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Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Family Matters

“Cyberpunk” has been much on my mind lately, or more accurately, in my face. I’ve received the usual batch of fall semester queries from students writing papers, a few more requests from various publishers seeking reprint and/or translation rights—one of which was worth taking seriously, so I did, and I’ll have more to say about that book when we get closer to the publication date—and one request from an incredibly dedicated fan who had turned up a nice clean copy of the November 1983 issue of Amazing Stories and wanted me to sign it, specifically in the white space at the top of page 94.

Oh. That means I have to look at page 94 again.

Here, for your reference, is what the top of page 94 looks like. Note the introduction that George Scithers wrote nearly 40 years ago for the original magazine publication of the story. Please read it closely.


And now, the story that some of you have heard or read before, but most probably have not. 

___________________________

I no longer remember the name of the con. It was somewhere around thirty years ago and I want to say it was a WorldCon, but I really don’t remember. What I do remember is that I was with a bunch of other mid-list, mid-life, and mid-career pros, we were in the professional SF/F writer’s natural habitat—the hotel bar—and we were having just a great old time, drinking heavily and swapping divorce horror stories. My first wife, Nancy, had just kicked me out, changed the locks, and filed for separation, and to be honest, I deserved it. In those days I was Bruce Bethke, Semi-Famous Science Fiction Writer, and I was a real jerk.

What struck me at the time was how casually everyone there took the news. It was as if it was a rite of passage, or an occupational requirement, or perhaps even a milestone on the road to success. “Okay, you’ve just sold your fifth novel. Time for your first divorce.” “Ha ha, SFWA: we put the fun in dysfunctional!” Ben Bova gave me a signed copy of his book, Survival Guide for the Suddenly Single. The then-editor of the SFWA Bulletin asked me to write an article on how to protect your intellectual property rights in a divorce. A certain editor who shall remain nameless, assuming I was broke and desperate for cash, tried to talk me into a book deal, ghostwriting for a certain well-known media personality who had a burning desire to see his name on the cover of an SF novel but no actual time to write, knowledge of writing, or discernible writing talent. It was a wonderful evening of back-slapping camaraderie.

Later, when I sobered up, it began to disturb me. It wasn’t just that being a writer seemed to be toxic to marriage and family: it was how readily the writers I knew (and at the time, being on the SFWA board of directors, I knew hundreds of successful writers) accepted this toxicity. I realized I could count on my fingers all the writers I knew who had intact first marriages and functional families. By and large my peers were women whose cats were their surrogate children; women who had had one or two children with male gametes supplied by one or more long-gone donors; men who would never get married and father children because they just didn’t swing that way; or worst of all, really successful male writers who had been married, but were now perfectly content to let their children be raised by their ex-wife’s next man. Or woman. Or whatever.

That’s when it struck me. The problem wasn’t that being a writer is somehow toxic to marriage and family. It was a matter of selection bias. My peer group was composed of divorced SF/F writers because we were all, every one of us, people who believed it was more important to our careers for us to be there, at that con, drinking with our fellow writers and editors in a hotel bar, than at home with our wives and families.

This, in turn, explained a nascent trend I at first thought I was only imagining I was seeing. The world of SF/F—at least, the social, con-going, dedicated fandom part of it—was not just family-neutral, but in the process of turning actively family-hostile. And the problem wasn’t just with passing trends in genre fiction, or the idiosyncrasies of the current batch of editors who bought it, or the greedy bastard publishers who printed it. The problem was the writers.

¤

It was too late to save my first marriage. The best I could hope for was to try to have a good post-marriage for the sake of my daughters. Later I remarried, and added a step-son and another son to the family. I worked—really worked—at being a good husband and father, and quit going to cons, unless I could go with my family. The last major con we went to was Dragon Con, and we went as a family.

Emily would have loved Dragon Con. She grew up to be a costumer, a crafter, and a devoted fan of all things Harry Potter. We lost Emily in late September of 2009—suddenly, from a natural cause that was undiagnosed, unpredictable, unpreventable, and apparently had been waiting years for the opportunity to kill her.

