Almanac: A Soldier’s Duty – Theirs Not To Reason Why by Jean Johnson (Book Review)

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A Soldier’s DutyTheirs Not to Reason Why by Jean Johnson

The best military sci-fi/fantasy I've read since Ender's Game.


I have not read Jean Johnson’s best-selling series the “Sons of Destiny.” Not really my genre – although fantasy, it’s more romance than anything else – or so she even admitted at NorWesCon 35. However, I’m happy she’s come over to military scifi-fantasy with A Soldier’s Duty. Because this novel kicks ass. I haven’t read in this genre since Ender’s Game. At least I can’t recall doing so. But, Johnson, for all her civilian knowledge brings to light the real challenges, feelings, and bittersweet glories of being in the military. I even had to ask her at the Philip K. Dick Awards – just to make sure she didn’t have personal military experience. She hasn’t. She did admit to doing lots of interviews, discussions and research. She translated that research so well – even amongst the backdrop of having precognitive powers, heavyworld abilities and deep space wars – that you would think she’d abandoned a 17-year military career much as I had. There were moments her book took me back in time to my own military experiences – both good and bad. For those without service experience, her story within this genre is not weighted down with too many technical details or confusing and unfollowable acronyms, which I have found in other books of this genre (since a few have fallen in my lap since I discovered this tome in January). Her description of non-humanoid aliens are endearing, creative and believable.

Johnson’s prose displays shades of perhaps an ancient Celtic bard experience through the tale-through-song ability of her protagonist, Ia – bringing great moments of hilarity and calming smiles that every soldier needs both before and following battles.

The fact that I’ve read this book twice since January proves it will become one of my “comfort” novels. August cannot come quickly enough for the next in the series.

Harvest Creations: Early Strawberries and Heritage Rhubarb Pie — straight from the Thrasher Studio’s Urban Farm

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Heritage-V Rhubarb

Finally after creating the page where I can brag a little about what I have going on at the Thrasher Studio’s Urban Farm:  Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie.  But not just your average variety of that, oh no. We have early strawberries — the ones that are just so sweet because you forgot all winter how delicious strawberries are.

These early strawberries I actually got from another local farm because I was in the middle of still transplanting my strawberries into the repurposed pedestal sinks from Seattle’s Smith Tower. I now have a fabulous “strawberry tower” garden going on. More on that likely in another post.  We also have Heritage Rhubarb Pie.

I’m calling it heritage because I got the rhubarb start last year when my former neighbors were moving. They had lived on their property and in what their grown children consider the family home for more than 35 years. My neighbor had planted the rhubarb the first year they were in the home. So, I have named the Rhubarb “Heritage-V” after their kind souls. I do wish they still lived next door to us. I would have liked to share a slice of the pie I ended up baking with their gift to me as they departed our rural neighborhood.

Harvesting the Rhubarb is ridiculously easy. And I love how the four-legged critters and six-legged pests stay away from the Rhubarb because its leaves are poisonous. So, I chop up the unused Rhubarb leaves and use them as compost right back on the plant itself.  So here in the Pacific Northwest — living in the Cascade Foothills, very close to the wilderness, this is a great urban farm plant.

First 2012 Harvest of Heritage-V Rhubarb

Below is the recipe I use. I’m not including the dough recipe, because I know everyone has their favorite. You could even purchase the refrigerated dough if you like….  My mom gave me this recipe years ago when she and my father were living in their mid-life urban farm. This would be the first time I’ve actually used the recipe. It was a smashing success.

Here’s the recipe:


1 1/2 pounds of rhubarb, cut into 3/4-inch-long pieces (about 5 to 6 cups) (note:  I tend to stay closer to about 4 1/2 cups because I like a less tart pie).

2 to 2 1/2 cups sliced strawberries

Main ingredients.

1 1/2 cups  sugar (I prefer to use brown or organic cane, but you may use refined white if that’s all you have)

1/4 cup cornstarch

Real Orange Zest & Juice is What I use

1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest, plus 1 tablespoon orange juice

Coarse salt

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces

1 large egg, lightly beaten, for egg wash, optional

Sugar for sprinkling, optional

MY SECRET INGREDIENT:  (Which is obviously not secret any more).  Unlike Mom’s recipe I add my own Thrasher-attitude ingredient and include a generous shot of Mischief Whiskey (or your favorite bourbon or rum would be good, too).

