am I to zero right now? Would doing this give me a substantial boost of positive points? Of course, I didn’t actually base my decisions off of these thoughts, but they still nagged at me constantly, and still do, two years later.

I keep thinking, if I died right now, would I go to “the Good Place”? But I guess people often think that about Heaven and whatnot as well. I wonder if right now I’m in the negatives, or if I’ve been a good enough person in my life to be in the green, y’know?

I don’t want to say I’m worried about it, but it definitely makes me think. I want to be a good person so badly. But I worry that every good thing I do is actually just performative, that I do it just in case it gets me good karma. Just in case someone is keeping score. I want to be selfless and generous and kind, but if I do anything that is considered “a good deed” am I really doing it because I’m a good person, or am I doing it because I want other people to think I’m a good person? I mean, I do want people to think I’m a good person. But I don’t want that to be my only reason for doing “good” things.

In The Good Place (spoiler), one of the characters did a ton of good things in their lifetime, but she didn’t it for the right reasons, so she ended up in the bad place despite having done a bunch of stuff that should’ve gotten her positive points. I worry I’m like her a lot.

The Good Place legitimately made me reevaluate my life and all the choices I’ve made. Which is kinda whack. I definitely want to watch the other seasons, I just haven’t gotten around to it.

Anyways, have a good day!

-AMS

The Big Idea: Christen Carter

The cover to Button Power, which as you might expect has many buttons on it.

Few things in this world are as quirky a choice of fashion as a button, and according to author Christen Carter, few things encapsulate a story as well as one, too. This is their power — which might be why the title of the book Carter co-wrote with Ted Hake is called Button Power.

CHRISTEN CARTER:

I bought my first button when I was twelve – it was one of the first things I ever bought with my own babysitting money. This little Snoopy and Woodstock button made me feel like we were all buddies. As a teenager, I would wear punk buttons, hoping to find other people that were into the same weird stuff as me. And I did! These buttons told a story to the world about who I was, and what I valued, and helped me connect to others who shared those values.  Today, I still wear them to express my political views, support a cause, and just wear art that I like.

Coming from a DIY/punk scene which was all about community, I wanted to help give others the means to share something about themselves and connect with their own communities. So, in 1995, I started Busy Beaver Button Company, and since then we’ve manufactured over 50 million buttons. 

Along with making buttons, I’d been casually collecting them for many years. When I decided to create the Button Museum, I wanted to learn about the history of each button. My research led me to seek out an out-of-print book I had seen several years previously, Collectable Pin-Back Buttons written by Ted Hake in 1986, it’s still the bible for button collectors. It’s an incredible book, it shows a breath of styles and designs. I reached out to Ted and we became fast friends. To call Ted an expert is an understatement. He catalogued advertising and other popular culture buttons, basically created that button market for collectors. He’s been in the button dealing game for over 50 years. Ted and I both love the art and the stories (and the mysteries!) behind each button and we can talk about them forever. 

After working on this book solo for about 5 years, I asked Ted if he’d like to create the book with me since I was asking him so many questions anyhow and I was way in over my head. To my delight, he said yes. We decided to gather our collections and organize by year, starting in 1896 and continuing to the present. For each year, we wanted to make sure that we caught the zeitgeist of the moment as well as any big events that took place. Our requirements to be considered in the book were: 

  1. if the button was beautiful or nicely designed
  2. if it told a story of its time
  3. if it was dated, and 
  4. if it’s a “first” of anything, like, if it was the first band button

 Buttons may seem like a very niche, even quirky thing, but they can tell American history over the past 125 years like nothing else can. Buttons are a people’s history – they are mementos of personal pride, family reunions, and stupid jokes; sliced bread and electric mushrooms; punk rock and presidents; social justice, swimming lessons and space travel. They depict images that are both familiar and foreign. In their tiny format, buttons tell stories that are deep and wide.

In 1896, when the pin-back button was invented in Newark, New Jersey, it was really special to own a printed object; people weren’t as inundated with images as we are now. It’s fascinating how over time the messaging, the artwork, and the materials of buttons have changed to tell a story of what’s important to people and how we express ourselves.

