And they did all eat, and were filled

My dad loved a nice piece of fish.

Pan-fried, or in the microwave for a minute, with lemon, garlic salt, and pepper. Mash some spuds, poach an egg, steam broccoli and carrots into limp oblivion, grind more salt over everything, and eat with joy. If he was going to buy fish at a restaurant, it had better be beer-battered with chips, or else pan-fried to his exacting standards. A second over the ideal cooking time would produce voluble scorn.

One of the enduring memories of my parents visiting me while I taught English in Japan is Dad walking with us through the wide streets of Hiroshima, complaining with increasing volume that all he wanted was a nice piece of fish, why didn’t any of these restaurants serve a nice piece of fish, it was all NOODLES and SOUP and RICE.

Me, pointing at an array of plastic sashimi dishes, arranged enticingly in a window: “Everything in that restaurant is FISH!”

He wasn’t convinced. We found a place that served steak.

I, also, love fish, but unlike my father, I am not confident in cooking it. I’ll eat smoked salmon on cream cheese toast for breakfast, or snack on sushi, or order fish and chips, and when I lived in Japan I bought both sashimi and cooked fish from the supermarket two or three times a week, but I can’t remember the last time I bought raw fish for the purpose of cooking it.

I might never actually have done that!

I’ve definitely contemplated it a few times, but I’ve always come up with a better plan at the last minute, one where I didn’t have to talk to a stranger and ask questions that revealed my ignorance about which fish was actually meant by a recipe’s direction for “any firm-fleshed white fish”. Like, how could I tell if it were firm without having to awkwardly make eye contact with someone? I didn’t think they would let me poke it.

Also, every recipe said things like “Cook until done (be careful not to overcook)”, which was profoundly helpful.

Monday’s recipe: Pan-fried fish with Sesame Rice and Miso-Dressed Salad.

Okay, so we’re doing this.

I got home late and starving, having stayed at work so that I could prepare an elaborate and risky lesson for a formal observation the next day, because what’s life without a little uncertainty?

Or a lot, you know, like just a lot of uncertainty, like endless oceanic forests of it, like razor-sharp uncertainty seaweed swirling up to catch your limbs and drag you under. What would life be like without that? Ha ha I’ll never know.

I ate a slice of cold cajun chicken pizza and a banana, and then, having probably ensured that I wouldn’t chew cardboard before dinner was ready, I got down to it.

Intimidating recipe

Intimidating recipe arranged on intimidating black stone plate: Nadia Lim. Mostly-drunk Negroni: model’s own.


The fish was a fillet of Blue Warehou, for those who know what that is.

I got the rice going – I was to add salt and sesame oil, then add black sesame seeds once it was all done. Noooo problem! I’m good at rice!

whisk until smooth

I had to stick miso paste, 2 teaspoons of lime juice (which I “juiced” by “squeezing” and “measured” by “not bothering”), some oil and something else I forget in a small bowl, then whisk until smooth. My whisk would not fit in the small bowl, but Nadia Lim used a fork, so I figured that would be fine. And it was!

So cooking was going great and every ingredient was an old friend, and then:

radish in the buff

RADISH. I was pretty sure I probably ate it. Nadia suggested I could either grate the radishes, or cut them into “matchsticks”. I grated each one until I was worried I’d hit the pads of my fingers, and then sliced up the rest.

grated radish is pretty

Grated radish is really pretty! Like mashed fairy wing!

even slices

Check out the incredible evenness of those cucumber slices. That’s how you know I’m nearly ready for Masterchef.

fish fries

YOU GUYS, I FRIED THE FISH. The timing said “1-2 minutes on each side, depending on thickness” which wouldn’t help me without a detailed analysis of the exact millimetre-to-cooking-minute ratio and maybe a helpful ruler printed on the packet, but in the end I only slightly overcooked it and I am going to count the whole meal a success.

my first food bag meal

It was delicious. The dressing was tart and salty, the fish firm and filling, the rice nice, and I definitely eat radishes. Also, I had plenty of rice and vegetables left over, which I accurately predicted would be great cold for breakfast.

vege and rice leftover

My first My Food Bag meal was a nearly perfect experience!

cleaning up

Oh, yeah. That.

Deliver (to) me

My weekend sure happened.