People often ask why I don’t try to put together a complete collection of all my short stories from the 1980s and 1990s. That photo at the top of this column is the reason. Whenever I try to do it, I get as far as the introduction George Scithers wrote for the original magazine publication of “Cyberpunk” and then I grind to a stop. Other people look at my publication credits and see a bunch of short stories, some of them pretty good, some Nebula-nominated, some even world famous. What I see is all the time I stole from my daughters’ childhoods and all the damage I did to my first marriage, chasing the mirage of being Bruce Bethke, Semi-Famous Science Fiction Writer.

¤


A few people know that in 2010, when we went to Dragon Con, it was between the time Karen (my second wife) was diagnosed with breast cancer and the first round of what’s turned out to be an eleven-year odyssey of surgery, chemotherapy, radiation treatments, and then more of the same. Karen has beaten the odds so far: when she was first diagnosed she was told to expect that she had two more years, five tops, and eleven years later she’s still here and still in the fight.

What even fewer people have known until recently is that in December of 2012, my first wife, Nancy, was diagnosed with renal cell carcinoma. After a five-and-a-half year battle, she left this world in August of 2018.

For those of you who have asked why I don’t go to WorldCon anymore or why I really don’t give a crap about any of the many cat-fights and pissing contests that are forever going on inside the world of SF/F writing and fandom: seriously, are you kidding? You think that stuff is important?

¤


Thirty-eight years later, we know some of the answers to the questions George Scithers posed in his introduction to “Cyberpunk.” Nancy and Emily now sleep for eternity, side-by-side in a small churchyard cemetery in rural Minnesota.

As for me? You can’t fix yesterday. But you can learn from experience, and try to pass on what you have learned.

This was my experience. Learn from it.


 

Monday, September 20, 2021

A View from the Geek: Do Your Own Research Vs. Do Your Research • By Eric Dontigney

As a fiction writer, you must strive for verisimilitude. It’s the gold standard, that appearance of or resemblance to truth or reality. It’s even more important when you delve into speculative fiction. The more outrageous the story you plan to tell, in terms of breaks from understood physics, the more time you must spend grounding and cloaking the rest of the story in the garments of truth. It’s why writers spend so much time on the details. Mind you, they don’t need to be familiar details. Science fiction and fantasy thrive on building new worlds. The catch is that the details must make sense. They must be consistent.

Maybe it’s all the years of striving for verisimilitude in my fiction. Maybe I just had better-than-average teachers. Maybe it was all those years studying philosophy with its unusually rigorous demands for arguments that make sense. Maybe it’s all of those things that make me want to do physical violence on people when I see the phrase, “Do your own research,” bandied about on the Internet. It would take more words and space than is practical here to unpack everything that underlies that phrase, so I’m just going to hit the highlights.

The underlying assumption of that phrase is that you cannot trust the things that so-called authorities tell you. At best, those authorities are misguided. At worst, they’re actively engaged in a national or even global conspiracy to deceive you into doing something that is not in your best interest.

And people say that speculative fiction writers push the edges of plausibility. Let’s pause and consider how well people keep little secrets. On the whole, people who aren’t sociopaths are terrible at it. It’s routinely obvious when someone is keeping a secret, even if you don’t know about exactly what. Half the time, the person keeping the secret winds up telling someone else the secret and then swearing that person to secrecy. Considering how well person one kept that secret, it’s sort of baffling that they think person two will do a better job. These are for small, non-dangerous secrets.

So, let’s consider how likely it really is that the employees of the 200 or so governments in the world are successfully keeping a conspiracy under their hats. How likely is it that every last one of those millions of people is actively lying to everyone they know on daily basis and doing it successfully? How likely is it really that not a single one of those people have been struck by a crisis of conscience and released definitive evidence of the conspiracy to a news outlet? Yeah, it’s about as likely as you winning the lottery. Actually, you have about a one in fourteen million chance of winning the lotto on average. On balance, you probably have better odds of winning the lotto than the odds of a global conspiracy being kept secret for any length of time.

