Thursday, December 29, 2011

James Hutchings Discusses Licensing for Aspiring Writers

Regular readers of this space will know that I'm starting (ever so slowly) to take my first steps into indie publishing.  I'm somewhat casually researching the steps necessary and prudent to get my work out there for public consumption, so imagine my surprise and delight to have encountered James Hutchings.  James is an emerging writer from Australia, who approached me recently for a review of his book (look for it here later this week).  In return, he generously provided a great guest post on the benefits of licensing your work for public use, and why you may not want to worry too much about sharing it for free.  Thanks, James!
-Jon
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Many writers, whether published or just starting out, are very nervous that someone else will steal their work, whether that be another writer using their ideas in their own stories, or someone making pirated copies of their books. When I put out a collection of my writing, I specifically gave permission for anyone at all to copy my ideas, or even to cut and paste whole stories. I also contacted the Pirate Party, a worldwide network that wants to lessen copyright, and told them that I was giving anyone permission to put my ebook on file-sharing sites. In this post I hope to show why I went against common wisdom.

Creative Commons
I used a free service called Creative Commons.  Creative Commons is useful for people who want to give the general public permission to use their work, but with restrictions. In my case I didn't mind people using my work for non-profit purposes, such as posting on a blog, but I didn't want to allow anyone to make money off it. Similarly I wanted anyone who used it to give me credit. I could have just listed these things myself. However I'm not a lawyer, and perhaps I would have worded it wrong so that someone could twist what I said to do more than I meant. Also I could have been unclear about what I was allowing and what I wasn't allowing. Sure, someone could email me and ask, but the whole purpose of having a written statement is so that people don't have to ask.

Creative Commons has a series of different licenses, which give permission to do different things. They're all legally 'tight', and they're all summarized in plain language. So all you have to do is go to their site and answer a series of questions, to get to the license that does what you want. In my case I used the Non-Commercial License.

Why?
That's what I did. But why? Common sense would suggest that I'm giving something away for free that I could be selling. However I believe that, in the long run, I'll be better off. The main reason is that I've seen how many people are, like me, trying to get their writing out there. Go to Smashwords and have a look at the latest ebooks. Then refresh the page ten minutes later, and you'll probably see a whole new lot. The problem that new writers face isn't that people want to steal your work; it's getting anyone to show an interest in your work at all. If someone passes on a pirated copy of my work, it might get to someone who's prepared to buy it - and that someone would probably have never heard of me otherwise. Even if they don't want to pay for what they read, I might come out with something else in the future, and perhaps paying 99c for it will be easier than hunting it down on a file-sharing site.  Science fiction writer Andrew Burt tells the story of someone who disliked his book, and to get back at him decided to put a copy on a file-sharing site. The effect was that he got a small 'spike' in sales immediately afterwards.

I also have some less selfish motives. Many people would assume that the purpose of copyright is to protect authors and creators. Leaving aside the fact that someone else often ends up with the rights (how many Disney shareholders created any of the Disney characters? How many shareholders in Microsoft have ever written a line of code?), that doesn't seem to have been the intention in the past. The US Constitution says that Congress has the power "to promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries." Note that protecting 'intellectual property' isn't mentioned. The authors of the Constitution seemed to see the point as getting ideas out there where people can use them: almost the exact opposite of keeping them 'safe' and 'protected'.

The original idea of copyright seems to have been a sort of deal: you have an idea, and we want you to get it out into the world where it will do some good. To encourage you to do that, we'll give you a monopoly on its use for a limited time. After that, anybody can use it (it will enter the 'public domain').

A lot of people don't know that copyright used to give a lot less protection than it does now, especially in the United States. In the US, it used to be that works were copyrighted for a maximum of 56 years. Today copyright in the US can last for over 100 years. In fact Congress keeps extending the time. In practice, they're acting as if they never want ideas to go into the public domain.

This is great for the owners of 'intellectual property'. But it's hard to see how this "promotes the Progress of Science and useful Arts," or how forever is a "limited time." In a sense it's a theft from the public. Anyone who publishes work has accepted the deal that the law offers, of a limited monopoly in return for making their idea known. Congress has been giving them more and more extensions on that monopoly, but doesn't require them to do anything to earn it.

It probably doesn't matter that much that Disney still owns Mickey Mouse, or that Lord of the Rings is still under copyright. But remember that these laws don't just apply to the arts. They apply to science as well. So an invention that might save lives could be going unused, because its owner wants too much money for it, or because it's tied up in court while two companies fight about who owns it.

Conclusion
I'm far from an expert on either the law or the publishing industry. However I hope that I've given you, especially those of you who might be thinking about publishing some writing, a different take on the whole issue of whether authors should worry about their ideas being stolen. At least I hope I've shown you that there's a different way of thinking about it, and that that way doesn't require you to just give up on making money; in fact that it might be more profitable as well as better for society.

