Sermon for the Border

Read this lovely essay from my friend and colleague Casey Fleming. And then consider following her blog. When you read more of her work, you will be so glad you did.


I first crossed the U.S.-Mexico border in 1996, at 19 years old.

I took an airplane.

No passport required then, I presented my Texas Driver’s License at customs in Mexico City as documentation of my American citizenship. My purpose: to help run a day camp for the summer through a YMCA exchange program called Mano a Mano Sin Fronteras. Each day, I walked a mile from my host family’s apartment in the city center to the metro station, rose out of the subway system 40 minutes later to catch a bus that dropped me another mile-walk away from the community center in Naucalpan, an outlying barrio of the federal district, where I spent my days with Kristy and Luis, my peer volunteers, building a program from scratch.

For weeks I fought off back-to-back cases of dysentery as well as a buzzing terror that lived in my ribcage—everyone spoke Spanish…

View original post 881 more words

Forbidden Cookbook: Roasted Chickens with Root Vegetables

In response to Sarah Warburton’s blog posts this week about her family trying to eat more “food-shaped food” (as opposed to processed foods that come in boxes), I wanted to share my favorite roast chicken recipe. It takes a minimal amount of prep work and practically cooks itself, and it’s healthy as well as being delicious. In fact, once I learned how to dry-brine a chicken, it became my default way of preparing whole poultry, because it makes the bird so flavorful and juicy and tender. No more dry chicken!

When we make this recipe, we use two whole birds because Tiny Beowulf can eat half a chicken on his own when he’s hungry. (I wish I were exaggerating, but he’s seven and already bigger than his nine-year-old sister, who’s of at least average height. I’m not hugely tall, but I’m also not completely short, and he comes up to my chin.) But my point is that you can modify the recipe for one chicken. You can also reduce the amount of salt you use for dry-brining, if you wish, especially if you’re seasoning the poultry the day you cook it. You will find the way to your own tastes.


Roast Chicken and Root Vegetables


2 whole fresh chickens (minimally processed, or go organic if you can)

chicken broth

kosher or sea salt

lemon pepper

garlic salt

3 whole lemons (quartered, seeds removed if desired)

baby carrots (or sliced large ones)

celery (sliced and chunked)

small potatoes (peeled or not)

onion (quartered)

extra virgin olive oil


1.  Combine the salt, lemon pepper, and garlic salt in a small bowl.

2.  Rinse and pat dry the chickens. Patting them dry helps give them a crispier skin in the oven. Dry-brine the chickens with these seasonings up to one or two days in advance of roasting them and put them in the refrigerator, though you can season them the same day you cook them. You’ll need about ¼ tsp. salt for every pound of chicken; add garlic salt and lemon pepper to taste. (I’m generous, especially with the lemon pepper, which isn’t as strong as garlic salt.) Stuff the insides of the chickens with the lemon wedges. (Apologize to the chickens if you feel the need.)

Dry-brining is great because it allows the salt and seasonings to absorb into the meat and then lock in flavor and juices. If you let it rest in the fridge for a day or two, you can observe over time that the chicken will look at one point as if it’s sweating. Do not be alarmed. This is part of the “moisturizing-flavorizing” process. (But don’t take my word for it. You can learn more about this process by doing a Google search for “how to dry brine a chicken” and let yourself be dizzied by the array of experts offering their guidance.)

3.  When you’re ready to cook the chickens, pour a shallow bath of chicken broth into the bottom of the baking dish. Toss in the carrots, potatoes, onion, and celery around and under the chickens. Brush olive oil over the tops of the chickens; coat them well.

4.  I use a convection oven, but you can do this in a regular oven, too. Roast or bake at 450 degrees for 15 minutes, uncovered. Then roast or bake at 450 degrees for 30 minutes, covered with a loose aluminum foil tent.

