Second Draft

A Happy Undead Review!

Posted in Uncategorized by Jill Snider Lum on Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Michael’s story, “Red Blues”, gets the special mention it deserves in the Innsmouth Free Press’s review of Evolve: Vampire Stories of the New Undead.  I encourage you to check it out, and get a copy of the book.  Whether you’re just slightly interested in vampires or a long-time fan of the genre, you’ll like this collection of stories, which pushes the old blood-sucking envelope in remarkably innovative directions.

Hope you have a great Wednesday… and fangs for reading our blog.  (Yeah, I know… but it’s that kind of day.)


Another Kind of Monday

Posted in Uncategorized by Jill Snider Lum on Monday, March 29, 2010

And Monday it is.  We open our eyes and groan.  We crawl out of bed at the last possible moment, drag ourselves to the coffee pot and brew a hot cup of consciousness, trying to wake up enough to remember our own names.  We had a pretty decent weekend, but now it’s back to the grind.

And in seven more days, we’ll be doing this again.  Oh, yuck; another Monday.

In ancient Japan, though, the week didn’t have seven days.  In the time period when our novel takes place, the Japanese went by a calendar that gave them a 30-day month, consisting of three 10-day weeks.  There were compensation days put in periodically, to keep the 365-day year from being knocked cockeyed by the 30-day month.  But when you thought of a week in the Sengoku Jidai, you were thinking of a string of days named One, Two, Three, Four, and so on, up to Ten.

So, I encourage you to enliven your Monday by imagining yourself opening your eyes and groaning, rolling off your straw sleeping-mat — it’s too early for futons to have been invented — dragging yourself to the fire and brewing a pot of green tea, trying to get properly conscious, because it’s so hard to wake up on Day One after the weekend…

Hang on.  Weekend?

Your Turn!

Posted in Drink by Jill Snider Lum on Friday, March 26, 2010

Michael’s previous post has made me wonder about you, our readers.  Our blog hasn’t really been active for very long, and yet we do have people looking into it, presumably for all sorts of reasons.  It makes us feel good (and somewhat amazed!) that people are reading us, perhaps even on a somewhat-regular basis.  And the previous post got more hits than almost anything else we’ve put up here.  The previous post about infusing shochu with umeboshi, and how delicious the results are.

So… we’d love it if you would post your favourite drinkable innovations in the comments, so that we and all the other readers could try them.  Have you a favourite cocktail?  One you discovered, were introduced to, or invented yourself?  How about a delicious and unusual non-alcoholic drink?  Something you put in your tea or coffee that turns the ordinary into a treat?  Something you put in your hot chocolate that really goes well with it?  It’d be great to hear from you, and read your ideas!

Here are two to begin with.  A glass of soda water with ice is just sublime with a splash or two of yuzu juice added, especially on a hot day.  And so is a generous ounce of golden rum, enriched with a scant ounce of Calvados and an ice cube, sipped slowly as the sun goes down.

What about you?  What do you like to drink?

Anachronistic, Perhaps. But Tasty!

Posted in Drink by Michael Skeet on Wednesday, March 24, 2010

I have been experimenting with alcoholic infusions lately (apple-infused tequila is quite wonderful) and, as an afterthought at the end of a cocktail party a couple of months ago I tried something that’s appropriate to the spirit of Demon Gate if not necessarily defensible as being period-accurate.

From the back of our fridge I took the remnants of an old (very old) plastic tub of shiso-umeboshi (that’s pickled plums with a bit of shiso leaf to add extra flavour, not unlike putting dill in with pickled cucumbers) and dumped them into a small mason jar. Then I filled the mason jar with barley shochu. (Remember, that’s the only kind we can get up here, at least for now.) Then I put the mason jar in the fridge and forgot about it.

Fast-forward to last Thursday. Looking for something to drink, I spotted the shochu, glowing wickedly in the fridge. I dropped some ice into an Old Fashioned glass, and filled same with the infused shochu.

Oh. My.

Yeah, it was that good. And a really lovely shade of purple-pink, too. No, I don’t have a photo to show you; not in this post. That’s because I drank it all too quickly to think of taking a shot in any sense that didn’t involve shot glasses. As it were. However, I’ll try to post something about this experiment again in another couple of months, because as soon as I’d finished drinking the single glass I got from that small jar, I began infusing a much larger quantity of shochu in a larger mason jar.

I figure it’ll be great this summer.