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James Hutchings lives in Melbourne, Australia. He fights crime as Poetic Justice, but his day job is acting. You might know him by his stage-name 'Brad Pitt.' He specializes in short fantasy fiction. His work has appeared in Daily Science Fiction, fiction365 and Enchanted Conversation among other markets. His ebook collection The New Death and Others, is now available from Amazon and Smashwords. He blogs daily at http://www.apolitical.info/teleleli.
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This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Non-Commercial License

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Archeress, Part 20


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Absolution (Conclusion of The Archeress)

As the door clicked shut, his eyes fluttered open.

“Here to finish your Master’s chore?” he asked.
She winced.
“ Here to see if you’re okay.”
“I’m not yet dead.  My guards?”
“Unconscious, but unharmed.”
“Not like those men on the roof?”
“An unfortunate necessity.  My clean escape was sabotaged.  Now the Master is dead.”
He searched her face, looking for a lie.
“You’ve never been one for subtlety, have you?”
“I’m sorry, Rhyne.  I don’t deserve your forgiveness, but you deserve the truth.”
He sighed.  “Aila, war is coming.  What will you do?”
“Whatever I have to.  Goodbye, love.”
-The End
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So this is it.  If I was into pretentious bullshit I'd have written "Fin" at the bottom.  If I was into lame Hollywood bullshit, I'd have written "The Beginning..." at the bottom (more on that below).  I'm not really into either, but I did go with a simple "The End," even though that really isn't in vogue for fiction any more.  I still think it's important to cap a story, formally.

I hope everyone enjoyed my first real attempt at longer-form fiction.  I'm happy with the story arc overall, but there are always things you look back on and wish were better.  Obviously the 100-word limit I set myself to was a bit constrictive at times.  Of course it was meant to be, and it helped immensely to focus my writing on the task at hand (unlike the shambling path most of my outbursts in this space take, like this), but it seems to have led to some pretty terse dialogue at times, as well as some pretty vague descriptions of people and places.  That's unfortunate, but I didn't mean to completely expose the world Aila lives in with this work.  I mostly was just trying to figure out who she is, what is important to her, what she's good at (that was pretty clear, I think), why she does it.  The world sort of built itself around her, and even though we've seen only a tiny fraction of it, a lot more lies just out of sight of the necessarily tight lens the microfiction format lets us view.

I intend to fix that, though.  I know enough about her now that I'm going to expand it to a book.  It may take me forever (hell, it took a year to write this, and it's only 2000 words), but a novel will result.  In the meantime, I'm going to get my feet wet in the world of indie publishing...with this one.  The format is impossible from a traditional publishing standpoint, but an e-book sold on Amazon and Smashwords?  That can be accomplished.  I'm doing some research, but if anybody reading this has some inside knowledge they'd like to share, I'm all ears.  I'd also like to illustrate it, but since I don't do that, I'm also in the market for a good illustrator.  Contact me at the email address in my profile...we'll talk.

Thanks for reading, and don't hold back now with your thoughts.  Comments, criticism, compliments (I love compliments...), I'd like to hear what you think.  If there's one thing that all writers need, it's to know that someone is paying attention to their work.  Well, that and compliments. 
Previous Installments:
Part 1:  Preparation

Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Archeress, Part 19

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Escalation (Part 19 of The Archeress)

Leaving the Temple proved easier than entering—she resembled everyone else, and chaos reigned for the few minutes she needed to scale the wall and disappear back into the forest.
The trip back to the city had been trickier.  The Union mob was indeed on the rampage, and the Temple was the obvious target.  Even as she escaped the Temple she noted that messengers were being sent to the other temples of the realm.  Every observer of the Way would soon be preparing for war.
Except for her.  Her mission now was to return to the city, and seek forgiveness.

Previous Installments:
Part 1:  Preparation

Friday, December 9, 2011

The Archeress, Part 18

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Denouement (Part 18 of The Archeress)

He looked much older and more frail than she ever remembered before. 
“So what will you do?  Killing your Master is a mortal sin.”
“I’ve already killed my student today, tasked with killing his master.  Sins are not scarce it would seem.  Chagga was barely more than a boy.”
“And he wouldn’t have been endangered had the plan succeeded.  But he might have given you pause.”
“You were wrong again.”  She stepped from the window, blade flashing to her hand.
His lunge was too slow.  Blood sprayed once again.
She swung out the window as voices rang in the corridor.