To make filling:  Mix together rhubarb, strawberries, sugar, cornstarch, orange zest and juice and 1/4 teaspoon salt.

Roll out one dough disk so it’s 1/8-inch thick and will fit into a nine-inch pie plate. Place the dough in the pan, pour in the filling; dot top with butter.  Refrigerate while making top crust.

If you ever go to a Tupperware party, snag one of these suckers. They make juicing an orange so very easy.

(Now Mom’s recipe calls for making a weave top crust, which I didn’t do; I just put a full piece of crust on top like you would for any fruit pie — apple, cherry, peach, etc. — but I may do the lattice pattern next time to allow steam and some of the juice of the pie to evaporate. I’m including the directions for the checkerboard-crust pattern.)

The secret ingredient that makes this pie recipe my own.

Roll remaining disk to 1/8-inch thickness on a lightly floured surface. Cut into at least 10-inch-wide strips using a fluted pastry cutter.

Lay five strips across pie. Fold back every other strip, and lay a horizontal strip across the center of the pie. Unfold folded strips, then fold back remaining strips. Lay another horizontal strip across the pie. Repeat folding and unfolding strips to weave a lattice pattern. Repeat on remaining side.

Trim bottom and top crusts to a 1-inch overhang using kitchen shears and press together to seal edges (be sure it’s a tight seal). Fold edges under, and crimp as desired. Refrigerate for 15 minutes (this is very important step).

Refrigerate the pie twice before baking.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Remove the pie from the refrigerator. Brush crust with egg wash, if desired, and sprinkle generously with sugar (I didn’t do this step). Place a foil-lined baking sheet on the bottom rack to catch juices, (I highly recommend this! Even if you have a self-cleaning oven) and bake pie on middle rack for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, reduce the temperature to 375 degrees and continue baking until filling is vigorously bubbling in center and bottom crust is golden , about one hour. Tent loosely with foil after one hour if crust is browning too quickly.) Transfer pie to a wire rack, and let cool for at least two hours before serving.

I really would like to learn how to grow coffee on my urban farm, because coffee tastes so, so good with this pie. However that might be a project for next year.

For now I’m searching for other recipes for rhubarb, as this Heritage-V rhubarb plant is ready for another harvest and I’ll likely get one or two more before the season ends. So if you have a favorite rhubarb recipe, please leave it in the comments. Maybe I’ll even feature it here on another post.

Until then — go get your hands dirty and grow some food.

E.S.H.V.R. Pie. So Yummy I want another right now!



My bad habit of writing industry reading and why you need to read this one article

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In the realm of social media, I follow a lot of industry leaders:  agents, publicists, writing-business gurus, and of course successful authors. The articles, blogs, and other news items that they post, I will often open and leave open on my desktop for reading during my appointed reading time. Currently, I’m behind.  Truth be told:  I read slow. Yet, I think I retain the information I read better than some that read more quickly. So this morning I poured myself a mega-mug of coffee and donned the reading spectacles and went to work at reading all these open tabs about the latest and greatest in book publishing, trends in the business, blogs about what the who’s who in the writing world is reading, and most notably (since I’m gaining momentum in that direction), what’s what in the world of epublishing/ebooks.

All day I’ve been digesting one of these articles. I have concluded that any writer trying to break into the publishing world, especially if you’re planning on doing the ebook route, needs to read this:  What Amazon’s ebook strategy means, written by the author, Charles Stross. Not only do you need to read this article, but you’ll likely need to do like I did and set up a Google alert on some key phrases (digital rights management, epublishing trends, amazon business strategy) so you can continue to follow everything that happens with this very critical piece of the publishing puzzle.