Peter Watts convicted

Posted in Uncategorized by Jill Snider Lum on Monday, March 22, 2010

Our friend, esteemed colleague, and fellow workshop-member Peter Watts is now a convicted felon, for having committed the crime of asking a U.S. border guard a question.  He faces the possibility of up to three years in jail, and may never be allowed into the United States again.

Michael and I currently share the problem of being incapable of coherent speech regarding this matter — at least, coherent speech whose main content is not a long string of bad language.  So let me simply observe that it would appear the Land of the Free only grants that freedom to those who guard its borders — and that it’s the freedom to take out their frustrations on innocent citizens, freedom to take advantage of badly-written laws in order to make themselves feel important by beating up random strangers and throwing them into jail.  In other words, not freedom.  License.

We mourn for you, America.  All that freedom you keep talking about… it’s a ghost.

A cocktail, ’cause it’s that kind of week

Posted in Drink by Jill Snider Lum on Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Michael’s working on another post about collaboration, but it’s not quite ready to put up yet, Work having intervened.  So in the meantime, I’d like to introduce you to a cocktail that uses two ingredients I first tried when staying at the Hirota Guest House in Kyoto:  shochu, and yuzu.

Shochu is a distilled spirit, not a brewed product like sake.  We have a few — a pitiful few — varieties of shochu available to us in Canada, and one or two types of Korean sochu which, while pleasant, is not quite the same thing.  So visiting the liquor shop near our guest house in Kyoto was a revelation.  They stocked dozens of different types of shochu, made from all kinds of ingredients.  Michael, Lorna and I tried a different one every evening and barely scratched the surface of what was available.  The variations in flavour were remarkable, as distinctive as those in different kinds of single-malt Scotch.

Earlier in the week, hunting up a hostess gift for Hirota-san — the lady who ran the guest house — we visited the nearest department store.  That was an experience in itself, and one that deserves its own blog entry at some future date.  Just seeing the food floor of that department store made me feel as though I had come from a backward and somewhat uncivilized nation.  Among the many thousands of delights on display was a section of liqueurs, presided over by a politely-smiling lady who was giving out free samples.  (Free samples of alcohol, in a department store.  See?  Intensely civilized.)  Noticing us as obviously being From Away, she offered us a taste of liqueur made from yuzu, a Japanese citrus fruit.  It tasted like an orange, a lemon, a lime, and a tangerine, with little hints of grapefruit in the background.  We were delighted, and bought a bottle of it.  Hirota-san herself was so pleased with it that she told us she was going to place it on her family’s altar for a while before drinking it herself.  It was pretty gratifying to know we’d given her something that would even make her ancestors happy.

The recipe below uses yuzu juice, which is available at many Japanese and Asian grocery stores.  Don’t know if your ancestors will like this cocktail, but I hope you will.

Kyoto Guest House

1.5  – 2 oz. vodka
1/2 oz. shochu
2 good dashes yuzu juice

Mix ingredients in a glass over ice cubes.  Fill with soda water.


Posted in Uncategorized by Jill Snider Lum on Monday, March 15, 2010

…too madly busy to post. Though if the clouds of Stuff thin out, it still might happen today. Otherwise, see you tomorrow!

How We Do It Pt 2: Structure

Posted in Collaboration by Michael Skeet on Friday, March 12, 2010

I envy authors who have the luxury of just writing whatever their muses dictate. When you’re working on a collaborative project you don’t have the option. Our work is (possibly) not as rigorously structured as would appeal to certain anal-retentive engineer types we know, but it has to be much more deliberately thought-out than would be the case for a project worked on by a single writer.

When Jill and I agreed that we would work on Demon Gate together, we were able to jump past some of the basic questions any writer faces when starting a new project: we knew who many of the characters would be, and we knew the milieu in which the story would be set (in both cases because Demon Gate was to be a follow-on of our novella “Beneath the Skin”).

At the same time, though, we didn’t have the luxury of allowing the form and structure of the story to emerge over the course of the first draft. Because of the way we work (more on this later), we had to lock down at least some idea of the novel’s structure before we could move on to the next phase of work.