Previous Installments:
Part 1:  Preparation

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Archeress, Part 17

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Explanation (Part 17 of The Archeress)

 “I suppose you want to know why?” the Master asked calmly.
“I can guess.”
He continued as if she hadn’t spoken. 
“We could not afford to let the Union continue to gather strength, and that depended on your husband.”
“But you also couldn’t let the Way…and you…be implicated directly in his death.  Better to make it a crime of passion.”  She could see by his expression she was right.
“It would have solved two problems.  Your relationship with him was always dangerous to the Way.”
“You failed at both.  The Union will be here in force within days.  Maybe hours.”

Previous Installments:
Part 1:  Preparation
Part 2:  Infiltration
Part 3:  Eyrie
Part 4:  Patience
Part 5:  Stirrings
Part 6:  Action
Part 7:  Decision
Part 8, 9:  Discovery, Egress
Part 10:  Flight
Part 11:  Combat
Part 12:  Evasion
Part 13:  Suspicion
Part 14:  Ambush
Part 15:  Retribution
Part 16:  Confrontation

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Archeress, Part 16

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Confrontation (Part 16 of The Archeress)

“Master, an attack at the Sight Tower!”  The aide spoke with urgency, but not panic.  “Two guards down, and the roof is ablaze.”

“A massed attack?” the Master asked, without opening his eyes.
“No, Master, much too sudden.  There was no warning.”
“Clever girl…” the Master sighed.
“Apologies, Master, but wha-?”  His words were cut off by the arrow protruding from his mouth, pinning him to the door.
“Thank you for the compliment, Master.  But you underestimated me nonetheless.”  His eyes opened finally.  She was silhouetted in the window, bow in hand.
“You will never leave alive, child.”
“More underestimation.”
Previous Installments:
Part 1:  Preparation
Part 2:  Infiltration
Part 3:  Eyrie
Part 4:  Patience
Part 5:  Stirrings
Part 6:  Action
Part 7:  Decision
Part 8, 9:  Discovery, Egress
Part 10:  Flight
Part 11:  Combat
Part 12:  Evasion
Part 13:  Suspicion
Part 14:  Ambush
Part 15:  Retribution

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Archeress, Part 15

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Retribution (Part 15 of The Archeress)


Chagga hadn’t known much about his mission, but he told her all she needed.  Her student had accepted his fate with dignity, which gave her pride…and deep sadness.
Now she would add his death to the list of wrongs to be righted.
The Temple was dark save for the guard towers at the five corners, and a tiny light inside the Master’s chamber.  He would be in his nightly meditations.  What mantra was he reciting?  A prayer for success?  Forgiveness?  Or had he assumed victory and forgotten his betrayal already?

She moved from the forest’s edge toward the nearest tower.
Previous Installments:
Part 1:  Preparation
Part 2:  Infiltration
Part 3:  Eyrie
Part 4:  Patience
Part 5:  Stirrings
Part 6:  Action
Part 7:  Decision
Part 8, 9:  Discovery, Egress
Part 10:  Flight
Part 11:  Combat
Part 12:  Evasion
Part 13:  Suspicion
Part 14:  Ambush

Monday, December 5, 2011

The Archeress, Part 14

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Ambush  (Part 14 of The Archeress)

It was the smell that made her freeze.  There was a waft of odor that didn’t…belong…in the forest.  She crouched and closed her eyes, reaching out.
When the arrow came, she heard it leave the bow.  Rolling to her right, she felt it ruffle her still-free hair.  Knocking an arrow, she sighted along the shot’s vector, and…there!  The slightest hint of unnatural outline.  She loosed, and was immediately rewarded with a cry and crash.
As she approached where he lay face-up on the path, his eyes widened in fear.
“You attacked upwind, Chagga.  Have you never listened to my instruction?”

Previous Installments:
Part 1:  Preparation
Part 2:  Infiltration
Part 3:  Eyrie
Part 4:  Patience
Part 5:  Stirrings
Part 6:  Action
Part 7:  Decision
Part 8, 9:  Discovery, Egress
Part 10:  Flight
Part 11:  Combat
Part 12:  Evasion
Part 13:  Suspicion

Sunday, December 4, 2011

The Archeress, Part 13

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Suspicion  (Part 13 of The Archeress)

She discarded the cloak at the edge of the city.  Her original escape plan had required moving along the river for some miles, but her impromptu camouflage had worked well enough.  Few of the Union’s security forces were aware of the events at the arena, and so she was able to walk out of town unmolested.
As she moved into the gathering dusk, her thoughts returned to her near capture.  It’s possible she could be mistaken about the door, but that did not explain the absence of her escape rope. 
Someone had sabotaged her mission.  And the list was short.