In the honor of full disclosure, Mr. Stross is one of my favorite authors when it comes to hardcore science fiction/space opera. He is a 2005 Hugo award winner, which is nothing to sneeze or poo-poo your literary snoz at. But he’s also a computer guy whose spent a good portion of his writing career providing expository on technology and human interface. The fact that the Linux penguin, Tux, is the icon for his URL endears me greatly. However, that doesn’t mean I didn’t read his post on this subject matter without looking at it critically. But even taking point by point and examining it and playing devil’s advocate, I can’t find a lot of holes in the information he presents. And for those who are just learning the business of the write life — he outlines some nice terms for which you need to be aware.

Jeff Bezos

Here’s my bullet points from all the information Stross provides, which are really sticking with me personally (your Casz’s Exec Summary, if you will, featuring non-technical, non-business-ese language):

  • Amazon can placate emerging writers with contests and grants all they want; but, it won’t take away that on both sides of the coin — author or consumer — we’re all getting screwed by the Bezos’ empire (by the way, he is worth more than $40 billion, mind you).
  • Amazon is the entire planet’s Wal-Mart. And we all know what Wal-Mart has done for the little guy.
  • Learn about Digital Rights Management, it’s impending death (which would be good in the long run for authors and publishers and consumers).
  • Don’t be fooled by the fact that this element has the word “Rights” in it and sounds like it would be something good.
  • When dealing with ebooks remember Stross’ words here, a special heads up to bibliophiles like myself:

Now, most ebook customers are not tech-savvy. It is possible to unlock the DRM on a Kindle ebook and transcode it to epub format for use on other readers; but it’s non-trivial. (Not to mention being a breach of the Kindle terms and conditions of use. Because you don’t own an ebook; in their short-sighted eagerness to close loopholes the publishers tried to make ebooks more like software, where you merely buy a limited license to use the product, rather than actual ownership of an object.) So, because Amazon had shoved a subsidized Kindle reader or a free Kindle iPhone app into their hands, and they’d bought a handful of books using it, the majority of customers found themselves locked in to the platform they’d started out on. Want to move to another platform? That’s hard; you lose all the books you’ve already bought, because you can’t take them with you.

As with most things in this global economy, it’s all more complicated than it seems. Because, being able to be listed on Amazon is a marker in this modern write life. Having folks find your work easily helps sell more of your work. It’s a vicious circle thing. But the power of the internet is this:  we can all be Amazon. I think of many books I’ve purchased as of late, even ebooks, which sometimes is the only way to get some of the newest writers out there, are purchased through independent sources, whether they be brick and mortar stores or through the author’s web site directly. The point I’m trying to elude to here, albeit clumsily, is that as writers if we’re just automatically going to Amazon to purchase our books — we’re feeding the Monopoly and Monopsony. Take a little more time and support the independent book and mortar stores (sounds like the big six are going to need more revenue for legal fees) and/or go to your favorite author’s site and purchase directly from them or their publisher. Buy the real book whenever possible. Ebooks are great for checking out an author and testing literary waters, but if you want to own those words forever — an old fashioned book never ceases to satisfy.

It’s disheartening being an emerging writer and having to also spend time on a business model that seems to change every six months. But it’s a necessary evil.  I encourage folks to do their own research and tell me in the comments below what their own tactics, strategies and knowledge is on the business of writing. All I know is that right now I’m thinking that perhaps a bad habit of writing industry reading really isn’t such a vice.

Don't let real books die; Digital Rights Management must





Not Getting The Con Crud and Other Take Aways From NorWesCon 35

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It’s been nearly 10 days since the last day of NorWesCon 35. I didn’t make it to even one panel or exhibit on Sunday. I was exhausted. I took in a lot of experiences, information and more. So, it’s taken me a while to process, but I still wanted to share with you my impressions from the “Premiere Science Fiction and Fantasy Convention.”

As was my experience last year, the people watching was the absolute best part – that and Manhattans that the Double Tree’s bartender, Rich, made. His interpretation on my favorite fancy drink is the second best in the greater Seattle region, as far as I’m concerned. The costuming was great and for some reason I made very little use of my camera. I get so caught up in the moment, so intrigued by what I’m witnessing that I forget I’m carrying the godforsaken thing and don’t take photos (really bad habit for a former award-winning photographer, too!).

Martius Catalyst shows up at NorWesCon 35.