5.  Reduce heat to 375 degrees and continue to bake, loosely tented, until thigh meat (not next to the bone) reaches internal temperature of 165 degrees at least. In my convection oven, this usually takes about another hour to an hour-and-a-half when I’m cooking two chickens, but I recommend you start with 30 or 45 minutes and then just keep checking the temperature and adding on another 10-15 minutes each time as needed. After the first 30-45 minutes, remove the foil so the skin will gently brown and get crispy. Roasting or baking just one chicken may reduce your cooking times. The main goal is to make sure the bird’s internal temperature is safe.


I'm not a food photographer by any stretch of the imagination. Trust me, it's delicious.
I’m not a food photographer by any stretch of the imagination. Trust me, it’s delicious.


6.  Once the birds are out of the oven, let them rest for about five minutes before cutting them up. Serve with the root veggies and a lovely long grain and wild rice or ciabatta bread with butter. If you choose to roast just the chickens without the vegetables, serve with a salad, too.

Om nom nom!

If you make this recipe or have other tips or comments to share about dry-brining poultry or cooking chicken and vegetables, please post in the comments section below!

SkyMall Gems, 2014 Edition

SkyMall must be on to me.

They must have read my previous posts about their asinine merchandise (here and here) and decided to pull back on the cray-cray this year. But, of course, such habits die hard, and on my recent trip to Los Angeles, I found a few items to still make us gigglesnort at their inanity with relief that the business of creating overpriced chindogu for bored air passengers* is still alive and kicking its elevator-shoe-clad feet.

Sarah Warburton has provided commentary on these items, too, for your edification.





Seriously? Does anyone actually grill in the dark, in the middle of the night? That’s some serious cravings, dude. Are you living with a vegan** or something?


Sarah said, “This is what you give your dad when he doesn’t want any more ties.”



Singing Gondolier 


The catalog text reads, “Turn your pool into an enchanting Venetian canal.”


Sarah said, "That's awful."
Sarah said, “That’s awful.”


I guarantee it won’t do that.


And finally, continuing the SkyMall catalog’s curators’ unusual squirrel fetish…



Squirrel Tree Climber 


Because nothing says class like a weird animal sculpture. SkyMall specializes in these.


Sarah said, "Hahaha oh no!"
Sarah said, “Hahaha oh no!”




*  I am dismayed by the diminishing number of passengers I see reading every time I get on an airplane. To quote Handy and The Human Ton, “Read a book!” Like mine, which is coming out in August. (See what I did there? The requisite Shameless Self-Promotion Every Author Must Do, yet buried, hopefully in good taste, in a footnote.)


**  Nothing against vegans. I genuinely admire their resolve and commitment to social and ecological responsibility, especially when they don’t browbeat meat-eaters for not being vegan, too.

Electric Car Diaries: My Other Car is a Valkyrie*

Now that I’ve had The Red Ninja for almost a couple of months, it seemed appropriate to discuss, for those of you following along at home, what it’s really like, from a logistical (and to some extent financial) angle, to own an electric car like the Nissan Leaf. If you’ve been reading the other Electric Car Diaries (here, here, and here), then some of this information might already be familiar to you.

I still love this car. It’s enjoyable and comfortable to drive, and every time I pass by a gas station, I smile a little to myself. (Not smugly, though. Nope, not at all.)

Whenever someone finds out I have an electric car, the first question is almost always about the range on the car: how long can I drive on a single charge? An excellent question. Continue reading “Electric Car Diaries: My Other Car is a Valkyrie*”

Review of 1984 by Marie Marshall

Rather than give you my list of recommended reads all at once this summer, I’ve asked some other authors and readers to share their recommendations with you. They won’t all be this summer, either, because it’s good to read all year.

Our first book response is of George Orwell’s 1984 by the poet Marie Marshall. Check out her blog here to get near-daily doses of her absolute magic with language.


