Second Draft

This Is Not a Castle

Posted in Research,WorldBuilding by Michael Skeet on Thursday, September 24, 2009
Himeji Castle

Himeji Castle

Not in any sense that we can use in Demon Gate, at any rate.

One of the things I have discovered in doing the research for this novel (and I am guilty of most of the political information that has found its way into the story) is how little popular information about Japanese history actually relates to the Sengoku Jidai, the period in which our story is set. Castles are one obvious example; swords and samurai behaviour is another (and I hope to post something about that soon as well).

The sort of castle of which Himeji is considered one of the most beautiful examples doesn’t just post-date the sengoku jidai, it post-dates the Tokugawa unification of the country in the seventeenth century. Few of these giant castles were ever involved in battle, and as beautiful as they are they would have been well beyond the capacity of any of the daimyo active in the early sixteenth century. It wasn’t until the middle of this century that anyone (Nobunaga, in fact) had the resources to build a castle with a proper keep, and surviving Japanese castles pretty much all date from the seventeenth century or later.

The castles built during the period in which Demon Gate are set were much less visually striking, to say nothing of being a lot smaller. I haven’t been able to find a copyright-free image that could illustrate what a hilltop castle (yamashiro) would have looked like at the time, but one thing’s for certain: it didn’t look anything like this.

(The big difference, of course, was gunpowder. We have deliberately set Demon Gate in the period before the introduction of firearms to Japan, and it was this fact that made it so important to daimyo that they build massive stone fortifications where previously they had safely sheltered behind wooden walls.)


What I Did On My Summer Vacation

Posted in Uncategorized by Michael Skeet on Thursday, September 24, 2009

Apologies for the long (embarrassing) silence from this half of the team, and thanx to Jill for keeping us active.

In truth, it was a very busy summer, and I’m sorry that so little of it was spent writing Demon Gate. I’ll make a stronger effort to get back on track by, oh, October.

Most of the distractions preventing me from writing were caused by my day-job and aren’t relevant here. But there were other, more pleasant things keeping me away from this novel:

  • Worldcon, in Montreal, was both a pleasure and the busiest I’ve been, professionally speaking, at a con in a long time (if not ever). I hope to post at least once about the con, if only because one of my panels was directly related to what Jill & I are trying to do here. My biggest regret: not getting to eat at Au Pied de Cochon, an oversight I intend to correct within the next couple of weeks.
  • My annual retreat to the North Woods has turned into an intense writing fortnight, but our location is isolated enough that Intertubes connections are mostly theoretical… which makes it awkward to write a book whose existence is mostly in the cloud. I took advantage of the isolation to finish up two other novel projects…

…Which leads me into the big news to come out of the summer, which is that I now have an agent. I am pleased (okay, thrilled) to be working with Monica Pacheco at Anne McDermid & Associates, who has agreed to represent me. Thanks to Dave, who introduced us, and to borrow (and probably abuse) a line from him, here’s looking forward to a long and fruitful association.

Making Yogurt at Home (yeah, I know, nothing to do with writing)

Posted in Food by Jill Snider Lum on Friday, September 18, 2009

Well, there *is* a tag for Food, so I’m going to put a post under it.

Fed up with buying yogurt, and not wanting the hassle of complex yogurt making like my mother used to go through, I looked around and found the easiest, laziest yogurt-making method on earth.  Last night, I put it to the test.

Well, it worked — I’ve got yogurt!  My first batch is not quite as thick nor as sharp-tasting as my favourite brand (and which I used as starter for this batch), but it tastes very fresh and is quite smooth.  If I want it thicker I can strain it, or, for the next batch, use some cream along with the milk, or add a packet of unflavoured gelatin.  I gather the flavour gets sharper as you use successive batches for starter, or if you let it culture for longer than the 8 or 9 hours I had it in for.  It’s delicious, it’s cheap, and it was nearly effortless, so I thought I’d share it with the world at large.

Here is what I did:

Mix 1/4 cup of plain active-culture yogurt with 1 quart of milk (or milk-and-cream combination, or milk with a packet of unflavoured gelatin to thicken further) in a covered container.

(I added some milk to the yogurt first to make a liaison, then stirred that mixture thoroughly into the rest of the milk.  For the container I just used a casserole dish with a layer of tinfoil between the dish and the lid.)

Heat oven to 170 degrees F, then turn off.

(The recipe said 100 to 110 degrees F, but my oven won’t go lower than 170.  Since the milk I was using was still pretty cold, even though I’d left it out for a bit to take the chill off, I figured it was a good trade-off.  If I were using room-temperature milk, 170 would be too hot.)

Put container in oven and leave it there for 8 or 9 hours.

Remove and chill in refrigerator for at least 4 hours.

(This chilling apparently converts the strep bacteria grown in the yogurt into lactobacillus, which is the kind you want.)

That’s all.  The recipes which insist that you scald the milk first, and measure the temperature with a candy thermometer, are evidently carry-overs from the days before aseptic packaging and reliable pasteurization of milk; if you’ve got those things, you don’t need to scald the milk.  Just make sure the containers and utensils used are very clean and have been washed with hot water to kill any germs.


Alien Societies in Time’s Backyard

Posted in WorldBuilding by Jill Snider Lum on Wednesday, September 9, 2009

I’m recovering from the kind of headcold that takes over your life, that turns you from a functioning, sentient human being with hopes and dreams and the power of reason, to a wheezing, dripping, mouth-breathing pile of snot.  The only good thing about this disgusting experience is the number of old movies I’ve  been able to watch while recovering.  And that, I realize, has given my hind-brain a chance to reflect, while my fore-brain was otherwise occupied.

What is it about black-and-white movies from the earlier part of the 20th century that attracts me?  Having digested a great many of them for the past few days, I have come to realize that one reason is the utter alien-ness of the world portrayed in these films.  They may show similarities to our world, even to our world as it was during the time when the movies were set; but for the most part, they’re fantasies.  Some of them, with their oddly outdated technology and peculiar social customs, now so unfamiliar to us, might almost qualify as a type of science fiction — social-science fiction.  For perhaps the same reason that many science fiction conventions feature Regency dancing, the past can be as alien to us as the future — and alien societies are very attractive, especially to people who do things like fantasy-writing.

Not a very original thought, perhaps; but hey, I was a wheezing, dripping, mouth-breathing pile of snot when I had it.

Yet More Shameless Promotion: Tesseracts Thirteen is out!

Posted in Promotion, Shameless by Jill Snider Lum on Wednesday, September 2, 2009

EDGE Publications has just announced that Tesseracts Thirteen, the latest in this anthology series and the second volume in which my work appears, is now on sale, at bookstores and via Amazon.  Go get yerself a copy — it’s a good book, with lots of creepy, scary, well-crafted horror stories in it, proving we Canadians can be just as frightening as anyone else.  Even me, sometimes.

ISBN information:

Tesseracts 13
Trade Paperback
ISBN-10: 1-894063-25-2
ISBN-13: 978-1-894063-25-8
6″ X 9″
336 pages

Also, there’s going to be a book launch for Tesseracts Thirteen on Saturday, 12 September, 3:00pm ’til Whenever, at Bakka-Phoenix Books, 697  Queen Street West, Toronto.  Some of my fellow contributors and I will be there to sign books and chat, and there’s a whole store full of good books (besides ours) for you to check out.  I hope to see you there!