Setting aside that there is about zero chance of a global conspiracy staying secret, let’s look at how you’re supposed to deal with these lying conspiratorial authorities.

The apparent explicit cure to this problem is to “do your own research.” Yet, no one really digs into what that entails. Let’s take something like, oh, I don’t know, vaccinations against a global pandemic as our case in point. How does one “do their own research” about vaccinations for a global pandemic? I don’t have a multimillion-dollar laboratory at my disposal. Do you? I also don’t have a Ph.D. in biology, chemistry, biochemistry, or an MD. So, even if I did own a private laboratory by some fluke, I wouldn’t know what to do with it. I wouldn’t know how to test vaccines or how to interpret the results if, by some science magic, those results simply appeared. I have zero expertise in epidemiology. So, I have no way to correlate the result I do not have, from research I cannot conduct, in the expensive laboratory I do not own to said pandemic.

Of course, the “do your own research” crowd doesn’t actually mean that you should do your own research. What they mean is that you should go out and find a source, any source, no matter how unreliable that source, that confirms your existing position. That is not doing your own research. That’s nothing more than proactively confirming your assumptions.

Doing your research means that you find reliable sources. In our society, that generally means you rely on the actual research conducted by people who are actual experts in their fields. Yes, that does put you on somewhat shaky ground in terms of pure logic. Relying on expert opinions is a logical fallacy known as appeal to authority, but it’s the best we can do until everyone can master every subject. No, your high school and/or college biology and chemistry classes do not make you an expert on things like vaccinations…unless you’re an actual biologist or chemist or doctor engaged in vaccination research. But, if that’s the case, you’ve become an authority and we’re all bickering about how you either are or aren’t a sadistic conspirator trying to wiretap our brains with the nanotechnology you’ve embedded in those dastardly vaccinations. (Yes, it hurt my soul to write that last sentence.)

“What about when there’s dissenting research?” Screeches someone from the slathering horde. “That’s proof, PROOF, that the authorities are lying!” 

Yeah, it’s not. Science and medicine don’t operate in the realm of absolute, unassailable truth. That’s philosophy. Specifically, it’s a reference to the ideas of Platonic realism that assert that there are pure forms of things that exist in some abstract realm. These Platonic forms, assuming they exist at all, are absolute, unassailable truth. They are the thing perfected, but only as an abstract idea. Contravening research certainly doesn’t carry the weight of a priori knowledge that you can demonstrate as true sans any reference to experience and through logic alone. Science and medicine are a posteriori ventures. They literally accumulate knowledge through experience. They investigate the observed effect to determine the cause. It’s imperfect, but not insidious on the whole. 

That means that when there is dissenting research, you must weigh that research against the whole body of similar research. If 99% of the research performed with good experimental controls all come up with similar conclusions, that dissenting research is probably wrong or accidentally measuring an aberration. That’s what doing your research looks like. It means you listen to what the actual experts on a topic say. You consider the weight of evidence supporting their claims. Then you act on the best information available. Taking that 1% of research as proof that everyone else is lying doesn’t make you smart, or a rebel, or dedicated to freedom. It’s just evidence of ignorance.

  _______________________________________________

Eric Dontigney is the author of the highly regarded novel, THE MIDNIGHT GROUND, as well as the Samuel Branch urban fantasy series and the short story collection, Contingency Jones: The Complete Season One. Raised in Western New York, he currently resides near Dayton, OH. You can find him haunting obscure sections of libraries, in Chinese restaurants or occasionally online at ericdontigney.com.

 

Sunday, September 19, 2021

Talking Shop: Eric's Writing Challenge Update 13

So, I meant to do this Friday and got caught up doing the work that pays the bills. Then, I meant to do this yesterday and got caught up doing the work that pays the bills and working on the book. So, here is the update. Better late than never.

Let's start with the writing challenge.