My sister stayed Saturday night on her way back to Oamaru, so on Saturday we spent a lot of time in my room 1) eating chocolate 2) watching Jane the Virgin and 3) farting. Then she went out with friends to watch the All Blacks play someone (Wales? I think Wales) and I stayed home to vacuum my floor with our disappointing vacuum cleaner. You know, sister stuff.

My flat has a washing machine, but not a dryer, and the laundry situation was getting dire. So while she was there, and driving, we also stuffed a bag and a laundry basket full of nearly everything that was lying on my wardrobe floor and took it to Sadie’s Laundry, who promised to wash, dry and fold it for me for “probably $25 to $30, love.”

This sounded very reasonable. I ignored the part where I had clutched the bag with my thighs and yanked on the zip to get it closed and decided to trust the expertise of the lady who had not seen just how much I’d managed to cram into the side pockets.

“Pick it up at about 1 o’clock tomorrow,” she said, which actually was a problem, because I had an all-day event on Sunday and also my sister wouldn’t be there to drive me across town and back. But the laundry smelled clean and cottony, and I was already imagining filling my drawers with neatly folded stacks of ready-to-go clothing.

“Sure!” I said.

The next morning my sister farted in my room one more time for luck, and then left to go and be fabulous and daring in Oamaru. I left to go to my all-day event – a One Day Project where various intrepid film people and actors (and me) planned to recreate three films lost to time based on their titles and whatever we could glean from Wikipedia.

I arrived a mistaken hour early, so I got to sit in my host’s kitchen drinking coffee and feeling shame and then walk around her house so that I could progressively stand in exactly the wrong place while she efficiently cleaned around me. It was less shameful when others arrived, and we started talking through the film concepts.

“This one should be like a fevered tone poem,” said the director. “I want it to be weird, lots of harsh lighting and dramatic reaction shots that escalate to hysteria, showing her final descent into sin.”

“I have to leave at noon to go pick up my laundry,” I said.

I took an Uber. Christchurch has Uber now. We’re very cosmopolitan.

There was a different expert lady at Sadie’s Laundry, but the clean and cottony smell was the same. “This was five loads,” she said, with an inflection that picked a fine path between appalled and impressed. “$56.”

“Oh,” I said.

“But I think $50 will be fine,” she said, graciousness itself.

“Oh,” I said. “Sure.”

Honestly, none of this should have been an issue or taken up any of my brain beyond a rueful acknowledgement (everyone makes mistakes about the time sometimes! the laundry takes as many loads as it takes and I have enough money to cover it!), but anxiety disorder means never having to say “no worries”. It’s all worries, all the time, about everything. I fretted about the earliness, and the laundry cost, and the ethics of Uber, and the selfishness of taking time out of a volunteer project to handle a life necessity all the way back to the film shoot.

Then I put on a heinous curly blonde wig, made up my face to look like I was dying of hectic consumption, composed myself in rakish array on a sumptuous drapery of lushly textured fabrics and acted the hell out of being a sneering spectator at a 20s brothel. It was totally worth it.

When I got home, seven hours later, I wrestled my laundry into the house over the neighbourhood cat that likes to pretend it lives here.

“No!” I said. “Go away!” Then, to the delivery man walking slowly up the driveway: “Not you: this damn cat.”

“Haha,” he said, unconvinced. “Are you Karen?”

I was! It was my first Food Bag!

MY FIRST FOOD BAG. It felt like a benediction.

gourmet fruits

The first thing I opened was the (additional) My Gourmet Fruit box. I do not think bananas are gourmet. I do, however, think they are delicious.

What is not delicious?


Pineapple. Pineapple is not delicious. I took this sucker to school today and gave it to an office mate.


I was WILLING to eat a persimmon, but I wasn’t quite sure how. I asked the internet.

persimmon twitter

The internet had advice. I peeled the persimmon, cut it into slices, and ate it. Nice, but more trouble than I am ordinarily willing to go to for tree candy.

Here is the MEAT BOX:


teeny packets

And here are my promised teeny little packets of stuff!

I still do not understand why sweet chilli sauce is a staple and rice is not, though. As far as I was aware, rice is THE staple.

Taking Stock

Last Wednesday, Nadia Lim’s My Food Bag team sent me an email and I learned what I would be cooking from Monday to Thursday.

My self image doesn’t stretch to labelling myself a picky eater. I’m not vegan or vegetarian, I don’t have any known food allergies, and I will happily tell people hosting me that I will eat “anything.” I’ve eaten kangaroo, ostrich and fugu so I must be open to all flavours, right?