 

Previous Installments:
Part 1:  Preparation
Part 2:  Infiltration
Part 3:  Eyrie
Part 4:  Patience
Part 5:  Stirrings
Part 6:  Action
Part 7:  Decision
Part 8, 9:  Discovery, Egress
Part 10:  Flight
Part 11:  Combat
Part 12:  Evasion

Saturday, December 3, 2011

The Archeress, Part 12

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Evasion  (Part 12 of The Archeress)
Booted feet scuffed on the rooftop toward the two guards, now still in a spreading pool of blood.
“Viggs, stay and watch the ladder.  The rest, fan out.  We’ll find the bastard!”
The captain’s orders scattered the guards away from the cupola.  From her prone position atop, she swung silently through the cupola door.
Viggs was turned away, dutifully watching the ladder through the open hatch.  Her thumb found the pressure point, and he was unconscious in seconds.  She donned his dark cloak.
Back inside the hatch, she slid down the ladder, loosed her hair, and joined the still-fleeing crowd.


Previous Installments:
Part 1:  Preparation
Part 2:  Infiltration
Part 3:  Eyrie
Part 4:  Patience
Part 5:  Stirrings
Part 6:  Action
Part 7:  Decision
Part 8, 9:  Discovery, Egress
Part 10:  Flight
Part 11:  Combat

Friday, December 2, 2011

The Archeress, Part 11

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Combat (Part 11 of The Archeress)
The guards came at her side-by-side, the left dropping his pike to take her low, the other toward her face and throat.
As they closed, she pulled the blades free from her forearm sheaths, curved and wicked.  The left guard, steps ahead of his fellow, thrust at her knees, hoping to trip her.  She leaped lightly to the wall, pushed off with her left foot, and vaulted over him, slashing with her right hand at his unprotected neck.  Her flip continued, allowing her to bring a left backhand slash across the second guard’s face.
Blood sprayed as she ran on.


Previous Installments:
Part 1:  Preparation
Part 2:  Infiltration
Part 3:  Eyrie
Part 4:  Patience
Part 5:  Stirrings
Part 6:  Action
Part 7:  Decision
Part 8, 9:  Discovery, Egress
Part 10:  Flight

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Archeress, Part 10

Okay, readers.  The micro-serial that I've been writing for almost exactly a year...is finished.  I just completed parts 19 and 20 last night, and I'm done!  Below is Part 10.  If you've been following along with the installments all along, you'll be happy to know that the action is picking up now...slow burn to a higher-paced finish. 
If you haven't read any of these yet, please use the links at the bottom of this post to check out the first 9 parts and start at the beginning--it'll make a lot more sense.  They're only 100 words apiece...how long could it possibly take, right?
One more thing:  I'm going to post the next ten installments once a day for the next ten days.  By December 11th, the whole story will be told.  Including her name.
________________________________
Flight  (Part 10 of The Archeress)
Knowing she had only seconds until the guards burst from the cupola, she sprinted along the low wall crowning the roof to where she’d left the rope.  It was already anchored to the wall with a  breakaway clip; she would drop quickly to the river bank, loose the rope with a shake, and make her way to safety.
As she got within steps, she saw that the rope was gone.  Another surprise—far too many today.
“There she is!” 
Making a snap decision, she turned and ran directly toward the two guards emerging from the cupola, already lowering their pikes.



Previous Installments:
Part 1:  Preparation
Part 2:  Infiltration
Part 3:  Eyrie
Part 4:  Patience
Part 5:  Stirrings
Part 6:  Action
Part 7:  Decision
Part 8, 9:  Discovery, Egress

Monday, November 14, 2011

Ed Gets Chopped!

And now, a first in JLOS history, a guest blog!  Ed Scheid is a friend who shares a passion for home brewing, good wine, and of course great food.  He's also a fantastic photographer.  Check it out at his website, http://www.scheidphoto.com/

Recently, Ed's wife Christi threw down the culinary gauntlet:  Cook an original, delicious meal with secret ingredients she picks out, a-la Chopped.  Below is his recounting of the challenge, not to mention fairly detailed instructions on how to recreate it (way to give away your secrets, man).  Thanks Ed!
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Christi and I have pretty much become addicted to Chopped on the Food Network. If you are not familiar with it, it is a contest where four chefs compete against each other for $10,000. There are three rounds and after each round a chef is eliminated. The first round is an appetizer, the second is an entree and finally a desert. In each round the chefs are given four secret ingredients to use and they are typically ingredients that are pretty far apart on the culinary spectrum.

I'm not sure what got into the wife but she decided to toss me a challenge. I couldn't let my manhood be called out like that so I gladly accepted. She went out and bought my secret ingredients, two for an appetizer, three for an entree and two for a dessert. We decided to wave the time limits since A) I'm not a trained chef and B) our kitchen isn't even remotely equipped for such a challenge.