To date, I've written about 68,750 words toward the end goal of 87,500. That puts me about 79% of the way there. I wrote about 4,000 words this last week, which works out to about 571 words a day across 7 days. 

Now for the Rinn's Run Update.

Total words written: 68,750 (approximately)

Total Chapters completed: 33 (almost 34)

Percentage complete: Around 91%

Things got more or less back to normal this last week in terms of the writing. I didn't write as much as I wanted to, but that happens. Sometimes, you just have to buckle on the day job stuff. That was last week for me. On the good side, I didn't need to backtrack again. (Yay!) I'm moving part one along toward it's conclusion. It may come in a bit over 75,000 words, but shouldn't exceed 80,000. I figure that by the time it goes through editing, it'll be back down in the 70,000 to 75,000 words range. If all goes semi-according to plan, I think the first draft will be complete this week.

Saturday, September 18, 2021

Status Update • 18 September 2021

 

And another week flits past in the blink of an eye. More doctors, more clinics, more hospitals, more diagnostic work-ups: next week we find out whether this last cycle of thrice-daily infusions did the job and Karen can go back to normal chemotherapy or whether she needs another cycle of intravenous icannotbegintopronounceitin. The nasty bit is that this drug and her usual chemo conflict badly. While she’s on this one, they’ve had to suspend chemo, so while she’s making progress against the infection, she’s losing ground to the cancer. 

On the bright side, after doing the procedure approximately 168 times so far I’ve become quite adept at doing infusions. I now have the process down from at least an hour each time to about 45 minutes, and have become much better at multitasking, doing this bit with the ring finger and pinky of my left hand while I’m simultaneously doing that thing with my thumb, middle, and index fingers of my left hand and this other thing way over here with my right hand. Now if only there was something I could control with a foot pedal.

A few people have asked me to make some kind of inspiring statement about how Stupefying Stories is going to rise from the chaos and burst forth in new glory. I could make such a statement, or I could be honest. While the last eleven years have been challenging (to put it mildly), and the last 27 months have been quite difficult, the past eleven weeks have been downright hellish. I keep making plans for how and when we’re going to reemerge and resume publication, both of new books and of new stories and features on this web site, once the current medical crisis is resolved, but then Something Happens to throw everything into chaos again. Thursday morning, at 1:30 a.m. CDT, it was a ruptured hose in the laundry room—which was easily controlled and contained, but not before the flood had spread into my office, which I didn’t discover until about 9 a.m. Thursday morning, when I went into my office to boot up and get to work for the day and found I now had an indoor water feature.

Helpful hint: if you have a basement office and one or more tower computers, spend a few bucks, get some concrete blocks, and get your hardware up off the floor. It can save your sanity, as it did mine this time. The only irreplaceable thing destroyed in this misadventure was the only existing copy of one particular book manuscript.

Shrug. To be honest, I was never going to finish writing that novel anyway. I’ll take it as a sign and move on. 

More news next week,
Bruce Bethke

P.S. In the meantime, here's some art I got for another project that never happened. Enjoy!

 



Friday, September 10, 2021

Talking Shop: Eric's Writing Challenge Update 12

As per Wednesday's post on the perils of organic novel writing, this weeks Writing challenge update is a little weird. So, let the oddness being with the Writing Challenge itself.

In theory, I wrote about 4000 words this last week. Great, right? Yeah, except no. The decision to split the space opera into two parts meant that, while most of what I'd written worked just fine, I had to roll back basically everything I wrote last week. A version of that work will appear in the book, but a substantively different version of it. It was less a change in theme or tone than one of focus. The end result, however, was that my net gain for the writing challenge is about 500 words for the week. I suppose I could count those deleted words toward the challenge, but I'm not going to. It's one thing to count words that you know may get some editing. It's something else to count words that don't exist anywhere anymore. So that makes my average for this this last week about 75 words per day or so. That puts my current total for the writing challenge at around 56,400 and around 64% completed. 

On to Rinn's Run.