Except olives. And pineapple. And is that celery? I guess I can kind of pick around it.

While I was recently in the USA, I went to tapas-style dinner with a number of lovely people, including my BFF Robyn and the awesome author Nisi Shawl. They ordered a couple of plates of baby beets for the table, both enthusiastic about how much they liked beets.

“Karen has strong opinions about beets,” Robyn said, accurately.

“I will TRY the beets,” I said, because I wanted to be as cool as Nisi Shawl. I delicately carved a baby beet in half, put the half in my mouth, and felt my face shift. Robyn cracked up. I swallowed.

“It’s okay,” I said, and it was. I’d eat them if I was hungry. I just didn’t like it.

Anyway, one of the recipes included a couscous with beets. I narrowed my eyes at the screen. We’ll see.

I also learned that I would have to go to the supermarket after all. The appeal of My Food Bag, especially for someone who cooks for one, is that you don’t have to buy a bottle of something expensive but absolutely vital, of which you might use a whole tablespoon before never cooking that dish again. Instead, Nadia Lim gives you teeny little packets with enough ingredients for that recipe.

However, Nadia also expects you to have some stuff at home. I’m a competent cook with a reasonably well-stocked pantry, especially when it comes to tinned tomatoes and packets of 99 cent udon, but I was out of a few things.


I had delicious Barrier Island honey left over from last year, where I went there to help imagine the apocalypse, but Nadia specified runny honey. I might feel comfortable defying Nadia later, but not on my first bag. Runny honey it would be. Next, chicken stock (fine), cornflour (fine), and sweet chilli sauce.

Sweet chilli sauce is a staple in my mother’s kitchen, but I’ve never been a big fan. I must be of an uncommon breed, though, because there was a supermarket shelf devoted to it. I took the first bottle I saw that didn’t say “exotic” anywhere on the label.

pantry 1

That’s my shopping basket. You will note two extraneous products.

The hair oil is because two weeks ago I walked into the mall hairstylist and impulsively got half my hair chopped off. This wasn’t because I am grieving, and grieving women often make drastic changes to their appearance. It was because I was absolutely opposed to going home and washing my hair in our sad and grubby excuse for a shower. The water pressure is best described as “old cat dribbles on your head” and it took forever to rinse the shampoo out. Anyway, I inevitably forget that shorter hair = more product. Thus, hair oil.

The chocolate macaroons are because I was going to a roleplaying session with friends that night, and it’s polite to take snacks. I ended up eating probably half the packet because I was cheated out of the KFC Tower burger I had intended to consume on the way by 1) the passage of time and 2) my need to catch the bus punctually.

The game went well, and we prevented Oberon from attacking a town in distress by bribing him with an iPhone 4 and an Instagram account, but an ability to make chocolate biscuits my dinner and then be unreasonably angry about it is another reason why My Food Bag appeals.

Help me, Nadia Lim.

Who was, who will be

You’re not supposed to make any sudden changes in the wake of a loved one’s death. The advice is not to do anything new, or rash, but to continue as you did before, as much as you can with what you did before.

It’s good advice. The problem is that before, I was a woman with a father, and now I’m not.

I knew he was dying. The actual death, though, was a shock. One morning I gripped his hand in Oamaru and promised to come back in two weekends to finish sorting out the stamp collection. It was a hurried goodbye. I had to leave. I had to catch the bus up to Christchurch. Anyway, I was coming back soon.

The next morning I got the call to come now. I flew to Dunedin, where a family friend was to pick me up and drive me back. Mindful of a friend’s advice, and not sure whether this was it, I packed my funeral outfit, just in case.

My sister was waiting at the airport.

“Why are you here?” I said, and then I started weeping, because I knew. Two women leaning into each other at an airport, hugging with bone-creaking force, sobbing into each other’s shoulders: strangers know what that means. They collected their luggage and dodged around us with gentle respect.

He died before I got on the plane.

In the days after my father’s death, knowing that I have a tendency to spend in times of stress, and refusing to feel guilt about that on top of everything else (I left and my father died), I gave myself permission to buy things that would make me feel better. I took $500 out of my emergency fund and placed it in spending. I bought books and games for my phone, Beyonce’s Lemonade, a new top for the funeral. I bought myself a massage. I bought the KFC Tower Burger* I’d been craving for three weeks.