There was an interesting booth that was lobbying to make Scott Bakula the next Doctor. I would say they were one of the most passionate organizational tables. The SteamCon table was once again nearly unapproachable due to the giant weapons and baby carriage and large costumed-crowd, which was shrouded in a cloud of snoot, unfortunately. Not sure what caused the unapproachable nature of that table – it could have been the woman who had tinted glasses for which she wore more like reading spectacles and looked down on those approaching. For a hotel full of a large percentage of shy introverts, that would be difficult to overcome, I believe. My inference was validated by many conversations I overheard. Most notably the one I overheard between two very die-hard Trekkie fans and one Star Wars fan (all three in wicked cosplay attire) about not only how they felt snubbed by this particular lobby table, but also what the whole steampunk thing was all about. I stayed out of that conversation; I wasn’t feeling the need to necessarily ‘defend’ the culture. I think people need to discover things like that themselves. However I did hand them some Martius Catalyst bookmarks and asked them to do exactly that – find out for themselves.

The most approachable table was the costuming folks and the CryptiCon folks. Good on them. They figured out the way to make themselves big-deal enticing and yet approachable.

The art exhibit was fabulous and if I wasn’t already a John Picacio fan, then this show gave me even more reason to do so. I snagged a discarded program so I can frame the art by him found in the program. Just stunning. I never did find out who won the people’s choice in art (until just now). There was many nice pieces and I wish, once again, that I’d had some funds to purchase some. There were pieces from a few artists in particular that I wanted:  Chris Sumption, Aimee Stewart, Steve Lestat, Ryan MacLeod, Jeliza, David Lee Pancake, Michael D. Duquette, and Todd Lockwood. There was a brand new artist, whose work truly got me excited, and she actually was a part of the art tour that I went on, but she didn’t have contact info, etc. I gave her my card to send me her info, but I haven’t heard yet. I loved her stuff, as well as the others above, because it inspired me or made me want to write a story about the piece or for the piece. Regardless, if you’re of the art-buying persuasion, I would say go check out their work.

Lisa Mantchev (right) with her muse and bard, Kiri Callaghan (left) at Mantchev's NorWesCon 35 reading.

The Philip K. Dick Award Ceremony was great to witness again. The free coffee come that time of night was a real bonus (the brownies weren’t bad either). My husband, upon my request (so we could discuss later) tried to watch via the streaming and it was a bit of a fail – it didn’t have sound and then when the sound kicked in the volume was so low you couldn’t hear anything. I have much respect for this literary award and have often said I’d love to be a nominee one year. But, the whole process, web site presence, all of it needs to match the prestige. Not sure where the breakdown is because the NorWesCon folks give it much respect and energy…Like I said, I’d like to see it appear even more prestigious and professional to those that aren’t aware of the award as I am.  The winner – Simon Morden, for his THE SAMUIL PETROVITCH TRILOGY, didn’t make my short list. But I’m batting zero for guessing who would win. In the last six years I have not been able to pick who actually won. Maybe next year I’ll do better. We’ll see.

The vendors were cool and when my hair decided it was going to be annoying beneath my hat, I found some nice baubles, pins and ties to get it under control, so I could focus again at the writing and publishing and art track panels I wanted to attend.

Mary Robinette Kowal gives a reading and a puppet show. Fun! (at NorWesCon 35)

As was the case last year and this, I loved the readings the best. The con organizers did a fairly good job of finding a room that inspired a cozy feel for most of the readings. Some of the bigger readings likely could have used a bigger room – I’m thinking of Mary Robinette Kowal, Lisa Mantchev and the Broad Universe (which I’m going to seriously check out). Unfortunately I missed Jay Lake‘s reading on Thursday due to a two-hour back up on I-405 and I-5 and he was understandably scarce for me to say Hi to him. At least our paths didn’t cross that I saw.

But all in all the readings were very well organized and I’ll likely attend many more next year. I do hope, however, as far as other panels go, the NorWesCon organizers trim down some of the subject matter – some of the topics were too broad for one hour. More importantly there should be a stern reminder to the moderators that they are moderators and not panelists. Some of the moderators monopolized some of the panels (which I know happens at every conference I’ve ever attended). It’s especially disquieting when the moderator positions themselves in the very center of the panel and is continually contrary and disagreeable – even when they clearly agree with a panelist with which they are arguing. Argument for the sake of argument is just dull for the attendees. We didn’t come to hear the moderator soapbox. Moderate for goodness’ sake. Kudos to everyone arriving on time and getting out on time — at least for the panels I attended. Nice job there.