Total Words Completed: Approximately 64,750

Total Chapters Completed: 32 (almost 33)

Percentage Completed (theoretical): Around 81%

I was just going to leave the post there with the very modest update to Rinn's Run, but I changed my mind. I'll admit that chucking around 3500 words stung a bit. Yet, it was for the greater good. The new version puts me on a clearer track toward the conclusion for part one. That means a better book. While I have gone on endlessly about how important getting the words on the page is, it does create dangers when you pair it up with organic novel writing. I ran face first into one of those dangers. The tradeoff for that approach is that I had to be willing to take the hit on deleting what had seemed like perfectly good words on the page in service to a major change in the game plan. It happened to me. It could happen to you. 

The takeaway here is you can't let something like that put you into a tailspin. Let yourself feel bad about it for a little while. I gave myself about 10 minutes and had some popcorn because popcorn makes me feel better about everything. After that brief period of feeling bad (and I'm talking like half an hour, max), you need to get back to putting words on the page. The longer you let yourself feel bad, the less and less you'll want to get back to it. This is a prime example of the need to get back on the horse as quickly as possible. Once you start putting words on the page again, it will make you feel better and you'll fall back into a rhythm pretty quickly.

 _______________________________________________

Eric Dontigney is the author of the highly regarded novel, THE MIDNIGHT GROUND, as well as the Samuel Branch urban fantasy series and the short story collection, Contingency Jones: The Complete Season One. Raised in Western New York, he currently resides near Dayton, OH. You can find him haunting obscure sections of libraries, in Chinese restaurants or occasionally online at ericdontigney.com.

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Talking Shop: On the Perils of Organic Novel Writing • By Eric Dontigney

Photo by Philippe Donn from Pexels

For the last few months, I’ve been posting on here about my Writing Challenge and appending those updates with one about my space opera, Rinn’s Run. I’d originally set a target length of about 100,000 words for Rinn’s Run. I picked that number because it’s more or less industry standard for science fiction novels. I’ll just write to order, I thought to myself.

Oh, foolish, foolish writer.

There were some things I hadn’t really counted on when I embarked on this journey into space opera writing. First, I had zero plan when I started. I wrote the first 5000 words on a lark. I hadn’t given any real thought to how it would end. I’ve always known in the past, in general or specific, how my novels would end. I just assumed that I’d figure it out as I went. And, I did! Yay for correct assumptions. Of course, I was about 50,000 words into the novel when I figured out how I wanted it to end and…big shocker…I hadn’t really been writing the story on an arc to fit that end. At least, not and wrap it up at the 100,000-word mark.

So, I started thinking about how I could maybe wrap it up if I gave myself an extra 10,000 or 20,000 words. Yeah, that’s getting long, but not too unreasonably long…at least not on a The Wheel of Time or The Stormlight Archives scale. The more I thought about what it would take to make the ending I had in mind happen, the longer the book would have to be. By the time I’d fleshed out a partial mental outline, I was estimating that the book would likely run in the 140,000-word range. Plus, I’d have to gloss over some things that would likely make the ending feel rushed. I wouldn’t like it. I suspect that readers wouldn’t like it. To do it right, I figured I’d need something more like 150,000 to 170,000 words.

Estimates vary, but I generally figure around 300 words per page for your average paperback. At 150,000 to 170,000 words, that’s a 500+ page doorstop. That is an unreasonable length, to my mind, for a space opera. So, I went back to what I’d written so far and really examined the story. Then, I considered where I wanted my hero to end up. I had a realization. This was going to be a novel in two parts. What I’d written so far was following its own natural arc toward a kind of mini-conclusion. It’s not a resolution for the whole story, but it is a resolution for some key plot points.

Even more importantly, I was going to roll up on the natural break in the story somewhere around the 75,000-word mark. I think that is a very reasonable length for a space opera. So, rather than eventually release a tome you can’t comfortably hold in your hands while you read, I’m going to split Rinn’s Run into two parts. I’m expecting both parts to run about 75,000-80,000 words, which puts us right in the comfortable-to-hold, 250-page book range. It also means you’ll get my best version of the story, instead of my “trying to artificially hit a target word count” version. 

