Mutant Tastes.

Hey there, internets, I have divined that you like talking about food. This is awesome, because so do I!

I plan to make the terrifying Schadenfreude Pie for Christmas dinner – if there were ever a better time for a pie composed entirely of sugar and fat, I don’t know it – and of course ran into manifold difficulties acquiring the ingredients.

Graham crackers? Dark brown sugar? Dark corn syrup? Molasses? Not in evidence, and possibly unholy.

These things are probably all available somewhere in Melbourne, but they were not in my local supermarket, and I had privately resolved that, given the other stresses of preparing Christmas dinner (for the first time by myself, go me!) I would not make myself frantic trying to find arcane American ingredients, and would instead acquire reasonable substitutes.

I did manage to get my hands on clear corn syrup, which I walked past four times, on account of the label read GLUCOSE SYRUP and added underneath ~Derived from corn~.

Afterwards, discussing my difficulties with friends, I noted that at least my chocolate was likely to be better than that in the original pie, since they appear to be standard semi-sweet chunks, and I am super hardcore about my cooking chocolates.

BFF Robyn: I am not surprised.
ME: Hey, some people have a wine palate. And some people can recognise chocolate with fewer than 40% cocoa solids at twenty paces.
MIGGY (who is from Idaho): I have a potato palate. Sadly I am not kidding. Living the stereotype~
ME: Interesting! Come to think, I have friends with really high rice standards.
MIGGY: I mentioned this to [Another Friend] and his thing is milk.

Do you have a thing like this, internets? Are you an insufferable snob about potatoes, or milk, or mayonnaise, or tomato sauce (if you will, ketchup), or cheese?

I mean, I am kind of a snob about cheese in that I insist it should come from a cow and not be orange, but I can’t really tell the difference between a superb cheddar and a mere rather nice one. But my chocolate taste is well-developed. I will happily chow down on a Snickers, but the difference between that and Green and Black’s Dark is remarkable to my tongue.

BFF Robyn’s superpower – well, in addition to being able to break bricks with her hands – is that she is a supertaster.

This is one of those mutant powers that embarrass the X-Men. It’s all very well to have laser eyes or telekinesis, but some mutants have the power to heat their hands to something that approaches a bar heater! Or the power to grow scales!

Supertasting is one of those powers, in that BFF Robyn cannot eat a lot of things that taste just fine to me because to her they are horrendously bitter or taste of soap. It’s hard to be a mutant in a world that hates and fears you!

ME: What was the thing at the restaurant? I remember you were super grossed out.
BFF Robyn: It was some kind of like goat cheese something? I can’t recall, except that it was with a spoon and I put it in my mouth and almost spit it across the table.
ME: EXCELLENT CONTROL.
BFF Robyn: For real, man. Usually I have some kind of spidey-sense or something, I think because of odour.
BFF Robyn: But this one I was all, ooh, that looks good OH GOD BETRAYED.

Serious Discussion

The next item on my to-do list is “write words of thanks for honour of being Morris finalist,” but while I am both grateful and honoured, I am also exhausted. I spent five hours cooking today, for a party I am holding tomorrow after – note! – my signing at Melbourne Borders Central at 2pm.

I don’t think I am in a fit state to compose a message that adequately conveys my sincere gratitude.

Instead I would like to have a serious discussion of pie.

In my part of the world, when one says, “I want a pie,” one generally means something like this:

That is a steak and onion pie from venerable Australian chain store Brumby’s bakeries. Om nom nom delicious gravyness.

In other parts of the world, by which I mean North America, when one asks for pie, one tends to mean this:

That is apparently pieces of pumpkin pie and lemon chess pie.

Internets, you are smart. You probably knew the pie/pie differential already. But you may not have known that the confusion does not stop with pie, but extends to foods in the pie family.

Once upon a time, I was eating at a very good Mexican restaurant in Tucson with BFF Robyn. Undefeated by the awesome chicken mole, we both ordered flan for dessert.

I was expecting something like this:

Instead, I got something like this:

It was yummy, I GUESS, but my expectations had been dashed, and I was very sad.