I spent money to soothe my grief, and it absolutely worked. There is real, non-superficial, comfort in things.

It was autumn then. Now, it’s unmistakably winter. I hate these sullen mornings, where I wake up and inch my way to work in the dark over pavement slick with frost. I hate the damp cold that seeps through the cracks in my window frames. In any ordinary winter I shrink into myself and cut back on everything that takes effort. Thinking. Writing. Cooking, in the huge and icy kitchen.

This isn’t an ordinary winter. It’s a bad season for grieving. I want to be kind to myself, as I was when I was first bereaved, as others were to me. I don’t want my winter nights to be a drudge of soups and stews, or any of my weekends spent weaving through other harried customers in the supermarket. I want food to taste good and different. I don’t want to feel my body complain because I’ve gone too long without feeding it a fresh plant.

Last weekend, I signed up for Nadia Lim’s My Food Bag. I’m ambivalent about it. My first delivery is this Sunday.

I think this is a sudden change I can stomach. Let’s find out.

* Chicken fillet, cheese, lettuce, tomato mustard sauce, mayonnaise, and a hashbrown in a bun. It’s disgusting. I love it.

Karen at conversation in the bookstore, frequently with herself.

“So many white dudes. I want the new Karen Lord, L, L, no. Um, I wonder if… no, this is sci-fi, where’s YA. Sherri Smith, I think? Yeah, Flygirl, Smith. S, s, s, no! What do I have to do get Orleans? Or the new Seanan McGuire?*”

“Lili! Gotta read Lili. Oh, and the Steampunk anthology! Dylan’s in that, he sent me his story, I haven’t read it yet, I suck, what else is in it? Oh, this looks fun. Holly, and Libba, and ooh, comics! Look, Matt, look! Comics! Yeah, I’m getting this. Lili’s Love-Shy, and Dylan’s steampunk.”

“Oh, Among Others! This book is about how reading makes life bearable even when it’s not. It’s about a girl who – her twin died, and she’s in a boarding school and becoming a sexual being and she reads a lot of science fiction and fantasy I think it’s the sixties? Also, fairies. Different fairies, it’s good.”

*stabs viciously at author’s name on spine* “This guy… this guy, okay, no, I was at a thing with him once, no, no way, no.”

“Hello! I would like to buy these books, and also I wrote this one, would it be all right with you if I signed it? Thank you! I like your nail polish.”

*points to Villette* “Matt, this book is amazing. You read it, and at the end you’re like, why is everything? That’s my review. Don’t read it, though.”

* Turns out I had to hit up the Book Depository. I still love you, Book Depository.

Helen Lowe interview at SF Signal

The excellent Helen Lowe, who is a Christchurch spec-tic writing gal like me, recently interviewed me about When We Wake for her regular feature on SF Signal.

I really love interviewers who take the time to read the book and think through some meaty questions – it’s a lot of time and effort, and it’s always appreciated! Helen is one of the good ones.

Helen: In writing When We Wake, how important did you feel it was to get the scientific basis of the story right in terms of the cryonics and environmental change, as opposed to the emotional reality of Tegan’s story—and were there trade-offs between the two?

Karen: I did quite a lot of research on the environmental change, much of which I used, and also a fair amount of cryonics research – much of which I discarded. I wanted the landscape to feel real, and that meant projecting a realistic future in terms of climate change (if anything, I was too kind in terms of negative effects on the country!) But the cryonics is the more fictional aspect of my science fiction. To be honest, I was far more concerned with something that would read as really awesome, rather than as scientifically likely. I know this will turn some people off the book, and I won’t blame them! That’s just the trade-off I made.

When We Wake: Reviews

When We Wake has been getting some awfully nice reviews. Particularly, it is getting nice reviews from sci-fi venues, which pleases me very much, since this is my first sci-fi story.

Kirkus Reviews gave the book a starred review, calling it: “a fast-moving and carefully built science-fiction story… accessible, thoughtful and compelling”.

Publisher’s Weekly says that I managed a: “very persuasive future world… The diversity of the cast is authentic and natural”

Liz Bourke at says that When We Wake is: “an excellent YA novel. It’s also really excellent science fiction. … Healey really nails voice.”

Sarah Frost at Strange Horizons says the book is: “exciting and powerful. … [Tegan] is both a believable teenager and an admirable person.”