The other upside is that I should be done with part one in the next couple of weeks. That will let me get started on the editing while I work on part 2 and finish up a couple of smaller projects that have been languishing on the back burner.

  _______________________________________________

Eric Dontigney is the author of the highly regarded novel, THE MIDNIGHT GROUND, as well as the Samuel Branch urban fantasy series and the short story collection, Contingency Jones: The Complete Season One. Raised in Western New York, he currently resides near Dayton, OH. You can find him haunting obscure sections of libraries, in Chinese restaurants or occasionally online at ericdontigney.com.

 

Write and Wrung Out • by Beth DeVore

 


Tuesday, September 7, 2021

It must be September...

It must be September. The geese are flocking up in the cow pasture and beginning to work out their migration formations. The cranes and egrets have already left. The vegetables in the garden are ripe and ready for harvest, some of the more highly stressed trees are already beginning to turn colors and shed leaves, and the first of this semester’s new crop of “Dear Mr. Bethke” messages have already begun to show up in my email inbox. 

There is a certain charmingly naïve sameness to them. “Dear Mr. Bethke,” they all begin, “I am a [academic major] student at [insert school name here] and I am writing a paper on…”

Don’t tell me! Let me guess!

Yeah, that’s what I thought.

Okay, “the time has come,” the Walrus said—or was it “Goo Goo G’joob?” I must confess now to not having paid nearly as much attention to walrus vocalizations over the years as I perhaps should have—

The time has come, to finish this damned book.

I’ve been puttering with this one for years. Never finishing it, because I’m not as interested in my own history as other people seem to be, but it’s time to admit that if I don’t finish it now, I probably never will. This book was always intended to be the definitive text of the original short story, as first published in Amazing in 1983; the complete text of the Baen-damaged novel that grew from the original short story and its cycle of sequels, some published and some not; and then a rather longish coda that explains how the story came to be in the first place, what went wrong with the novel, and then attempts to make some sense of what it’s meant to me personally to have spent the past forty years—forty! Holy Crap, where did the time go?—being known all over the world as “the guy who wrote ‘Cyberpunk’.”

The problem with this book has always been that the coda keeps growing beyond control, much like that anise hyssop patch in the northeast corner of my backyard. 

Ergo, the time has come. Let’s put a stake in it. Let’s finish this thing. This is your big chance: if you’ve ever had a question you wanted to ask me about the c-word, ask it now. Ask me anything. No question is off-limits, although I can’t promise I’ll answer. Ask me a really good question that provokes an interesting response and I’ll give you a shout-out in the Acknowledgements section.

Oh yeah, and you probably want to know how to contact me. You can either post your questions in the comments here, tag me on either the Bruce.Bethke or StupefyingStories facebook pages, or by email to brb [at] rampantloonmedia [dot] com. I suppose you could also post them on the Stupefying Stories Twitter thingie, but I can’t guarantee I’ll see it there. I continue to have a loathe/hate relationship with Twitter. 

So, ready? Then let’s get this thing wrapped up.

Thanks,
Bruce Bethke

Sunday, September 5, 2021

Sunday, 5 September 2021

Hey. Even we need to take a weekend off once in a while. In the meantime, for your enlightenment, here’s one from the archives, circa 2018.

Enjoy!
~brb



Recipe • 15-minute German Potato Salad • by Karen Bethke



I love the smell of charcoal in the early evening. It smells like... Hubby’s cooking dinner! Which means that my job is to park myself in a comfty chair, with a good book and a glass of wine, and provide the occasional encouraging word, until—

“Honey? What do we have for a carb?”


Sigh. Maeve will have to wait. If I leave it up to him he’ll make garlic bread again, and while we both love garlic bread, we love it perhaps a little too much. Portion control becomes a problem. After that, Plans B and C are either to microwave some russets or whip up some instant mashed potatoes, but to be honest, there are only so many times you can face up to plain old baked or mashed potatoes before you go crazy.