We started with the idea that we would be continuing the moral education of our protagonist, Satoshi. The ending of “Beneath the Skin” was fairly ambiguous (deliberately so, I hasten to add), and we wanted to make it clear that Satoshi still had some growing up to do. With this in mind we agreed on a simple, traditional three-act structure:

  • Act I would have its own three-part structure, in which Satoshi is tempted, gives in to temptation, and then has to endure his whole world apparently falling apart
  • Act II would see  Satoshi and his brother, Masahiro, escape disaster and try to restore their fortunes from hiding
  • Act III would likewise have a three-part structure, in which Satoshi tries to defeat his nemesis without changing the attitudes that got him into trouble in the first place, is nearly destroyed, and then makes the personal leap that allows him to triumph

We settled on most of this during a single planning session. As I recall, it took only a couple of hours to hammer out the basics, including some preliminary plot sketches.

Whether or not other writers are quite this calculated at the beginning of a project (and certainly I have not been in any of the novels I’ve written thus far), determined calculation was, we thought, the only effective method available to us that would allow a fast start.

We did this work in a face-to-face session. But as Pt 3 will demonstrate, technology means we weren’t required to work this way.

Heat that’s Up Your Nose

Posted in Food,Research by Jill Snider Lum on Thursday, March 11, 2010

I’m getting a great kick out of trying to figure out what people ate during the Sengoku Jidai.  Sometimes we’ve had to work at that problem backhandedly.  I’m thinking of wasabi right now — that tasty green root, whose effect, a wave of brain-displacing fumes up the back of your nose, so resembles that of horseradish.

Wasabi roots, in a Tokyo restaurant

Most wasabi you get in Canadian restaurants is horseradish — powdered, mixed with water and coloured green — because wasabi roots are difficult to cultivate.  (The plants only grow in or beside mountain streams, for one thing.)  Real wasabi, though, has layers of delicate flavour that transcend standard horseradish.  Much as I love horseradish, this could give it a run for its money.

Our friend Hicaru took us to his favourite Tokyo restaurant when we visited, and for the first time we got to eat real wasabi.  It was used in the way we’re used to, with sushi and sashimi, and Hicaru also showed Michael and Lorna how to use it as a garnish for their soba noodles, which was new to all of us from Canada.  He grated it on a traditional grater, which I now know, after some research, is made of sharkskin.  The flavour — of the wasabi, not the sharkskin — was lively, bright, and intense.

Grating wasabi root on a sharkskin grater

So, you ask, what’s this got to do with the Sengoku period?  Well, we were hoping to have our characters enjoy wasabi in some way.  Not being able to find a handy menu of Sengoku Jidai condiments, we decided the way to work it was to try and learn just when wasabi was first cultivated in Japan.  We’re still working on the details, but apparently written record has been found of its being grown as early as the year 685.  That means our characters will likely be able to enjoy some with their suppers.

Wasabi has antibacterial qualities as well, so maybe it was used medicinally, too — even before people knew what bacteria were, they knew that some plants seemed to help fight infections, so maybe wasabi was used in poultices for wounds.  I’ll have to look into that.  I’ll bet it would sting like crazy.

In the meantime, one or the other of us will see you tomorrow, all going well!

Blood and Gunpowder

Posted in Research by Jill Snider Lum on Wednesday, March 10, 2010

TCM is running a festival of films by the great Japanese director Akira Kurosawa every Tuesday evening this month.  Last night, being interested for various reasons in Japanese history, I turned it on and watched ‘Throne of Blood’ for the first time.

Even if Japanese history isn’t your thing, this film is a treat.  Openly based on William Shakespeare’s ‘Macbeth’, it takes place in feudal Japan… and though I have been so far unable to verify this, it looks to be set in the same part of the Sengoku period as our novel.

It’s Kurosawa, so it’s wonderful — I’m a big fan, and I’m by no means alone.  But quite apart from the quality of the film-making and the acting, it was so much fun to see people as they would appear in our book, particularly samurai mounted on horseback, fighting with bows and arrows and spears, and not a gun in sight.  Our book is like that, being set before the Portuguese introduced firearms to Japan.

There seems a more attractive, imagination-inspiring quality to the idea of battles fought before gunpowder.  Weapons were hand-made, and their mechanical function was basic — plain physics, without the involvement of chemistry.  The weapon did nothing automatically, so that the man wielding it had to have training and a great deal of practiced skill to use it properly.  And tactics had to be different from today’s fighting methods, and the differences are fascinating.  Dornford Yates says “gunpowder killed the romance of the battlefield”, and I know what he means — even though I believe the only good war is either virtual or fictional.

But I digress.  Watching ‘Throne of Blood’ improved my visualization of what kind of world the characters in Demon Gate inhabit, and how they relate to that world and do each other.  And besides that, it’s a great movie, impossible not to recommend.

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