So that’s all pretty excellent, huzzah!

When We Wake: My Big Idea

Internets, y’all know John Scalzi’s Big Idea feature at the Whatever, right? This is the feature where authors will tell you the Big Idea behind their latest release, also known as The Place Not To Go When You Are Poor And Have Instituted A Book-Buying Ban, Yes, On Everything, Even That Really Cool One, Oh Wait, Maybe Just One Or Two Or Five.

It’s a great feature. Directly responsible for me spending a lot of money on very good books.

Anyway, the point is, I wrote my Big Idea for When We Wake, talking about (naturally) Sleeping Beauties, and why I wanted an action hero with verve to be my leading lady. Go! Read!

WAKE UP: The When We Wake Blog Tour

Time to talk about me!

No, wait, time to talk about MY NEW BOOK.

Internets, When We Wake has been released in North America. I was lucky enough to do a blog tour on five awesome young adult fiction blogs to coincide with this release.

BUT. I didn’t really want to do a blog tour when people ask me questions and then I answer, because I already had lots of that kind of interview lined up. Even though I could happily talk about my process and inspirations forever (which reminds me, I owe you a Sleeping Beauty essay on Captain America) I didn’t want to go around repeating myself.

SO. My awesome publicist was like, why don’t they interview When We Wake CHARACTERS? And I said, yes! Faye, you are brilliant! They can interview characters on topics relevant to the book!

So that’s what we did. Massive thanks to Faye and Little, Brown for organising everything, and even more massive thanks to the bloggers, who really put the extra effort in to come up with compelling, relevant, interesting questions! I am super happy with the WAKE UP tour, which you can read by clicking on the links below.

If you are in the US, you can also enter giveaways for the book!

The WAKE UP tour:

Bethari talks about media and communications at Novel Novice.

Abdi talks about immigration at The Book Smugglers.

Dr Marie Carmen talks about science and medicine at 365 Days of Reading.

Tegan talks about music at Forever Young Adult.

Joph talks about the environment at The Readadventurer.


Internets! Oh my gosh, it’s been FOREVER.

Or nearly two weeks, much the same thing in internet time.

What have I been up to? Teacher training! Story of this year, Internets. If ever you find yourself thinking, “That Karen creature, what is she up to, why does she not post as regularly as she did of old?”, you may then think, “Ah, teacher training,” and nod wisely to yourself at your perspicuity. One should take advantage of every opportunity to nod wisely at oneself.

I also did some other stuff! Internets stuff!

1: Here is an interview I did with delightful Australian SF blog Spec on Spec Fic. A sample:

2. How did you go about creating the Australia, and Melbourne, of the future for your book? What kinds of research did you have to do?

Living in Melbourne for five years was good research! It’s such a multi-cultural place, something I tried really hard to get across – that excellent blend of style, culture and voice. I wanted to get across the way the lanes and broad roads feel, that combination of wide spaces and squished, secretive alleys. I did a lot of research on the likely effects of climate change on Melbourne and Australia, none of it particularly cheerful. And, as always, since I know nothing about trees, I spent some time on horticulture sites. Trees are hard!

Trees are so hard, Internets.

2: I went to Oamaru and launched When We Wake from the familiar comforts of the Oamaru Library, a place that has been a wonder and a sanctuary to me since I was nine years old.

When We Wake Launch in Oamaru Library
When We Wake Launch in Oamaru Library


Fabulous turn out, great eats (thank you, Allen and Unwin! The cheese was magnificent!) and even the tech behaved! I did a sped up and truncated presentation of the Sleeping Beauty essays I’ve been doing for you, Internets, and it was very well received.

3: The trailer for When We Wake was released.

Oh, Internets.

Oh, Internets, I can’t even tell you how much I love this trailer. Everyone loves this trailer. ALL BLACK TAMATI ELLISON LOVES THIS TRAILER, TRUE STORY*.

Those who have read the book may have noticed that Tegan has an American accent in the trailer. Also, hair. But I cannot even bring myself to be mildly perturbed by these details, because I LOVE THIS TRAILER SO MUCH I WANT TO BAKE IT IN A PIE.

* He was at my mother’s school for an assembly and she played the trailer to the assembled students and afterwards he came and told her how much he liked it.

So, omg, and also, MUM. WHAT? OKAY.