Authentic
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ann_leckie

So, the whole “peas in guacamole” thing, I just find it…I don’t know. First off, you know, if someone finds that guacamole with peas in it tastes good, they should eat that and enjoy the heck out of it. Why not?

Why not. I gather I’m only seeing the edges of this, apparently actual news outlets are reporting on the vast and deep internet rage over someone suggesting we try adding peas to guacamole. Seriously? Why?

So, I suppose (perhaps I’m wrong but that won’t stop me from blogging) that it’s a question of peas “not belonging” in guacamole. So here’s my question–why not?

This is something I’ve kind of pondered over the last several years. Sometimes I’ll come across recipes or dishes that are described as “authentic.” Like, real authentic Indian food, or real authentic Mexican food or…yeah.

But what does that mean? What makes a dish or a recipe “authentic”? How about, oh, pizza. Real, authentic pizza, what would that be? Would it be the pizza margherita allegedly invented in Naples in the 1890s? Or would it be the duodecim pizze wikipedia tells us is mentioned in a Latin text at the end of the tenth century? Surely those pizze didn’t have tomato sauce on them! So, like, is real authentic pizza a flatbread with maybe some cheese on it?

My search for “authentic” pizza here completely ignores or dismisses all the more recent varieties of the dish, many of them regional, many of them changing over time. And what seems authentic to me may strike you as a travesty–in fact, I’d bet my idea of authentic pizza would almost certainly do that. I grew up in St Louis, and St Louis style pizza is very likely one of those things you don’t really appreciate unless you’ve grown up with it, or at least eaten it for years. True fact–authentic St Louis style pizza uses provel cheese. You’ve probably never even heard of it unless you’re a St. Louisan, and that’s because provel is made in Wisconsin, and pretty much only for St Louis.

If you wanted to have authentic St Louis style pizza, your best bet would be to come to St Louis and get yourself some Imos. If you couldn’t do that, you’d want to learn to make a really really thin crust and lay your hands on some provel. Oh, and cut the pizza into squares. I swear it makes it taste different. And it would totally be worth trying! Other styles of pizza just aren’t the same.

But is it authentic pizza? Well, like I said, what does that even mean? And if I say something like, “Back in the early nineties I was in the UK and saw, more than once, that sweet corn was an available pizza topping,” you might be saying “Well, duh, Ann, that’s one of those things you put on pizza!” But my reaction was basically that’s not right. Does US pizza somehow have some kind of authenticity advantage over UK pizza? Or the other way around? Or is everything but focaccia with some parmesan grated onto it an adulteration of the real thing?

The thing is, “authentic” food is just the food that particular people ate at a particular place and time, and mostly (particularly when we’re talking about the “peasant” foods that are sometimes valorized as particularly hearty and “authentic”) were made of the things that were easily available. If the same cooks were somewhere else, at a different time, they’d have chosen the things that were easily available there instead. Thinking about it this way, the closer I look at “authentic” the more it disappears into meaningless nothing.

Guacamole isn’t much different. Do you know how many recipes there are for guacamole? And if your great uncle puts peas in his, and serves it that way every Superbowl Sunday through your childhood, that would be a real thing, with its own authenticity.

Authentic is a label we put on things, to freeze them, to declare this one style or this one set of ingredients to be the “true” ones from which all others are deviations. How helpful is that, really? What does it mean when “authentic” food is all external, something other? What does it mean when we talk about “authentic” Italian food being one particular thing, Neapolitan pizza margherita, say, and other versions being fake and wrong–when quite a lot of the provel-laden St Louis Style pizza I ate in my childhood was made by Italian immigrants? Did they lose their authentic Italian-ness somehow, when they came here? Are they only “authentic” so long as they’re peasants with wood-fired clay ovens, and not restauranteurs using the technology and ingredients available to them in present-day St Louis? When I start thinking about it from this angle, I become really uncomfortable with the whole idea of authenticity.