Nineteen Eighty-Four

George Orwell

(1949, Secker & Warburg, London; subsequently Penguin)


1984 by George Orwell, first edition cover


I have selected for your summer reading what must seem like a bleak, joyless, and pessimistic read. Moreover, it is the only work by a male writer from my shortlist, which included Harper Lee, Marilyn French, and Isabel Allende. However, if you have never read Nineteen Eighty-Four, you have missed the greatest political satire of the twentieth century. I’m using the term broadly but properly – satire is not necessarily supposed to make one laugh, and this book certainly won’t. Orwell once said that ‘The four great motives for writing prose are sheer egoism, esthetic enthusiasm, historical impulse, and political purpose’ and that ‘all art is propaganda’. In a novel which, superficially, is futuristic in the time when it was written, Orwell imagines a world where every political reality he witnessed in his life is taken to an awful, logical extreme. With the exception of a few items of technology, included in the story to reinforce its futuristic mis-en-scène, every aspect of politics and sociology in ‘Oceania’ and ‘Airstrip One’ in particular is based closely on something he has seen first-hand in wartime Britain or in revolutionary Barcelona after the Stalinist takeover, or by arms-length observation of the Soviet Union, the Third Reich, and changing attitudes to them in ‘the West’.


The protagonist, Winston Smith, is a minor functionary within the ‘Ingsoc’ Party machine. He is not a mindless devotee of the Party, however, as there is a nagging doubt in the back of his mind that he can’t find the right words or mind-pictures to express. This state of mind is a dangerous one, as it represents ‘thought crime’ – treason without utterance or action but merely by concept, the ultimate political crime. The focalized narrative traces his covert attempts to find out what life was like before the revolution that changed Britain forever, and to find some way of articulating his opposition, even in an ineffectual way such as cursing ‘Big Brother’, the Party figurehead, by writing ‘Down with Big Brother’ over and over again in a notebook, like a naughty schoolboy writing lines. Winston is diverted by Julia, a young woman who, although superficially an enthusiastic Party member, secretly subverts the system with her predatory sexuality. They become lovers and enjoy some respite from the tedium and deprivation of everyday life, until their eventual, inevitable capture and torture by the ‘Thought Police’. Winston’s interrogation is harrowing, and his eventual epiphany tragic.


On its publication, Nineteen Eighty-Four was seized on by the right as a condemnation of communism. Never has a point been so surely missed! Yes the term ‘Ingsoc’ is a contraction of ‘English Socialism’, and yes the Party represents itself as ‘socialist’, but against their own rhetoric the Party ‘rejects and vilifies every principle for which the Socialist movement originally stood, and it does so in the name of Socialism’ (my emphasis). Orwell never repudiated his own socialism, having fought in a socialist militia during the Spanish Civil War. His true target in the novel is the betrayal of those principles for which he fought. Winston Smith’s interrogator puts it succinctly and cogently:


The German Nazis and the Russian Communists came very close to us in their methods, but they never had the courage to recognize their own motives. They pretended, perhaps they even believed, that they had seized power unwillingly and for a limited time, and that just round the corner there lay a paradise where human beings would be free and equal. We are not like that. We know that no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it. Power is not a means, it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship. The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power.


Those last three words – didn’t I hear Cersei Lannister quote them in Game of Thrones? Now that is what I call a legacy! With the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact, and the rehabilitation of the People’s Republic of China to state-sponsored capitalism, the twenty-first century world is very different from Orwell’s perceived three power-blocs. However, drill down into the principles of wielding power in neo-liberal capitalism, and in the politics, propagandizing, and ultra-patriotism of the more powerful nation-states today, and you will see that the object of power is still power. And in that fact lies the persuasiveness and continuing relevance of this novel.


1984 by George Orwell


There are long passages of Nineteen Eighty-Four that take the reader out of the narrative. Mainly they are supposed sections of an anti-Party book written by the Trotsky-like Emmanuel Goldstein. In these passages reside Orwell’s most direct instrumentalism, his analysis of power; in the narrative the effect of power is shown, in the Goldstein passages the realities of power are explained. Don’t skip them.