Initially, Ted and I probably considered over 10,000 buttons before choosing the ones we wanted to include in the book. We ended up submitting 4,000 or so to the publisher. After lots of discussion and deliberations over each button, about 1,500 or so made the final round to be displayed in Button Power

Ted, Jonell (Ted’s wife), and I went on many buttony adventures that took us around the country. We got to see the backrooms of the Smithsonian and visit famed collections in Newark, NJ and at the Met. We also spent so many hours in his office not just talking about the buttons, but about the inventors, the various manufacturers, the social context of them, the materials, how companies advertised and sold their buttons. How many times did we say, “What a beautiful button”?! To go into something so deeply and to find someone who cares and much and knows so much is an amazing treat. Making this book is one of the most fun things I’ve ever done!

—-

Button Power: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Visit the author on Twitter.

The Last Tomato of 2020

To be clear, not the last tomato anywhere in the world, here in 2020. Merely the final tomato from our tomato plants, this year. Krissy has pulled up and cleared out the vines as part of her autumn overhaul of the plants and gardens. It was picked green and is ripening on our counter. At the moment, it looks pretty cool.

Hope you’re having a lovely Sunday wherever you are.

— JS

Smudge Meets Buckley

Buckley being the neighbor’s pup, whom they acquired a few months ago. He’s friendly and decided to come for a visit. Smudge was not impressed.

Ported over from Twitter because once again Flickr seems to be having issues. Come on, Flickr. Click on the tweet to see the whole photo. It’s pretty much a tableau.

— JS

New Books and ARCs, 10/9/20

Flickr, which I usually use to host my photos, is having some technical issues, so I’m going to post my tweet about this week’s new books and ARCs instead. Tell us what here interests you down in the comments!

— JS

Saved(?) By the Bell

Athena ScalziYesterday, I was driving past a local elementary school and I saw on their electronic sign out front the words, “Doors Open 8:25, Tardy Bell 8:35”. Ten minutes. They’re giving kids a ten-minute window to get into the school?

I know what you’re thinking, you could just drop your kid off before 8:25 and they could just wait outside for the doors to open, right? That’s fine for September and maybe even part of October, but as soon as winter comes, are you really going to have your kid stand outside for half an hour in twenty-degree weather?

Of course, this ten-minute window is a COVID-related change. Don’t ask me how it helps anything, but supposedly it does. But this post isn’t about COVID rules at schools, this is about late bells, and how fundamentally fucked up they are.

This is an elementary school we’re talking about. The students do not drive themselves. The students (unless they walk/bike) are completely dependent on adults to get them to school. So when a kid shows up, five minutes late, do you really think that was their intention? Maybe their mom overslept, maybe their friends’ parents that come pick them up had to stop and get gas, setting them back by three measly minutes that end up making the kids late. And what happens? They get in trouble. Legit discipline like detentions or being yelled at.

This isn’t some seventeen year old that stopped for iced coffee on the way to school and made themselves late. This is a seven year old child who isn’t at fault for their dad’s car not starting. Why are we putting the blame on literal children who are learning their fucking ABC’s for being five minutes late? Is it because it’s not like you can punish the adults at fault, so you just teach the child that the failings of others are on them?

As a kid, I can promise you that one of the things that made me the most distraught was when I got in trouble for something I didn’t do. When the kid next to me was talking and I was the one that got yelled at, despite me claiming innocence, that shit messed me up! That shit sucks, and the fact that we take the actions of adults and pin it on their kids is just wild.

Even if a kid is a walker/biker, and they’re ten minutes late, maybe consider asking them what happened that caused them to be late. Maybe they fell off their bike and sat there and cried for five minutes before continuing. Maybe their dog got out before they left and they were home alone and had to get it back in. There are so many circumstances that are out of a child’s control that we don’t consider. We just blindly dish out discipline because it’s all the school system knows: punishing children.

Back to the ten-minute window thing, don’t they realize how much pressure that puts on the parents? To time their morning perfectly enough to get their kid to school within a ten-minute window? Seems kinda tough to try to cram a couple hundred kids through one door in the span of ten minutes. The kids are there all day, for like eight hours, why not let them in at eight, or even 8:15?