She went out and purchased her secret ingredients and here is what she came back with:

Appetizer:
  • Marcona almonds
  • Gouda goat cheese
Entree
  • Cornish Hens
  • Fresh spinach
  • Fresh cranberries
Desert:
  • Mini bananas
  • Whole Kona blend coffee beans
I'll admit that as soon as the challenge was presented the culinary gears in my head started to spin. All day yesterday I was thinking of different ingredients she might get and how I would prepare them. I probably had no less than a dozen recipes in my already figured out. Needless to say, it was all for not as she didn't come back with anything I expected.

The Appetizer

I figured Christi would get goat cheese since she loves it so much. Gouda goat cheese was a bit of a surprise but not too terribly different. A similar flavor but not crumbly. I like the almonds. They had a nice crunch and salty flavor. A salad instantly came to mind. For the first time I made my own dressing. It was a strawberry pomegranate balsamic vinaigrette. I decided to expand on the flavor of the almonds and candied them with brown sugar and bourbon. The gouda goat cheese is great by itself so I just shredded it on to baby spring mix greens. The tanginess of the dressing went great with the sweetness of the almonds and the creaminess of the cheese tied it together nicely.

Final dish: Bourbon candied Marcona almonds and Gouda goat cheese on baby spring mix greens with a strawberry  pomegranate balsamic vinaigrette

Bourbon candied Marcona almonds and Gouda goat cheese on baby spring mix greens with a strawberry pomegranate balsamic vinaigrette
 The Entree

I wasn't sure what Christi would have picked for a protein. I leaned towards fish but would have never expected she would have picked cornish hens. No big deal, they are just little chickens. The fresh cranberries worried me because of their tartness. I love raw spinach but wanted to try something different and cook it.

To add a third element to the entree I wanted to add a starch. Potato pancake came to mind but I didn't think it would tie in very well. Having some butternut squash on hand I decided to add sweet potato and make a butternut squash and sweet potato pancake. I seasoned it with cinnamon, nutmeg and brown sugar to give it that homey taste. To help bring together the pancake and hen I made a zinfandel cranberry applesauce.

I simply roasted the cornish hen with my typical poultry seasoning (fresh rosemary, fresh thyme, fresh sage, garlic salt, pepper and olive oil). I made a glaze of a cranberry and merlot reduction and glazed the hens about half way through cooking. I had to add a bit of sugar to the glaze since the cranberries were so tart. The glazed turn out awesome.

The spinach was a different story. I had never cooked with fresh spinach but I liked the idea. I kept it simple by wilting it in some bacon drippings, shallots and roasted garlic. I tossed in the bacon bits at the end. It was o.k. at best. I'll probably stick with raw spinach.

Final dish: Cranberry merlot glazed cornish hen with butternut squash and sweet potato cakes, zinfandel cranberry applesauce and bacon and roasted garlic spinach

Cranberry merlot glazed cornish hen with butternut squash and sweet potato cakes, zinfandel cranberry applesauce and bacon and roasted garlic spinach
 The Dessert

Ahhh... dessert!!!! Mini bananas? Easy! Coffee beans with bananas? New to me! The first thing that came to mind was banana pudding. But how to pair the coffee beans? I know! Coffee whipped cream! To make sure I got the pudding right I actually referred to a recipe. Desserts aren't as forgiving when it comes to measuring. I used Alton Brown's banana pudding recipe (or at least 95%) of it. Basically it's vanilla pudding but I mashed up half of the mini bananas and mixed them in. To add another layer of flavor I took the other half of the bananas and mixed them with some caramel. I finely ground the coffee beans and added them to the whipped cream. I layered each of the elements in a wine glass and sprinkled in some Godiva milk chocolate. All I can say is that it was banana coffee love in a glass.

Final dish: Banana pudding with caramel bananas and coffee infused whipped cream

Banana pudding with caramel bananas and coffee infused whipped cream
Verdict

All in all I think I rose to the challenge. Every dish except the banana pudding was my own recipe and new ones at that. The only misstep was the spinach but everyone, except grumpus August loved the meal. I can't image the stress the chefs feel actually competing. I'm just a dude who likes to cook and I felt like I had to be on top of my game. Every meal I cook makes me appreciate the people who do this for a living even more. Now how do I spend that $10,000!!!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Archeress, Parts 8, 9

A double feature tonight!  There's finally going to be some movement to this story, and I promise the finish is near.  Two microcfictions, one click.

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Discovery  (Part 8 of The Archeress)
Exhaling slowly, she released the bow string.  The arrow flew true, on the breath of the Gods.  She closed her eyes in silent grief as the bolt sped over the heads of the crowd, the welled tears wetting her cheeks. 
Then she felt it—the wind wavered.  She would never have felt it had she not shut out her sense of sight for an instant.  The Gods had abandoned her.
The arrow took him in the chest, but off target.  As he fell, she knew horror as his eyes followed the shaft to its origin.  And they locked with hers.