The biggest success of my NorWesCon experience this year? I didn’t get the con crud. I left a bit prematurely Saturday evening than I had planned and just slept through Sunday. I missed an additional reading by Philip K. Dick award nominee Jean Johnson, but I got to talk to her after the awards ceremony, and that was great. I was able to convey to her that I thought her novel, SOLDIER’S DUTY, was well-written and captured the recruit’s spirit very, very well. It was nice to connect with another writer like that. Looking forward to the next in this series of Johnson’s novels, as I’m looking forward to NorWesCon 36. Next year I hope to maybe have a con buddy for at least part of the experience and will again attempt to get a room so I don’t have drive back and forth – that killed some of my ability to cosplay and stay for some of the later panels (e.g. screenwriting 101, which I really could have used this month!).

Jean Johnson reads at Philip K. Dick award ceremony from THE SOLDIER'S DUTY, the excerpt where Ia gets her nickname. It was brilliant!

When Publishing Doesn’t Come To You…Create Your Own Magic

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The writing group that I founded more than three years ago now, SnoValley Writes!, just completed its third writing competition, third volume of our literary journal, and our third public reading. So many threes we decided that the journal’s theme would be THREE IS THE MAGIC NUMBER.

We increased our writing contest entries four fold this year – breaking the whole “three” theme we had going on. But it was totally worth it. We especially got slammed with entries from the category of writer age 17 and under. What incredible stories we got from our writers in the making! The adult category was stunning as well – and a very, very hard decision. Incredible, however, that so many of the young writers got the submission guidelines dead on and about half the adult writers missed the chance to be judged because they didn’t follow instructions. It’s great to think outside the box, except when it comes to submission guidelines, folks! Our 2013 contest should be announced by October or so. So stay tuned. In the meantime you can read the winning entries from both our winners on our web site.

Speaking of increases, the quality of the writing the group is producing and as is featured in the journal has increased threefold, if I do say so myself. And the fact that our first run in the journal is all but gone is testimony as well. However, more can be procured via our page on LuLu.

Art work incorporated into our journal by Toby VanBryce, Jackie Fedyk and Sheri J. Kennedy.


For some in the group, this journal presents a unique opportunity, if their only one, towards publication. As someone whose batting average is barely above nil for my personal submissions this year, I know the occasion for publication is few and far between. But self-publishing is changing all that. Self-publishing is providing new prospects and openings for those who would otherwise not get a chance, especially given that for most it’s all about a numbers game and less about quality (sometimes). Some self-publishing gets a bad name because of poor assembly and internal editing, but I think we cleared that hurdle even higher this time (yes, one could say even…*cough* threefold).  We’re fortunate enough to have some visual artists included in our ranks of SnoValley Writes! including painters, designers, graphic artists, and photographers. The design of this book shows off their talent in that as well.

Putting the book together is quite daunting and I’m refusing to do it again without a proper desktop publishing program. But it also taught me a few things as I work to finish up the first collection of Martius Catalyst episodes in Adventure One: Tangled Treasures.

As far as our Word Jazz performance is concerned, I think it was our best one yet, albeit the least attended. I’m blaming the plague that has descended on our little Cascade Foothills community. Those who participated were allowed yet another break in reading to an audience – something any successful author must expect to do throughout the course of her career. I shed the jitters and applied the lessons I learned from the AT SECOND GLANCE reading back in February. I had fun. My brother saw the photos from the event and said I looked as if I was spell-casting. In a sense anyone who does a proper reading does (and should) cast a spell on their audience.

The biggest lesson from the whole experience – contest, reading, and publication – is that you can create your own literary magic. It’s a lot of work; there may be mistakes made; but it’s all worth it in the end. Feel free to come get a piece of this magic we made, order your copy of THREE IS A MAGIC NUMBER today.