Therefore today, I am going to reveal a long-kept secret: not the details of this recipe, but the fact that I can whip it together in about 15 minutes. For years, I’ve kept hubby and kids believing it takes hours to make this dish.

Before we get started, though: note that this recipe is for German-style potato salad, which, being German, is more on the sour end of the taste spectrum than your traditional mayonnaise-based American-style potato salad. Also note that it’s meant to be served warm, not cold, and while it’s not exactly a low-fat dish, it is lower in fat than your typical potatoes drowned in mayonnaise. Finally, it’s surprisingly low-sodium and low-carb. This recipe serves four, and depending on how you make it, the carb load comes in at about 20 grams per serving.

Before you begin
You’ll need:
• a medium-sized frying pan
• a large Dutch oven with a lid
• a heavy-duty colander: something that will survive having boiling water and whole potatoes dumped into it
• a large serving bowl: same requirements as the colander
• at least one cutting board
• the usual assortment of knives, spatulas, etc.

Ingredients
• 1~1.5 lbs of small red potatoes
• 3~4 slices of thick-cut bacon
• 1/2 cup diced sweet/mild onion
• 1 tbsp general purpose flour
• 1/4 cup unfiltered apple cider vinegar
• 1/2 cup water
• 1~2 tsp sugar
• 1/3 tsp ground black pepper

Ironically, I prefer my apple cider vinegar unfiltered but my tap water filtered. (Thank you, 3M!) As for the potatoes, try to pick small ones that are all about the same size, as they’ll cook more consistently. I generally try to get ones that are about golf-ball sized. You can speed-up the cooking process by cutting them in half before you boil them, or even by microwaving them, but you’ll get firmer and better-tasting potatoes by boiling them whole.

Preparation
Scrub the potatoes thoroughly, then put them in the Dutch oven, cover them with water, and put them on the stove over a high heat. You want to get them boiling as quickly as possible. They’ll come to a boil much faster if you put the lid on your Dutch oven and resist the urge to keep checking on them.


While the potatoes are going, chop the bacon into inch-long pieces and get it going in the frying pan over a low heat. Personally, I prefer to handle raw meat with a non-porous (plastic) cutting board and one knife and raw vegetables with a different cutting board and a different knife, but that may just be because my sister is a public health nurse and restaurant inspector. Dice up the onion, set it aside, and mix up the cider vinegar, water, and sugar. If your family is averse to sour you can use 2 tsp of sugar, but hubby and the kids, being of German ancestry, like it sour, so I use 1 tsp.


This is also a good time to get the colander set up for action in the kitchen sink. When it’s time to drain the potatoes, you’ll want a clear path from the stove to the sink because you’re going to need to move quickly.

Check on the potatoes from time to time, but not too often, as every time you open the lid you slow the cooking down a little. When you can stick a fork into the potatoes cleanly and with no resistance, they’re done. Expect this to take about ten minutes after they’ve reached boil.

In the meantime, when the bacon is crispy, gently lift it out of the frying pan and set it aside to drain. I use a wooden fork to avoid scratching my frying pan and put the bacon on a folded paper towel on a plate, to soak up the excess grease. After you’ve got all the large chunks of bacon out of the pan, you should have about 2 to 3 tbsp of bacon grease left in the pan, along with some yummy stuff too small to lift out. You can drain some of the bacon grease if you like, but you need at least 1 tbsp of bacon grease in the pan to fry the onions, so I usually just leave it all in there, unless it was exceptionally fatty bacon.

Quickly, before the bacon grease starts to smoke, throw in the onions and cook them over a low flame. You want to cook the onions until they soften; you don’t want them carmelized or fried to a crisp. As soon as the onions are soft, add the flour, and continue to cook over a low heat.