____________________________
Egress  (Part 9 of The Archeress)
She stood, frozen, an instant too long.  He collapsed to the stage, the crowd’s applause changing to screams.  One of the stage guards looked up…and saw her. 
Barked orders could be heard as she turned to the hatch, slinging her bow over her back.  As she opened the hatch, a shaft of daylight burst into her hiding place, further exposing her position.
She was startled by this.  Had she forgotten to close the outer door on the rooftop cupola covering the hatch?
Boots thumping on the ladder broke her thoughts.  She leaped through the hatch, and closed it behind her.

Previous Installments:
Part 1:  Preparation
Part 2:  Infiltration
Part 3:  Eyrie
Part 4:  Patience
Part 5:  Stirrings
Part 6:  Action
Part 7:  Decision

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Eat This! Autumn Seasonal Beer Pairing

It’s been a long time since I’ve written a food blog, but not because I haven’t been cooking.  Just been waiting for an appropriate topic to cover here, and I think I’ve got it here.
The idea of pairing wine with food is a well-established culinary topic that everyone knows about, if few really understand.  But there’s no question that an excellent wine pairing can truly enhance a dish, unlocking portions of the flavor profile that would remain hidden if eaten alone, and magnifying the portions that are already present.  No arguments there.
However, it’s only been recently (like within the last 5-10 years) that the same type of attention has been paid to pairing beers with food, especially in the U.S.  For this I blame the big, yellow-fizzy macrobrews that were the only thing that most people for decades knew as “beer.”  These days the country has truly rediscovered its glorious, immigrant-driven brewing past (which was all but wiped out by Prohibition), and the availability of interesting, innovative, and rare artisan brews is widespread.  This offers a great opportunity to the modern amateur chef…can I craft a menu with craft beer specifically in mind? 
Well of course the answer is yes…you can find a beer that will pair with literally any dish, from burgers to foie gras.  But making the connections when there are literally thousands of possibilities is the difficult part.  Brewing aficionados will even go so far as to tell you that pairing beer properly can be more difficult than pairing wine because of the vast variety of styles that are completely different from one another, while one red wine shares a lot of the same baseline characteristics as most other reds.  (This is of course a matter of opinion…don’t think I’m some sort of uncultured rube.  Well, not for that reason anyway.  If you must think of me as a rube, focus on my incomprehension of musical theatre instead.)
Anyway, all of this is leading up to a meal I recently prepared for a group of friends.  The dinner was actually done as a charity event for outreach programs in my wife’s church, a type of dinner known as Dining For Dollars.  Everyone buys a ticket for a limited number of seats at the table, and my wife and I cooked.  Five courses following a theme of autumn seasonal flavors, with a specific beer paired to each.  We actually held a test run of the dinner a few weeks ago...some of the photos are actually from that occasion, but mostly the same stuff. 
Let’s talk about it!
Course 1:  Appetizers

This one was a little loose and free, so I hesitate to call it a “course,” but it was still an interesting opportunity to introduce the guests to the concept of examining the way beer pairs with food, while giving everyone a chance to mingle and get to know each other.  It was essentially a buffet-style spread of light, finger fair to roughly fit the theme.  Apples, pears, table grapes, as well as a variety of cheeses to cover a range of the palette, from a soft, “fragrant” Chaumes to hard aged cheddar.  A couple of dry Italian sausages rounded it out, a Sopressata and a red-wine salami, and various crackers and sour dough bread. 
The pairings for this course were fairly easy, since you just need something that can lightly accent all the different flavors without overpowering any of them.  In this case I chose Duvel blonde and a very nice kolsch from Reissdorff. 


The Belgian Duvel is dry and faintly floral, with a very slight bitter finish and virtually no malt.  I found that it worked beautifully with the fruit, and was still light and dry enough to cut through the heavy flavors of the meats and cheeses.  The Reissdorf kolsch is an excellent example of an admittedly wide-open style, on the malty side with a fair amount of body.  To taste it after the Duvel is to immediately recognize it as a very different beer, and yet it worked equally well with the food.  I was not as impressed with the match to the fruit, but it was a generally good pairing to the heavier appetizers.
Course 2:  Fall Salad

The first formal course was a complex little salad to highlight the season and touch on all the major flavors.  A bed of baby greens was accented with candied walnuts, dried cranberries and creamy Gorgonzola cheese, with a fresh-made raspberry vinaigrette.  Thus, one small plate contains bitter, sweet, salty, and sour elements, all pulled together by the subtle vinaigrette…an interesting pairing challenge.
The pairing chosen (after much deliberation) was Jolly Pumpkin brewery’s Calabaza Blanca.