I totally understand wanting to taste (or learn how to make) the kinds of foods that were historically available and aren’t so much today, or are available in other places than where you live, or wanting to try the results of particular cooking techniques. Trying to reproduce historic recipes? I’m totally down with that. I spent longer than was probably reasonable attempting to make a reasonable facsimile of the palak paneer I’ve had at a local Indian restaurant.* I more than understand that. But I’ve come to really side-eye the idea that any kind of food is more “authentic” than another. And when I see an odd variant of something I’m familiar with, my reaction these days is more “Oh, I wonder if that’s good!” than “Ewww, sweet corn doesn’t belong on pizza, that’s just wrong.”

Which brings me back to the peas in the guacamole. Hey, if it doesn’t sound good to you, fine, but it’s hardly a travesty. Why does it seem like a travesty to so many people? It might be worth thinking about.

_________

*The secret is cream. Regular whole milk won’t quite do the trick. This is something to keep in mind generally when trying to imitate restaurant dishes–you probably need to use real butter and real cream for pretty much everything.

Mirrored from Ann Leckie.


Poems! Judgement! Bonus Cinquain!
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ann_leckie

Today is the first day of July, which means yesterday was the 30th of June and the “finish the duck limerick” entry period is over. Judging will now begin!

It might take a while. I got a whole raft of fabulous entries, and I don’t envy my distinguished panel of judges the job of picking out the three best. I really enjoyed reading your last lines a lot, and laughed out loud several times.

At any rate, I have turned the entries over to the judges. I can’t say when we’ll have results, but I’m looking forward to seeing them!

In the meantime, have an actual, honest-to-goodness poem on the assigned topic, “Tell me in verse, citizen, how God is like a duck.”

Seriously, absolutely no apology necessary for that!

Mirrored from Ann Leckie.


Jurassic World.
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ann_leckie

So, I think the whole Jurassic World screenwriting process went something like this:

Writer 1: I think we’ve got a really cool opportunity here to really dig into the relationship between Chris Pratt and the raptors. I mean, the raptors were really the star of the first movie and they have so much personality we could…

Writer 2: Dude. Dude, you’re overthinking this. It’s dinosaurs. Nobody cares what the actors say, they’ll be watching the dinosaurs. Cut and paste the big scenes from the first movie, make sure there are lots of dinosaurs. In between the actors can just say some random shit.

Writer 1: Dude. Are you high?

Writer 2: Yes. Yes I am.

Writer 1: Cool.

Writer 2: So like I was saying. What you’re talking about–personality, relationships, that takes work. That takes thought. And I want to hit White Castle and besides nobody’s going to be watching anything but the dinosaurs. Here, you take some pages, I’ll take some pages, we’ll write some things down and be out of here in fifteen minutes.

Writer 1: Don’t we wanna at least avoid being really sexist or racist? I hear that’s kind of a thing lately.

Writer 2: That takes work! Dinosaurs! Just write some crap down!

Writer 1: Sounds legit to me. [opens laptop, begins to type] Lorem…ipsum….dolor….

Yeah, the dinosaurs were awesome and everything, but I’d say this is one you can safely wait for it to turn up on Netflix.

Mirrored from Ann Leckie.


Finish the poem, maybe win a prize
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ann_leckie

Or, more accurately, the limerick.

Those of you who have read Ancillary Sword may remember that at a certain point, Breq asks someone to tell her, in verse, how God is like a duck. And that person replies,

There once was a duck who was God,
Who said, “It’s exceedingly odd.
I fly when I wish
and I swim like a fish,

And she couldn’t get any further. Well, readers, neither could I. And it’s summer in this hemisphere of Earth, and I’ve got some tea to give away. So!

By June 30th, send me your proposed last line for the duck limerick to poem@annleckie.com. My panel of judges will choose three winners. First place will get: one genuine four inch high stuffed Lieutenant Peepsarwat!

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(All right, that’s actually a genuine stuffed purple Peep from Easter that I could not resist purchasing for precisely this occasion.) First place will also get one three ounce bag of an Imperial Radch themed tea from Adagio.

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Winner’s choice, though sometimes availability is weird so particular blends may be out of stock at the end of June. I am also throwing in a tea infuser, just in case you’re not set up to do loose leaf tea conveniently. (Loose leaf tea is quite convenient once you’ve got a pot and/or removable infuser.)

The plant and the cup aren’t included, they’re just in the picture to look pretty.