I’m sick of the way we treat children like their lives don’t matter, their reasons for being late or even missing school don’t matter, just the fact that they are late/missed is what counts. We never cut kids any breaks despite them being LITERAL EIGHT YEAR OLDS. It’s weird. And wrong.

Anyways, my rant is complete. Have a nice day.

-AMS

Let’s Get Cooking

Athena ScalziAs many of you probably already know, I love cooking. I especially love baking, but both are great activities that I enjoy very much and have considered making a career out of. One of the things I’ve considered doing is food blogging, or cooking videos on YouTube or something of the sort! Or even just posting recipes and whatnot on here. Yet, I never do, and I want to talk a bit about why.

The thing about food bloggers, and the cooking/baking people I follow and watch, is that they’re always coming up with tasty new recipes, seasonal treats and exciting new weeknight dinner recipes. Like, coming up with as in creating themselves. Original recipes! And there lies my problem. Everything I make is someone else’s recipe. I just follow other food blogger’s recipes, I never create anything on my own.

In my experience, there are two kinds of people in the kitchen: those who guesstimate on ingredients, are okay to go with the flow and leave things out or add things in on a whim, who think it’s okay to just throw something in a 400 degree oven and eyeball it. Then there’s those who have to follow a recipe to a “T.” Those who will add in that 1/8th of a spice even if they don’t like that spice specifically because the recipe says to, and will not let something cook one minute longer than it’s supposed to, even if it doesn’t really look all the way done, because if the recipe says it, it must be right, and there is no room for changes or error. I happen to be the latter.

I can’t not follow a recipe. I’m not the type to just throw things together in a pan and see what I get. I can’t just gather up some things from my fridge and put it all in a monstrous burrito and call it a day. I need guidelines, instructions, precision. So, as a result, I can never create anything of my own making in the kitchen, and therefore I have nothing to share with you all.

However, I’ve been thinking lately that maybe I’ll just share with y’all some food bloggers I like and post pictures if I make anything of theirs? I know in 2018 I made a post about a food YouTuber I like called Binging With Babish, and I know some of you ended up following him and watching his stuff too, so that’s cool. I have a bunch more I could recommend if y’all are interested!

For now, I’ll just keep being the non-experimentalist person in the kitchen and stay away from concocting any crazy burritos. Have a great day!

-AMS

Quick Krissy Surgery Update

Krissy, today.

I noted yesterday that Krissy was going in for a minor surgery today, which I know prompted some curiosity and concern. Here’s the scoop: She had a bunion that needed attending to, and this morning she went in and they did whatever they needed to do to fix it. It was done in a couple of hours, there were no problems or complications, and she’s home now. For the next couple of weeks will be working from home, keeping her leg elevated, and tootling about the house with a knee scooter. After that she’ll be good as new. I took the picture above a few minutes ago; as you can see she’s doing fine.

That’s pretty much it! Except that both Krissy and I appreciate the good wishes folks sent her way. Thank you for those.

— JS

The Big Idea: Sean Patrick Hazlett

The cover to Weird World War III

It might not surprise you that the stories in the fantasy collection Weird World War III have at least some basis in reality — the Cold War actually was thing, after all. But what might surprise you is which things were based in reality. Editor Sean Patrick Hazlett is here to lay all the weirdness out for you.

SEAN PATRICK HAZLETT:

In August 2008, I got a frantic call from David, a former classmate. His parents were trapped in the Republic of Georgia during the Russian invasion. He had one question: how could they flee the country without stumbling into Russian troops? 

So I pulled out a map, analyzed Georgia’s topography, identified high value targets, and mapped battalion mobility corridors. After I finished my assessment, I told him where the Russians would send their forces, which Black Sea ports they’d blockade, and what airfields their airborne units would seize. I recommended his parents travel only on mountain backroads. For extra safety, I advised they use some unorthodox camouflage techniques on their car so Russian aircraft wouldn’t target them.