Essentially, you’re making a roux. This is the base for pretty much all gravies: fat and flour, at a ratio of 1 tbsp flour per 1 cup fluid. Cook the onions and flour slowly for about a minute, stirring constantly to make sure it doesn’t burn (and to get all those yummy bits stuck on the pan back into solution!). Add the vinegar/water mix, mix it thoroughly and bring it to a boil, and cook for another minute or so until it starts to thicken and become glossy. Then add about a 1/3 tsp of freshly ground black pepper—freshly ground always tastes better—mix thoroughly, turn off the burner, and move the frying pan to a cold burner and let it sit for a bit.

By this point, the potatoes should be done. Test them with a fork. If the fork goes in cleanly and without resistance, they’re done. Shut off the burner, set the lid aside, and—using hotpads!—take the Dutch oven over to the sink and dump it into the colander. Then lift the colander out of the sink, put it on the Dutch oven to drain, and take it back over to your work area.

Now comes the hard part. The potatoes are hot, and there’s a reason why a “hot potato” means what it does. So working quickly and carefully, you want to take the potatoes out of the colander, a few at a time, and cut them up and toss them into the serving bowl, all without burning yourself. If the potatoes are small, you can halve them. If they’re larger, quarter them.


When all the potatoes are cut-up and in the serving bowl, get the roux, and using a rubber spatula, pour it over the potatoes. Crumble up the bacon, sprinkle it on top, gently stir the whole thing to make sure everything is covered with gravy, and then serve it warm.


If I’ve timed it right, this should be ready at just about the same time as hubby is declaring the steaks and portabellas done and taking them off the grill.   

Bon appetit!



Karen Bethke is a wife, mother, grandmother, and 8-year cancer patient. The product of many generations of Italian family cooking, she’s now on a mission to create low-carb, low-fat, low-sodium, and just generally healthier meals that still taste great.

Karen’s sole publication credit is as co-author of “From Castle Dracule to Merlotte’s Bar & Grill” in A Taste of True Blood, but behind the scenes, she’s the real driving force behind Rampant Loon Press.

Friday, September 3, 2021

Talking Shop: Eric's Writing Challenge Update 11

Somewhere along the line, these updates migrated from every Friday all the way over to Monday. So, I'm going to try to correct that here with a second update this week.

Let's start with the writing challenge. 

To date, I've racked up approximately 55,900 words toward the 87,500-word writing challenge goal. That puts me around 64% of the way there. I wrote about 3500 words since the last update, which works out to around 875 words per day across 4 days. 

On to Rinn's Run.

Total Words Completed: Approximately 64,250

Total Chapters Completed: 32 (almost 33)

Percentage Completed (theoretical): Around 64%

My daily average words went up a little since last week, though I can't credit any specific reason for that. I'm chalking it up to the natural variability in how well-rested I am on any given day, along with natural variability in coffee consumption from week to week.

I'm more confident now that I'm at least at the midpoint for the book, but less certain about how far past it I might be. That original target goal of 100,000 words might end up being a little under the mark for a completed draft. 

Responses from alpha readers who are getting this thing in 5000-10,000-word blocks have been thoroughly positive so far. So, hopefully, no one will hold it against me if this thing runs a little long. 

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Eric Dontigney is the author of the highly regarded novel, THE MIDNIGHT GROUND, as well as the Samuel Branch urban fantasy series and the short story collection, Contingency Jones: The Complete Season One. Raised in Western New York, he currently resides near Dayton, OH. You can find him haunting obscure sections of libraries, in Chinese restaurants or occasionally online at ericdontigney.com.

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Another day, another query

 

Waiting for me in this morning’s inbox…

Oh, never mind the details of it, it’s always roughly the same. Increasingly, my reply is becoming rote and reflexive as well.

“Dear [name redacted],

“Thank you for your kind words recognizing my contribution to popular culture and asking me to contribute [something that will take me some significant amount of time to do] to [your thing]. I appreciate your generous offer to reward me for my contribution to [your thing] with further recognition of my contribution to popular culture.

“Unfortunately, given that Chase Mortgage does not accept ‘recognition’ but instead insists that I make my house payments using ‘money,’ I’m afraid I must decline your offer.

“Sincerely,
Bruce Bethke”

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