Of course, I think it can be generally agreed among people who are fond of both chocolate and coffee (eg, me) that the best pie of all is John Scalzi’s Schadenfreude Pie.

Much like John himself, this pie appears to be composed of equal parts sweetness and high-grade evil.

I have not yet dared to make it, but when I do, I confidently expect the earth to tremble, ever so slightly, at its unholy inception.

Scandalous Shopping

The news that is not full of WIKILEAKS SCANDAL!!! is full of stories about Australian retailers worried about lower income this holiday season.

I feel sorry for small businesses who are being hit hard by the recession, but I’m not sure why I should feel worse for them than for their customers. Mortgage rates have gone up. People have much less to spend. So when I hear, “But people aren’t spending enough on discretionary items!” I mentally translate it as, “But people are being financially responsible!”

We can’t have that!*

Anyway, retailers of Australia, especially bookstores, I am doing my bit! In a burst of highly efficient shopping with the delightful Tessa Kum in tow, I finished all my own discretionary spending yesterday.

Particularly fun was selecting cards. I love buying cards, because you get to grab the perfect thing for a particular person, and also, you get to look at pretty things. I may have gone a tiny bit overboard but it was soooo much fun. Is this a thing you do, internets? Spend half an hour cooing over lovely art and snarky sayings? Or is that just me?

Of course I came home and spotted the pack of twenty gorgeous card designs I purchased from an art gallery a month ago sitting right there on my desk, but hey! Always good to have spares.

* P.S. Of course, you can always help the economy by buying my book. It’s holidayriffic! With festive supernatural murder!

And if you buy it at Borders Melbourne Central this Saturday at 2pm, you can get it festively signed. A gift for the whole family, or that part of it that likes stories where people’s eyes are torn out.

Getting My Girly Geek On

Internets, as you know, since I address you constantly as “internets”, I occasionally like to get my geek on.

For “occasionally”, let us read “all the time”.

So the other day I went to the comics store (Comics R Us, Bourke St, they are awesome), picked up my holds, and spotted a trade paperback entitled The Guild.

“Oooh!” I said*. “A comic book based on the hit cult web series written by and starring the exceptionally smart and funny Felicia Day?”

“That’s right!” he said. “The comic is actually written by Ms. Day and drawn by Jim Rugg, who illustrated The Plain Janes, one of your favourite YA comics. It is a prequel to the increasingly well-acted and always well-scripted web series that has awesome guest roles from Wil Wheaton and Teal Sherer, the latter of whom upon you have a giant girlcrush.”

“Oh my gosh,” I exclaimed. “A story explaining how the Knights of Good got together! You know, once someone told me I looked a bit like Felicia Day and I was totally thrilled. Although I have naturally wavy hair.”

“Um,” he said. “I can give you a small discount?”

Of course I bought the book and read it on the train home. Of course it is smart and funny and charming and beautifully drawn. And something I noticed, and found totally hilarious, is that the book highlights that the MMO Game that timid Cyd and her fellow Knights of Good play rewards normative feminine behaviours.

“And for killing stuff you get rewards, like clothing!” Codex enthuses. “Whose idea was that?! GENIUS!

It’s an open secret that the Game is actually World of Warcraft. Which I also play! With my naturally wavy hair! In fact, the second I got home from the comic book store, I was loading up much-anticipated expansion pack Cataclysm and taking my werewolf-in-a-top-hat for a ride.

Okay, so World of Warcraft is a game where female characters almost universally get massive racks and sexy /dance sequences. Armour that is full coverage on a male avatar often exposes cleavage and stomach on a female build, and jokes about female players are stupidly common on many servers. (Not mine. Proudmoore for life, yo.)

But it’s also a game where quests are rewarded with shiny new clothes and adorable animal companions. Where, to maximise your character’s usefulness and earning potential, they must learn how to cook food and wrap bandages. Where they can create useful (and pretty!) objects by practising handcrafts, picking flowers, and making jewellery. Where you get a much valued achievement for running around the world and hugging small animals.

Also, you can buy a flying pony made out of twinkly stars.

World of Warcraft. Often sexist. Totally girly.

* This dialogue is made up entirely. But I can assure you the actual conversation was no less informative and charming.