Second and third place will get one bag each of an Imperial Radch themed tea! Same conditions as above–winner’s choice, but obviously I can’t send you a blend that’s not available. Oh, and a tea infuser.

So fire up those rhyming engines! Start playing with what might scan. Ponder that deep, ageless philosophical question: How is God like a duck? And send me your conclusion by June 30 of this year.

Editing to add, what I should have remembered to say at first–I will send prizes anywhere. There are no geographical restrictions.

Mirrored from Ann Leckie.


Nebula Weekend!
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Sorry for the delay in posting–I’ve been back in St Louis since Sunday, but I’ve spent the last three days on jury duty, about which I will at the moment say nothing else.

Today I plan to lounge around drinking tea in my jammies!

So. Apologies again to the folks who came to the mass signing Friday night hoping to meet me. I wanted so badly to be there and there was just no physical way I could do it. For anyone who missed my previous post, the train in front of the train I was on hit a semi filled with seventy thousand pounds of bacon. I got into Chicago a good ten hours later than I was supposed to. Blame the bacon. (Someone suggested at breakfast the next morning that I pin a piece of bacon to my shirt, and that led me to discover that etsy has quite a lot of listings under “crocheted bacon.” Yes, that’s just a random piece of trivia.)

So, the Nebula Awards! Congratulations to all the winners, especially Jeff Vandermeer for Annihilation. I am completely unsurprised at the result, and wholeheartedly approve.

Yeah, I had a novel on the ballot. And I’m not saying that winning another Nebula wouldn’t have been awesome–sweet Mithras, it would have been. But because I won last year, I know exactly how awesome it feels to hear your book named, how shiny that block of lucite is when it’s got your name on it. So I’m sitting here vicariously enjoying Jeff’s win. I would admonish him to enjoy it, but I know that’s pointless, he already is.

It really was a wonderful ballot filled with awesome work by awesome writers. I’m so happy to have been there to hang with the folks I already knew, and meet a few who I didn’t know yet, and enjoy the evening. My only real regret is that Jeff Vandermeer was unable to be there so I couldn’t congratulate him in person.

Oh, and a big thanks to Nick Offerman (who I’m pretty sure doesn’t read my blog, but still) for taking time out during dinner to speak briefly with the 15yr old, who is a big fan and who’d been planning to be at the mass signing while I was signing books. I really appreciated that a lot. It was very generous of him, and he was kind and funny. Thank you, sir!

Congratulations again, everybody!

Mirrored from Ann Leckie.


I won’t be at the Nebula/SFWA mass signing tonight
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ann_leckie

Not because I don’t want to be–on the contrary, I made sure to leave bright and early this morning so I could get to Chicago in plenty of time! And since St Louis is pretty close to Chicago and I love riding the train, I hopped on train 302, the Lincoln Service, leaving at 6:40am and supposed to get in to Chicago at 12:20.

Not twenty minutes out of St Louis the train stopped and just sat for three or so hours. During which time, the Texas Eagle, train 21 that had departed St Louis for Chicago an hour after we had, sailed right on by us.

We got moving, but eventually it became obvious that we were running about four hours behind, but that would still be time to make the signing!

And then we stopped again. Because that line-cutting Texas Eagle? It ran into a semi. We have been sitting here for several hours, about an hour and a half outside Chicago. It is now 7:20pm and there’s no way in hell I’ll make it there by 8.

The good news is I’m hearing there were no serious injuries. The passengers of that train have been bussed to Chicago. Why we haven’t been is still a mystery to me. But.

Anyway. I’m very sorry, I won’t be able to make the signing tonight. I hope I don’t leave anybody hanging. If you see me Saturday, I’ll be more than happy to sign your book or just say hi.

Mirrored from Ann Leckie.


Nebula Weekend
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ann_leckie

Tomorrow morning I’ll be off to the Nebulas in Chicago! I’m looking forward to hanging with my friends, and meeting some new ones.

I’ll also be at the mass signing on Friday night, from 8-9:30pm in the Exhibit Hall on the fourth floor of the Palmer House Hilton. You don’t need to register for the Nebulas in order to attend the signing, so if you’re in Chicago and want your book signed, come on down.