The kernel of the Big Idea for Weird World War III began over two decades ago when I reported for duty to the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment. Known as the Blackhorse, my unit served as the US Army’s Opposing Forces (OPFOR) at the National Training Center, an installation near Death Valley roughly the size of Rhode Island. The US military conducts wargames there with hundreds of armored vehicles and thousands of soldiers. The Army’s training philosophy is based on the old adage, “The more you sweat in peace, the less you bleed in war,” so the OPFOR’s mission was to beat the “good guys” so badly they wouldn’t make the same mistakes in combat. We fought so many simulated battles we became extremely proficient in Soviet doctrine and tactics.

But my fascination with the rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union began long before that. I was a child of the Cold War, growing up in the late 70s and 80s when the threat of nuclear annihilation loomed like a Sword of Damocles. I devoured thrillers like Tom Clancy’s Red Storm Rising, Ralph Peters’s Red Army, and Harold Coyle’s Team Yankee

During the Cold War, facts were often stranger than fiction. Dr. Ash Carter, my thesis advisor and Obama’s Secretary of Defense, once related an odd story about one of his early Pentagon assignments. Ensuring the survivability of a nation’s nuclear arsenal was and still is a bedrock of national security. To that end, the US and USSR relied on the nuclear triad of land-based ICBMs, submarine-launched ballistic missiles, and strategic bombers to guarantee second-strike capability. In the late seventies, a newly deployed generation of Soviet ICBMs were accurate and destructive enough to wipe out US ICBMs in their hardened silos.

To mitigate this risk, the Pentagon examined multiple basing modes for the MX missile no matter how absurd. One idea was to circulate MX missiles on continuously mobile dirigibles. Besides being slow-moving targets, airships were exposed to an even more direct threat: gun enthusiasts. Apparently, Goodyear blimps operating over rural areas in states like Ohio (Dr. Carter specifically mentioned that state) accumulated hundreds of shotgun pellets each year. Suffice it to say, the Pentagon ruled out this option.

As crazy as nukes on airships may have seemed, it wasn’t the weirdest aspect of the Cold War. Secret projects on mind control, remote viewing, and the investigation of unidentified flying objects all had their bizarre moments in the sun. The US government ran a slew of real programs such as MKUltra, Sun Streak, Grill Flame, Stargate, and Blue Book that explored these strange phenomena as the arms race extended toward increasingly esoteric ways of waging war. Weird World War III explores those ideas and many more. It’s a love letter to a bygone era, when the world was simpler, but the stakes were existential—where one errant signal could unleash the dominos of mass destruction. 

The Big Idea for Weird World War III was inspired by the fusion of two seemingly unrelated concepts. The first was to explore how a war between the US and Soviet Union may have unfolded. The second was to give that conflict a weird fictional flavor. Think Tom Clancy meets H.P. Lovecraft. After all, what is the existential threat of nuclear annihilation but another manifestation of cosmic horror? After discovering H.P. Lovecraft, I became so enamored with the weird fiction genre that I quickly migrated to the works of Clark Ashton Smith, Algernon Blackwood, Robert W. Chambers, and Thomas Ligotti, among many others. Having original stories from some of today’s most talented weird fiction authors like John Langan and Nick Mamatas builds upon that legacy.

This anthology also honors the Blackhorse Regiment and the troopers who’ve served with it. Both contributor David Drake and I rode with the Blackhorse—he, in Vietnam and Cambodia, and I, in the Mojave Desert training the US military for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is an homage to Blackhorse troopers like my friend and high school classmate, Captain Jay Harting, a brother-in-arms who’d died fighting with the Regiment in Iraq. Our daughters were born a day apart in the same hospital ward. Many of the soldiers he’d led in combat were the same soldiers I’d spent time with in the desert. 

Finally, Weird World War III is a tribute to Mike Resnick. A legend in the genre, Mike always made a point of giving back to the science fiction and fantasy community by taking new writers and editors under his wing. I consider myself one of his “writer children” as do several of the authors in this collection. It is with both great pride and profound sadness that I have the privilege of sharing one of his final stories in this volume. Mike’s advice and encouragement were instrumental in bringing this project to life. Without his guidance, this anthology would never have been possible.

Two weeks after my classmate’s call, David reached out to me again and said, “Sean, how the f**k did you know what the Russians were going to do?”

“For five years, I used their tactics against US forces,” I said, “and I can read a map.”

—-

Weird World War III: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Visit the editor’s site. Follow him on Twitter.