This is a challenging beer for newbies especially, but a delightful surprise with the salad when first tasted.  It’s a Belgian “biere blanche,” literally white beer, wheat/barley malt spiced with coriander and orange peel and aged in oak casks.  It is one of the most complex tasting experiences I’ve ever encountered, running through several iterations from sip to swallow.  It starts with attention-grabbing tartness, not unlike a lambic or other sour ale, but this quick fades and is replaced with a dry spiciness that mellows as it finishes.  On the whole, the perfect way to draw and blend the various flavors of the salad without overpowering and engulfing any of them.
Course 3:  Smoky Squash Bisque with Crème Freche and Bacon

For the soup course, I’m going to the safety of a recipe I’ve presented here before, with a small aggressive twist.  The soup is a relatively simple combination of butternut squash, mirepoix, chicken stock and chipotle chile.  I used bacon at the front end (aromatics sweated in bacon drippings) and the back (rendered bacon as garnish), with the crème freche to smooth the whole experience out and add a bit of needed fat.  What results is a warm, hearty and savory soup, with a strong presence of heat from the chiles. 
The pairing chosen would seem to be fairly obvious, Weyerbacher’s Imperial Pumpkin Ale.

When pairing beer with spicy food, I find it’s best to go with a malty brew that allows the heat to dissipate from your tongue slowly, without short circuiting it entirely.  Since capsaicin (the chemical that makes chiles hot)  is alcohol soluble, that helps too, although too much and your body actually reacts the wrong way by opening up pores and letting the heat in too far.  Okay, maybe some of that is bullshit, but this imperial pumpkin ale works fantastic with the soup.  It’s not spiced so much that you can’t even taste the pumpkin, and is high enough alcohol content (around 8%) that it helps with the mouth-burn.  Squash notes still very present in the soup tie directly to their cousins in the ale, and everything just…works.
Course 4:  Porchetta and Boulangerie Beans with Potatoes and Leeks

The main event, and far and away the most difficult of the dishes to prepare (it should be that way, shouldn’t it?).  Porchetta translates from Italian as, roughly, “whole roasted pig,” and this recipe tries to recreate that with boneless pork loin and skin-on pork belly.  An earlier test of the dish revealed it to be pretty bland and fatty (fatty, really?  The hell, you say.)   This was solved quite handily by brining the pork belly for two days before assembling the porchetta, using Fergus Henderson’s recipe .  The result was a flavorful and moist (and yes, fatty, but in a good way) roast, accented by the fennel, garlic and orange worked into the roll, surrounded by that awesome, cracking skin. 
How about a couple more pictures, huh?

The roast is rustically sliced and served on a bed of boulangerie beans and potatoes, with leeks as a beautiful addition.  This is a version of a very classic French peasant dish—basically their version of Boston baked beans in terms of culinary anthropology.  And let me say this one thing:  I love leeks.  Leeks are just the bees’ knees.  Leeks are what onions could be if they’d just get off their ass and apply themselves.  And leeks with butter could win the Democratic presidential nomination (but not the Republican one…too “elitist,” like arugula).


The pairing here is another one that could be considered obvious, at least from a cultural and geographic consideration:  Saison DuPont
Yet another Belgian style (it wasn’t supposed to be the theme, that’s just what fell out), saison is a farmhouse ale, meant to be a table beer served with traditional “home-cooking.”  Crossing some national boundaries serving it with an Italian main course, but it fits pretty perfectly.  It’s actually cheating a little bit, because saisons will pair well with just about anything savory—heavier stuff like this, but also seafood, salads, you name it.  It's also one of my personal favorites.  The flavor profile is very complex but not as easy to separate out like our friend the Calabaza served with the salad, which suits the dish well. 
Course 5:  Dense Chocolate Tort with Salted Caramel Sauce

I will take no credit for the dessert course.  My wife, who happily cedes most of the cooking duties to me, takes great pleasure and pride in her desserts, and this one clearly reflects that.  The flourless tort is made with Irish butter, two different types of chocolate, and what I can only assume is some sort of black magic.  It is a bittersweet dream to behold.  The caramel sauce is made with a red sea salt from Hawaii that is one of her little secrets (sorry, babe, but the truth must be told).  Oh, and she also likes to do sugar art, as you can see from the photo above.  Amazing.
Such an amazing dessert deserves an amazing pairing that won’t total overpower or destroy it.  And yes, of course you can drink beer with dessert—stop thinking like a yellow-fizzy.  Southern Tier Crème Brulee Imperial Stout was the hands-down favorite.