Mirrored from Ann Leckie.


Phoenix Comicon
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ann_leckie

I’m headed to Phoenix tomorrow for Phoenix Comicon! You can find my schedule here.

Thursday

In the Beginning : Thursday 4:30pm – 5:30pm

What’s it like to get that first book published? Do first time authors still stand a chance? The book is written, what needs done to get a publisher? Then what? Experienced to newly first time published authors reminisce about their first time.

Author Signing Wesley Chu,Mel Odom,Alex Gordon,Stephen Blackmoore,Ann Leckie,Richard Kadrey : Thursday 6:00pm – 7:00pm

Friday

Here on Earth : Friday 4:30pm – 5:30pm

Science Fiction doesn’t always have to take place in unknown space on unknown worlds. This panel celebrates Science Fiction on our planet Earth. Discussions and comparisons on how Earth-centric Science Fictions compare to the typical space opera.

Here On Earth Author Signing:Jay Posey, Pierce Brown,Myke Cole,Jason Hough,Ann Leckie : Friday 6:00pm – 7:00pm

Ann Leckie Spotlight : Friday 7:30pm – 8:30pm

Saturday

Who is Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Association : Saturday 10:00am – 11:30am

Who is SFWA? Panelists describe the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Association of America, its fifty year history, its future, and the shape of F&SF going forward.

Signing: Leanna Renee Hieber,Kevin Hearne,Jonathan Maberry,Mur Lafferty,Ann Leckie,Amy Nichols : Saturday 1:30pm – 2:30pm

Have Your Writing Critiqued – The First Page – Can You Make The Cut? : Saturday 3:00pm – 4:00pm

Agents/publishers may not get past a manuscript’s first page before giving it a chance or mailing that “not-what-we’re-looking-for” letter. Read your first page for suggestions to help make it past that first cut. Details at Books and Authors table. (81/2′ X 11″ sheet of paper, single side, minimum font size 10pt. 3 minutes maximum read time)

Sunday

Space in Science Fiction : Sunday 1:30pm – 2:30pm

What is it like out there amonst the stars? Does it truely maatter what it’s really like? What do these authors see when they look at space through a science fiction filter?

Kelley Armstrong, Ann Leckie, M. L. Brennan, Paul Cornell, Sam Sykes, Myke Cole Signing : Sunday 3:00pm – 4:00pm

Note that the last item on the schedule, a signing (one of several, it looks like), I won’t actually be at, because of the timing of my flight home.

I’ve never been to Phoenix, or any of the several Comicons, and I’m looking forward to it.

Mirrored from Ann Leckie.


Writing “Rules”: Show, Don’t Tell
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ann_leckie

“Show, don’t tell” is one of my all time unfavorite of the commonly passed around “rules of writing.”

It’s also one of the most poorly understood. A lot of the “rules” that get handed from writer to writer are just silly. At best they’re applicable to one sort of story, at worst they’re head-scratchingly ridiculous. But Show, Don’t Tell has that extra layer of “WTF that’s not even what that means.” I guess it’s the Passive Voice of writing rules.*

First off. Every “rule” of writing is situational. That is, when a writer sits down to write, they have a particular set of aims for the work they’re doing. Some of the techniques available to our writer will be more or less appropriate to the project in hand. Some will be useless, or incredibly inappropriate. There is no one set of tools and techniques that will do the job right every time, not unless you’re knocking out more or less identical works every time. Which is fine, if that’s your thing, right? But it’s not the only way to do fiction. Thank Mithras.

Second–styles and techniques go in and out of fashion all the time. Those “rules” are not Eternal Laws of Fiction, but a catalog of what’s “in.” And a superficial catalog, at that–hold that list up next to recently published, popular and/or critically well-regarded fiction and notice how often some “rules” are honored more in the breach than the observance.

So. Show-don’t-tell. It’s complicated, situational advice that has been packed into such a tiny phrase that it’s become almost entirely useless for conveying the actual concept–unless you already understand it, of course. But it’s not (generally) being passed around by people who understand it.