One of the most interesting inventions of the novel is ‘Newspeak’, the simplified English with which the Party hopes to obliterate the basis of dissenting thought. Ironically it is based on Orwell’s own ideas for clarifying English usage, but in creating Newspeak he took away his own safeguards. As an invented lexicon it has probably never been bettered in fiction. Only Anthony Burgess’s ‘nadsat’ slang in A Clockwork Orange (1962) is at all comparable. Before Orwell, only a handful of academics dealing with what is now called ‘semiotics’ or ‘semiology’ appreciated the power of words to shape thought. Other incidental ‘inventions’ include the helicopter gunship and, most importantly, the culture of surveillance. If Orwell could see how tamely we have accepted ubiquitous cameras, the collection of data from every click of the TV remote and keystroke of the computer, satellites and spy-drones, the voluntary electronic-tagging in the GPS chips of our phones and tablets, he would be aghast and wonder why we had not taken his warning to heart. In our case it’s not that we can’t turn off the surveillance that is closest to us, it’s that we have been persuaded to volunteer not to.


Every day we are told what to think and how to think it. In that respect Orwell’s vision is relevant today. Please read this book, I can’t recommend it too highly. If you can’t bear the idea of its obvious didacticism, then read it as the personal tragedy of Winston Smith. It does have qualities that draw a reader into its narrative, and it has one of the most famous opening sentences in fiction.


1984 by George Orwell


Alternative choice: If you like good, modern detective fiction, and in particular Scandinavian ‘noir’, start reading the Harry Hole series by Jo Nesbo. Start with The Bat (1997), which is actually set in Australia, and work your way on from there – you’ll find it compulsive reading.




You can read my review of Marie Marshall’s collection of poetry Naked in the Sea by clicking here.

Interview with Russ Linton, Author of CRIMSON SON

So this week I’m reading Crimson Son by Russ Linton. It’s funny and poignant, about the teenage son of a super hero. And even though this novel would be classified as “genre fiction,” it so far has the hallmarks of good literary fiction: tight writing, solid story, layered characters, excellent pace. (We can get into why I think “lit-fic” and “genre-fic” should come out of their respective fabricated corners and start kissing and making up at a later date.)

Russ generously accepted my request for an interview, so here you are, dear readers. Enjoy. (Oh, and you might notice a tidbit or two about his next novel buried in his comments, too.)


