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Compost: it's like the home-made stock of the gardening world. Needs time and ingredients, and it pretty much does the work itself.

In other words, I moved and turned my compost bin this morning. And found a couple of cubic feet of lovely lovely compost at the bottom, as I always do, though I never think I will when I start in at the top. Back home in England, my back yard was essentially a machine for making compost; I had three binsful, and almost no soil to use it in. Here I still feel like I haven't entirely cracked the way of composting in a semi-desert, but I do always surprise myself in the end. With the help of the woodlice, that is. Lots of woodlice, munching away on my behalf. I hope they all remember to migrate next door, to where the bin is now.
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Back ago in the olden times, a friend was having a party. "Chaz," she said, "can you make dessert for thirty?" Sure, I could. So I invented my creme brulee double surprise [spoiler: the custard is chocolate, and underneath are the world's most perfect preserved cherries, which I used to buy loose from a giant jar in the Italian deli across town].

It became a signature dish of sorts, but I haven't been able to make it since I came to the US, because (a) no blowtorch and (b) no access to the world's most perfect cherries.

Last week, Sur La Table opened a new store perilously close to us, and I had a gift card. Didn't know what I wanted, when we went in - but almost the first thing I saw was a little jar of the world's most perfect preserved cherries (Amarena Fabbri griottes au sirop, since you ask). So of course I bought those and a blowtorch, and the chocolate cremes brulees are now in the oven, baking slowly in a bain marie. It's only a first step, because I cannot remember my old recipe, but little by little, trial by error, I'll get it right again.

And in another experiment there's a pork loin rubbed with smoked paprika and garlic, sitting on a bed of rosemary in John's old electric smoker in the yard. And as soon as the oven's free I'll bake some sesame buns, and...
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People, you won't believe this, but it's been twenty-one years since the first publication of Dead of Light. (My baby's old enough to drink legally in America! Snf!)

In due celebration of which, we have published new anniversary editions of both Dead of Light and his nineteen-year-old baby brother Light Errant. Here is the Kindle edition of Dead of Light, and here is the Kindle edition of Light Errant. Please to observe lovely new covers by Layla Lawlor.

At the moment these are technically Amazon-only, because reasons. However, I do have epub and pdf editions available also, directly from me; just drop $2.99 into my PayPal account (chaz at chazbrenchley dot co dot uk), and say which you want.

And in more of the same news, because these are such thoroughly new editions, they've been scrubbed clean of all previous reviews. As we all know, reviews really really help to sell books, or at least to bring them to other readers' attention. They don't have to be long, they don't even have to be positive; Amazon's algorithm only looks at the number of reviews, not the content. If you felt like obliging, at either or both of the links above, that would be incredibly welcome.

Also of course if you could share this announcement far and wide, because word of mouse, hullo. Thank you!
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Sunday: it's not really a placeholder, neither a bookmark. We are not marching on the spot here.

Nevertheless. Yesterday we drove up to the city for a fabulous Ellen-Klages'-birthday dinner with Ellen and Madeleine Robins and Pat Murphy. We watched boats on the water at Golden Gate while the sun went down beyond the Bay; we ate fishes and shellfishes and steak and creme brulee; we spoke of almost everything but shoes and sealing-wax, and also cabbages. (I don't believe I mentioned kimchi once.)

Tomorrow, K has an interview and I have a dentist.

Meanwhile, it's today. I have made and jarred jam; I have baked bread. I have watered the garden, which is hot as loveliness this baking July day. We had dim sum for lunch, and then went shopping after; and now I am mostly reorganising the kitchen, transferring all my pulses and dried fruits and other pantry staples into mason jars rather than the mix of tupperware and plastic bags that has sufficed hitherto. Things are getting labelled, also. Think of that.

Barry-cat is scheduled to be radioactivated in August, for his hyperthyroid. He spends three days sealed in lead, and when he comes home even his poo will be nuclear waste for a while. If it saves him from the dreaded pink pill for pale pussycats, I am in hopes that he will think it all worthwhile.

I suppose I ought to do some work. but it's always hard at weekends. And I suppose I ought to give some thought to dinner, but I have cooked already this day and I'd rather go on pouring things into jars and feeling useful. Hey-ho.

The bread is my new sandwich loaf. I'm still working it over, but at the moment it looks like this:

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That's 300g water, 30g olive oil, 25g diastatic malt powder, 8g instant yeast, 6g salt, 300g all-purpose flour, 125g wholewheat flour (actually I used emmer, but hey), 100g semolina; mixed and then kneaded six minutes in the stand mixer. It's a sticky dough; slick it with olive oil and leave it a couple of hours, then knock it back and set it in a loaf tin to rise a second time. I painted the crust with buttermilk to get that golden glow. And then slashed it and baked it for thirty-five minutes at four hundred F. And then photographed it in the California sunlight, obviously, for further golden-glowishness.
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Unaccountably, we are having a big party on Monday (for my half-birthday, oh, and America). There will be 1776 and Paint Your Wagon, there will be foods and alcohols and friends and fun of all kinds. All of them.

Inevitably, therefore, we had a rotten night - twice woken by false smoke alarms (*shakes tiny fist at Nest, which was supposed to be our friend*), not counting singing cats and other disturbances - and I am sick as a dog today. Actually, I am sick most unlike a dog; I never knew a dog with manflu. 'Tis only a cold, of course (read lurgi, plague, contagion, as you will) and if history is reliable I'll be better by tomorrow; California gives me weird little mini-colds, twenty-four hours and done.

Today, though, I am mostly spending on the sofa. Happily, I have two books that I am loving: Undaunted Courage by Stephen Ambrose, a biography of Meriwether Lewis and the whole Lewis/Clark expedition; and, for light relief, Lunch in Paris by Elizabeth Bard, the history of a romance with recipes. Between them, they make my tenure of the sofa almost comfortable, and certainly comforting.