Teenagers With Bite

Internets! Online SFF magazine Strange Horizons! Do you love it? Oh, me too!

I recently wrote a two-part article* on why vampires in young adult fiction are awesome, with a selection of some of my recent favourites.

I see you, Lili Wilkinson. I see you shaking your head!

You are mistaken, and here’s why:

I adore many trends that are supposedly overplayed but actually classic favourites. And, much like Meat Loaf, bright red lipstick, and jelly shoes, vampires are awesome, and I hope they stick around forever. Haters to the left, where they may bite me.

Vampirism is a fabulous metaphor for a lot of things that often happen in adolescence: physical transformation; new temptations and cravings; intensity of emotion; uncontrollable desires. Also, vampires are sexy, sexy danger, and while in real life, dangerous people are not at all sexy and ought to be avoided if possible, they can be a lot of fun in fantasy. Fantasy is a safe way to play around with the notion of the redeemable monster, the terrible being that nevertheless loves and protects the right person.

“Teenagers with Bite”: Part One. Part Two.

Of course the rest of the magazine is well worth your time, but may I particularly recommend “No Return Address”, by Sigrid Ellis?

I was angry when we had that fight, too. Our last fight, though I didn’t know that at the time. What did you expect me to say? You come in late and you’re bloody and filthy, and you tell me some story about “the fey,” and “faeries.” About the fey and our family and a war. You said, “I have to go, Mom. The Unseelie Court has taken the Southern Provinces, and only our family’s bloodline can save the High Ones.” It makes no sense. Those are things out of stories, out of books. I just want to know, Amanda—in what universe did you think I would not ask you what drugs you were on?

As an enthusiastic YA reader, this is the other half of a story I have read many times in different guises, and I found it both beautifully written and fascinating.

And don’t forget, you can visit me THIS SATURDAY at 2 p.m., at Borders Melbourne Central. I will be signing with the excellent Foz Meadows (See above! In the list!) and doubtless making up OUTRAGEOUS LIES about where my ideas come from.

* Why is it in two parts when both parts are quite short? Therein lies a stunning tale of my own incompetence! Always check files before you attach them to make sure you’re not sending the first half of a draft, kids.

The Morris Award.

It was 9 a.m. on Friday morning for me, which is like 5 a.m. on Saturday morning for people who do not have my strange schedule and weird sleeping patterns.

The phone rang.

I woke up and stared at it.

It kept ringing. I kept staring.

Why was this happening to me?

“Answer the damn phone, Karen,” my brain told me.

My mother, in her infinite wisdom and somewhat limited patience, had drilled me in the proper manner of answering the phone until I could literally do it in my sleep. This once, the training abandoned me. Instead of a polite, if less than perky, “Hello, Karen speaking,” I picked up the receiver and growled, “Yes?” My brain gave a little sigh and threw up its cerebellum.

There was a pause. “Hello?”

“Yes.” It seemed the only word my mouth was capable of making.

“… is this Karen?”

There was something familiar about the voice. If one of my friends was calling me at nine am… “Yes.”

“This is [US editor] Alvina and I’m with [agent] Barry and [library services manager] Victoria and [publicist] Ames…”

KAREN’S BRAIN: Wake the hell up RIGHT NOW.
KAREN’S MOUTH: I’m trying, I’m TRYING!

“…and we are delighted to tell you Guardian of the Dead is a William C. Morris Award finalist.”

My brain and my mouth both froze. I think I made some sort of noise, because everyone laughed, but it really felt as if time had paused while the news percolated through my awareness.

The William C. Morris Debut Award. No more than five young adult books by first time authors, selected by librarians from the American Library Association, are finalists every year.

And my debut novel was one of them.

KAREN’S BRAIN: Holy. Crap.

Everything after that is a blur. I think I managed to convey how excited I was – and yes, it was totally okay to wake me up with this news, thank you, oh my god, thank you – and it was impressed upon me with much seriousness that I could not say a word to anyone until the official announcement was made*, and then Barry was like, and now you can go back to sleep!

“Oh, I couldn’t do that! I’m too excited!” I assured him, and fell into bed twenty minutes later.