Chocolate can go well with a lot of stouts and porters, or other malty styles, without much trouble.  But this beer, with its creamy texture and burnt-caramel notes, seemed designed specifically for this tort.  It’s made with dark caramel malt, real vanilla bean and lactose sugar, producing and incredibly smooth and mouth-heavy stout.  Creamy, stable head on top enhances the nose as well.  If you could make crème brulee drinkable, this is what you’d end up with.
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So that’s the meal.  It worked so well that I think I’m going to do it more often, with different themes.  Maybe a nice grillout with great summer ales and crisp IPA’s.  Or a meal of reconstructed Cincinnati favorites—Skyline, goetta, and Graeter’s anyone?—with the best of the reborn Cincinnati brewing scene for accent? 
Anyone have suggestions?  And if you want any of the recipes described here, just let me know and I’ll send them your way.


Thursday, November 3, 2011

Book Review, One Second After, by William Fortschen

A lot of energy has been expended in the last decade discussing—and arguing—about how best to defend our nation against attack from unknown threats.  September 11th changed the way a lot of Americans thought about not only our security, but about our uniquely “American” lifestyle, and how it plays to the rest of the world.  Some of the more radical have suggested that our pampered, affluent existence contributed to the sentiment behind the attacks, a few even suggesting that we deserved it.
 William Forstchen’s One Second After, while clearly told from a very conservative and classically patriotic viewpoint, tends ironically to reinforce those views.  The book is a work of speculative fiction, examining the aftermath of a massive and sudden EMP attack on the United States in the present day.  Set in Black Mountain, NC, a small exurb of Asheville, the book’s central character and sole point of view is John Matherson, ex-Army colonel and professor of history at the tiny Christian college in the town.  His life is bucolic and uneventful, though touched with melancholy over the death of his wife some years before and the ongoing struggles of his younger daughter Jennifer, who suffers from Type 1 diabetes.  
 It is during Jennifer’s 12th birthday party that the disaster occurs, though no one will fully realize it for some time.  Initially considered just an annoying power outage, signs that something larger has happened begin to trickle into John’s consciousness:  every car on the freeway has stopped in place; there are no contrails in a sky normally crisscrossed by air traffic; several mysterious fires burn on distant mountainsides.  Most worrisome of all, no radio broadcasts can be heard, even on an ancient Ford Edsel radio.
Matherson, remembering some of the research he’d participated in as a professor at the Army War College, begins to suspect we’ve been the target of an “asymmetric strike.”  Gradually the townspeople begin to realize that something terrible has happened, and things begin to turn much darker.
And darker. 
And, oh GOD, even darker.
Listen, if you’re a person who likes to sleep soundly and worry-free at night, just…just don’t read this book.  I’m not going to go into details about events in the book, because I’m not a spoiler reviewer.  But suffice to say that living in our society after the lights—and 99.9% of all vehicular transportation, and communications, and any semblance of sustainable modern medicine—have gone out is not pleasant or leisurely.  The world rediscovers the Dark Ages, and fast.  Like within weeks.  The consequences of the attack and its impact on society are dire and coldly logical in their conclusions.  Perhaps pessimistic, but to my mind not implausible.
As readability goes, One Second After is really quite good, if a little clunky and prone to data dumps.  A tendency to over-explain jokes and characters’ penchant for launching into long, improbably well thought-out monologues runs through the novel from beginning to end.  However, Forstchen focuses narrowly on one place and set of primary characters, which moves the story along briskly and is seldom disorienting.  He thus avoids a trap many post-apocalyptic novels tend to fall into by trying to tell the entire story of a global disaster.  The devastating impact of the event is felt at the local level—much like every single other thing in the country from now on, because globalization dies the instant the EMP strikes. 
Unfortunately, there is a big downfall, and it is one of message.  Forstchen, through Matherson and several other “realist” characters, repeatedly makes the point that the current generation is “the most pampered in our nation’s history,” citing such softening factors as cheap and easily accessible drinking water, widely-prescribed antidepressants, and ADD-inducing electronic devices.  No one seemed to realize these were so ingrained in our culture until faced with the reality that they were suddenly and permanently gone.  While this is certainly true enough, the same characters, sometimes in the same breath, also complain a lot about how the nation turned a blind eye to the risks involved in living such a life, until it was too late to do anything about it. 
This criticism is frustrating, because none of the characters, even the knowledge-font Matherson, offers any real preventative solutions that could have been taken.  Some vague discussion of “hardened” devices in use by the military is bandied about, but very little else.  Instead, the novel tends to mistily glorify the pre-solid state technology of the Greatest Generation—hardly a real option for most of us.  The novel is meant to be a warning for us to do something before it’s too late, but what?  Without offering possible solutions, Forstchen ends up sounding a bit like Abe Simpson, shaking his fist at the whippersnappers on his lawn, who should be using rotary telephones and medicating with bourbon, like in his day.
Rating:  3.5 out of 5 stars