The thing is, it’s better to show, not tell, unless it’s better to tell. The trick, of course, is knowing when that is. By and large, it’s nearly always better to show, not tell when you’re trying to convey character and motivations, particularly when that character and their motivations affect the plot. So it’s not enough to tell us that Jane hates Jack because he stole her research and then won a Nobel Prize for it, and that she has in fact become horribly embittered by this. Not if you want the reader to really, truly believe that Jane would, as a consequence, devote the rest of her life to breeding an army of gigantic, ironic-dynamite-toting cyborg voles that, in the fullness of the plot, she will unleash on Jack and the Nobel committee.

No, you’ll want to show us what sort of a person Jane is, demonstrate her character instead of just telling us she’s bitter and out for revenge.**

But really, it’s all in what you’re going for, right? There are modes in which “look this king was the evilest ever and that’s why he’s imprisoned the hero” is a perfectly cromulent move. “Pride and envy grew in her heart like weeds,” the Grimms tell us, and move right along to the queen’s assassination attempts.

So, to sum up–in matters of character and motivation, it’s (nearly always) better to show, to demonstrate, rather than merely assert.

But show-don’t-tell often gets mixed up in questions of how to handle exposition. Non-characterization exposition, I mean. Particularly in science fiction and fantasy, where often the world in which the story occurs is not a familiar one, and the reader needs a certain amount of information fed to her so that she’ll understand the story.

Now, it’s true that “showing” a worldbuilding detail can be tremendously effective. You want that tool in your box. But it’s also true that you’ll need to summarize or narrate things–it’ll be easier on the reader that way, it’ll be quicker, whatever. What you want is a good balance–you want to show the things that need to be shown, and tell the things that need to be told. What the right choices are will depend on what you’re aiming at, and who your audience is. Telling yourself you need to “show” all the time will not help you.

For the past several decades (I think?) there’s been some fetishizing of a kind of exposition that’s all “show” and no “tell.” A disdain for infodumps goes along with this. And well, sure, the incluing technique is really effective, and badly done, indigestible chunks of explanation or history that stop the pacing dead are no fun. But incluing has its limits, and a beautifully done paragraph of exposition can sometimes do the job better. In fact, I’d argue that well-written exposition of that sort is one of the distinctive pleasures of SF&F.

The simplistic “Infodumps are bad, show don’t tell!” advice won’t help you do exposition better. It will, if you take it without any kind of thought or modification, give you unnecessary heartburn when you run into a situation that is really, truly best handled by just telling the reader what they need to know.

And don’t tell me about how that kind of exposition is difficult to do well so newbies should avoid it. No. Do not avoid practicing the thing you want to learn to do, particularly if that thing is difficult and needs to be done really really well.*** That thing you want to do? Try to do that thing, not some second best, safe option.

So, yeah, no, I’ve got no time for “show, don’t tell.”

___
*IME a lot of folks who solemnly intone that passive voice is bad are, shall we say, under a misapprehension as to what it actually is, and often as not I find they misidentify passive constructions. And that’s leaving aside the question of actual passive voice having actual, legitimate uses.

**You also probably want to show us those giant cyborg voles, because honestly that kind of story is all about the mutant creatures and the blowing stuff up, although that’s not really what “show don’t tell” is talking about.

***Your best source of helpful writing tips is always going to be the fiction that you love, or that does really really well the thing you’re trying to figure out how to do. Way, way better than some list of “rules” you don’t even know where it originally came from.

Mirrored from Ann Leckie.


Hugo Packet Now Available
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ann_leckie

As the post title says, the Hugo Packet is available for download.

You’ll need your Hugo voter PIN, which if you’ve forgotten it you can request here.

Like last year, Orbit has included the first hundred or so pages of Ancillary Sword in the Hugo Packet, rather than the full novel. And it looks like there are complete copies of The Goblin Emperor and The Three Body Problem, both of which I think you’ll enjoy (if you haven’t read either or both already).

You can still get a supporting membership, and with it the right to vote in the Hugos (and download the packet) and Worldcon site selection, by the way. If that’s something that interests you, well, click on over and sign up.

I sent in my site selection ballot this morning, as it happens. Helsinki 2017!!!!!!!!

Mirrored from Ann Leckie.


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