I woke fuzzy-headed. I’d had some sort of dream, a good dream, about an award. How lovely! Okay, get on with the day, roll out of bed, check email, oh, something from Alvina…

Oh. Holy crap.

And then I spent the next five days walking around with a huge grin I couldn’t explain to anyone, the end!

Except now I can explain, and I am so delighted, and so honoured. Congratulations to my fellow finalists, Eishes Chayil (Hush), Lish McBride (Hold Me Closer, Necromancer), Barbara Stuber (Crossing the Tracks) and Blythe Woolston (The Freak Observer). That is some excellent company right there!

Oh, librarians. I’ve always loved you. This is just another reason why.

* KAREN’S BRAIN: Wow, five days of not talking about exciting things and being patient.
KAREN’S MOUTH: Those are CLEARLY our strong points.

What’s Going On

FIRSTLY: Internets, would you like to meet me? You may!

Guardian of the Dead signing
Melbourne Borders Central Station
18 December, 2pm.

With the excellent Foz Meadows, my buddy, and also author of Solace and Grief, one of my fave recent vampire novels.

I will be signing books, answering questions, and generally being my dorky self.

SECONDLY: If you cannot meet me in Melbourne – or even if you can – my favourite interview of the year has just gone live at New Zealand’s very own Public Address, where Jolisa Gracewood of Busytown put her amazing skills at work to ferret out thoughts I didn’t even know I had.

Jolisa is a terrific person, and I really enjoyed this interview, which dug into topics like location, location, location and why YA is awesome even when it gets no respect. Also, The Shattering tidbits. Also, also, and! There is a Booker Prize winner talking in the comments section. I feel all fancy.

THIRDLY: My December Lights Project story, “Queen of the Kitchen”, has duly gone up. Happy Holidays to alla y’all!

Holiday Season

What up, internets?

Oh, I know, I have neglected you shamefully. I have taken so much, but not given. How ungrateful I am.

Karen, what have you been doing, you ask, your eyes full of reproachment?

Oh, the usual. Dancing. Drinking martinis. Looking cute:

It is well and truly social season in Melbourne, where everyone I know emails each other and swears that we MUST catch up, really we MUST. On Tuesday I attended the Allen and Unwin end of year party, which, it has to be said, is pretty much the gold standard for Karen socialisation. Smart, creative people talking about books and publishing and how much we adore The Vampire Diaries for hours and hours? Yes, please!

(If I were to be strictly truthful*, I would have to admit that this last might have been mostly me. I adore TVD. More Elena! More Katherine! More Bonnie! More Liz! Stefan and Damon, fine, they are nice, but mostly I am into the MANY FINE AND AWESOME LADIES, my absolute favourite being Caroline. Caroline/Tyler, do you ship it? I ship it SO HARD.)

Anyway, I went to the party, I proposed to Kate Constable in Latin (cunningly hiding my proposal in a discussion of Dorothy L. Sayers), I wore a darling sundress, all was well!

I smugged about this to my friend , who lives in Canada, and is currently buried under layers of snow and ice. Then hubris smacked me over the head, thunderstorms descended on Melbourne, and I was stranded at the train station this afternoon.

But really. Decembers ought to be warm and light. There ought to be sun and barbecues and swimming and squinting balefully at the light edging one’s curtains at five am. None of this winter nonsense!

So when my fabulous fellow author proposed the December Lights project, a collection of stories very squarely aimed at cheering up northern Northern Hemisphere dwellers, I naturally jumped on board.

Once again, I landed in terrific company. Contributors include Leah Cypess, Sherwood Smith, Jaclyn Dolamore, Sarah Prineas, and Jenn Reese, so you know we’re talking about a great time. No one’s making any money off this – these stories are our gift to you.

Do check out the December Lights project! Stories will be released every couple of days during December. All the stories are fun, PG-rated loveliness. I submitted “Queen of the Kitchen”, which y’all might recall from last year, and I’ve been delightedly reading the stories as they come out.

Now, I have to climb into another darling sundress and do something with my hair. Another social engagement, you know. When will the dizzy whirl stop, internets?

You know I hate so to leave you.

* As if.