Describe Crimson Son in 15 words or fewer.
The powerless son of a superhero’s emotional journey through his father’s secret world.
All genres have conventions and tropes which, when handled with finesse, can be executed beautifully even though they’re familiar.  What was the most interesting thing you learned about your genre while working on Crimson Son?
I embraced tropes in Crimson Son. Since the focus was on the powerless, the superheroes and villains are exactly what they always are — bigger than life, quasi-celebrity, borderline stereotypical personas. Almost like a pantheon of greek gods, they are forces of nature or perhaps, part of the setting. The POV is zoomed in on the real, and fragile people that get mixed up in this world. As a genre, I learned that superhero fiction has no genre! I’ve seen it under science fiction, I’ve seen it under fantasy and even urban fantasy at that. On Amazon, superhero lists as a category for paperback books but not eBooks. It is a very much a cross-genre topic and that’s one thing that drew me to it.
What’s your favorite aspect of your protagonist’s personality?
He’s a bit like me. A smart ass with an occasionally colorful vocabulary and a love for geekery. I wasn’t interested in delving too far into “the other” with my first novel. My next novel though, well, I go to a bit of an extreme.
Describe your writing process and/or your day-to-day writing life.
I’m a pantser. I sit down and type and see what happens. As the story develops, I do get a sense for the direction I want it to go (or it wants me to go, not sure which) but even then, I let spur of the moment decisions surprise me. I keep writing and taking in sections to my crit group each week until I get a first draft under my belt. I’m usually shooting for 1000 words a day so I get pretty far ahead of the weekly crit group. Once I feel I’ve completed a draft, I take a bit of a break, rope some people into reading it, and then tear things apart based on my own reflections and their critique. After draft 2 or 3, I round up some beta readers and depending on their feedback, dive in again.
With the release of Crimson Son, I find my daily writing life is out of whack as I navigate marketing and other unfamiliar territory. However, I’m still plugging away at my current novel and hope to be done by the end of this year.
Authors usually have lots of influences that inspire them. What book or author have you found to be most influential. Why do you choose that one out of all you could pick from?
The first books I ever read that left a lasting impression were Lewis’ Narnia series, especially The Magician’s Nephew. I was so entranced by Lewis’ style, imagery and even the British spelling of things, it sunk deep into my subconscious.
I didn’t realize how deeply that story affected me until I launched this full time writing journey and sat down to re-read that book. I’m not an overly emotional person, but I got a bit misty-eyed when I read the description of the Wood Between the Worlds after so many years. When the children surface in a new world, you realize that they came from a single pool and the wood they left behind is filled with more and more pools and the possibilities are endless. He created a place where every writer stops before picking a pool and jumping in head first.
I have a few nods to this book in my current fantasy piece which has the working title, First Song.
You’ve elected to go the self-publishing route with Crimson Son. What’s been the most rewarding part of this process? What’s been the most frustrating?
Most rewarding is hearing people’s reviews of my book and seeing that my work has affected them in some way or that they clearly understood the ideas and themes I was trying to convey. As a writer, your work always sounds good to you (or terrible for that matter) so having the connection between written word and reader affirmed is the the most rewarding thing I can imagine. Of course, this happens with traditional authors as well, but in the self-publishing process there is no giant corporation between myself and the reader. I can’t sit back and wait for a marketing machine to make something of my book, I have to be in the trenches every day and talk directly to the reviewers and readers who have connected with my novel.
Most frustrating is the snobbery I’ve encountered for traditionally published works. Many reviewers are reluctant to even look at self-pubs. I get it, I’m sure they’ve been burned many times by poorly edited, poorly written stories that were rushed to press simply because the author “could.” However I have put much effort into making Crimson Son as professional as possible. The quality, I feel, could rival many traditionally published works — from the meticulously edited manuscript down to the professional cover and quality paper the text is printed on. Overall though, it makes me want to work harder to share this story with the world and prove that I can hang with the best of them.
What three pieces of advice would you give to writers interested in publishing?
One — Don’t rush the process. Way too often people hit “publish” before the book is ready. Professional editing, line and copy, is essential (developmental you can perhaps handle with a solid crit group). Keep editing until you get to the point where you think “oh, I need to do this” and when you check, you find you’ve already done it. You owe it to your potential reader to provide a solid story.
Two — Whatever you do, don’t design your own cover. Find a pro, preferably someone who has designed book covers before. The old “don’t judge a book by its cover” is perhaps the most oft-ignored piece of advice in the online marketplace. If a cover looks cheap or is unreadable at the tiny thumbnail size, your potential customer will ignore the book.
Three — Never assume you are going to upload to Amazon or B&N or whatever retailer and then sit back and collect royalties. This is equivalent to tossing your book in the ocean and assuming it will wash up on a shore and someone will read it. You have to hustle that book DAILY to make even a few sales and every sale counts. Building momentum for a book is tough and keeping it going, even harder. If you don’t plan to devote some time every day to selling your book, don’t bother placing it online.
It’s summer, and everyone and their hamster are doing “You Must Read This” book lists. What’s the #1 pick — other than Crimson Son, of course — that you think people should read this summer?
I’m reading the Bhagavad Gita to provide some inspiration for my current fantasy novel. I recommend picking up something outside of fiction and grounding your work a bit with it. On the fictional front, I plan to chase down some Ursula K. LeGuin this summer, particularly her Earthsea series which I have sadly never read.  I enjoyed the subtlety of her Tales from Earthsea and hope to write quietly epic fantasy like that someday.
In the fourth grade, Russ Linton wrote down the vague goal of becoming a “writer and an artist” when he grew up. After a journey that led him from philosopher to graphic designer to stay at home parent and even a stint as an Investigative Specialist with the FBI, he finally got around to that “writing” part which he now pursues full time.
Russ creates fiction in many genres. His stories drip with blood, magic, and radioactive bugs. He writes for adults who are young at heart and youngsters who are old souls.
Thanks again to Russ for sharing his expertise and experiences with us. Check out his blog here, where he has detailed more episodes on his journey to self-publication. You can find Crimson Son in most distribution channels, which are listed on his blog.