This morning, Karen drove me to the farmers' market for party essentials: three hummuses (hummii?) and two packs of pita chips (lemon and garlic) from the Hummus Guy; berries and rhubarb (is rhubarb technically a fruit, I wonder, in my feverish state?) in case I'm better enough to make a pie, now that I'm all cocky about my pie-making which I did not tell you about because bad Chaz, neglectful of his journalling, but yes, I made a pie this week which did not suck. I'm hoping to bake some bread and do something with a huge hunk o' pork, but that's all dependent.

I am totally not telling you the kinds of medicine Lewis forces on his men, their companion squaw, and himself - this is no country for kind men - but if you've read Patrick O'Brian you're more or less in the right area, barring only his willingness to experiment copiously with plants he's never seen before. Will he survive? Will any of them survive? I have no idea; I'm only halfway through. The tension is electric, I tell you. Electric.

Also, Paris. An American girl, a French boy, a shared willingness to eat anything. It's a joy. (Oh, and speaking of food - new Netflix series, Chef's Table. We saw the first last night, and I loved it with a love universal. I want more foodie programmes like this, dammit, not the endless competitive last-cook-standing reality-TV stuff.)

This has been a brief hiatus in my ongoingly bewildering absence from these pages; I must now return myself to my regularly-scheduled sofa.
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Reposted, as it happens, from elseweb:

St Helens, I am in you. (Antiphon: "And also in you.") This is the St Helens that used to be called Plymouth, until the clouds cleared and they realised they could see Mount St Helens from here on a good day.

I am not here very much longer. I have spent two days hangin' with Ken Scholes, and we have had an awesome time. Yesterday we road-tripped the region and saw Fort Catsup [nb: not Fort Catsup, Fort Clatsop] where Lewis and Clark overwintered in their loggy encampment. (They would not have run short of logs; there are an awful lot of trees in Oregon. I thought I had seen them all from the train, but we found more.) Also we bought books (one about Lewis and Clark, because I need to know this stuff; one by, ahem, me, because Ken needs to know where I've been; and I bought him a lovely Folio edition of Bruce Chatwin's "The Songlines" on much the same principle.)

Today Ken is due to hand me off to Shannon Page and that Mark Joseph Ferrari fellow, on the principle of "leave them wanting more", because he and I are not half done with each other yet, but hey. There will be more time; it's what stops everything happening all at once, right?
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Today I have polished and sent away the first 10K of my space opera attack novel, now indeed to be known as OVERSIGHT; and also "Ashes to Ashes", the short story for the David Bowie memorial anthology (which is also a bar story, a space-bar story, despite its own denials: "It's not a bar, though you can certainly get a drink. And pay for it. Parry likes to call it the rest between bars. That's probably by way of being a joke, though you'll never see him crack a smile.").

Also, I have committed gardening, in the sense of bringing home new herbs, and therefore having to hack back the overbearing oregano and root out the accursed bermudagrass before I could plant new French tarragon and a couple of different thymes in the herb bed. Which-all led to a blinding revelation, as reported elseweb, that I am only ever any good in the garden when I have new things to plant. Therefore - and purely in the interests of an ongoing maintenance programme, which is what any and every garden needs above all else - I should buy new plants and plant new seeds on a rolling weekly basis, oh yes. And thus have the full busy garden that I pine for, and keep it tolerably cared for too. [/epiphany]

Now: what should we have for dinner? I am clueless.
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It's a hot day hereabouts, and I was mixing myself a standard Dark & Stormy, according to the Jeannie recipe - rum, lime juice, ginger beer over ice - when it occurred to me that I would shortly be gathering mint from the garden for dinner; and I thought, "Oh, wait a minute..."

In case you've ever wondered? Yes. A sprig of mint, muddled in the bottom of a Dark & Stormy, is a really attractive addition, if that's the sort of thing you like.

And in other news, speaking of dinner, yesterday's dinner: big shrimp peeled [sidebar: I have never understood this fetish for leaving on the tail of the shell. If it's going to be fingerfood, leave the whole damn shell on to contain the juicy flavours; if you're going to be using silverware for everything else on the plate, peel the damn thing properly, for the love of napkins] and marinated in olive oil and chilli flakes, then broiled [UK grilled] on a baking sheet under a hot flame for not very long at all; asparagus poached in barely-simmering water for a couple of minutes until tender-crisp, then tossed into a pan of mushrooms and garlic sizzling in butter; potato salad half-and-half lemon dressed and mustard dressed. Summer cooking, people. I am learning it.
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Apparently - who knew? - I can be driven to a con, do a panel, have lengthy in-depth conversations with friends alongside a lot of casual interactions, have lunch with m'wife and dinner with herself and a crew of friends, browse the dealers' room and art show, yadda yadda, all that stuff one does at cons - and still write 2K+ of current SF space-opera attack novel.

Which would totally be cause for celebration and grand plans to do so on a daily basis, thus reviving dormant career and rebooting old-Chaz for good measure - if it weren't for the fact that this stellar wordcount was achieved by means of beer and no internet, in the hotel bar for hours on end. Which, on a daily basis, can only be replicated by long sessions in the wine bar downtown. Which would not be a good idea, for all the obvious reasons. Sigh. It would be nice if I could be passionately fond of things that were not intoxicants, expensive and unhealthy.

Review!

May. 30th, 2016 10:26 am
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I am just sayin', but Charles de Lint reviewed last year's "Year's Best" antho edited by Gardner Dozois (vol 32) in F&SF, and inter alia he said this:

Chaz Brenchley's "The Burial of Sir John Mawe." Boy, does Brenchley pack in a wealth of worldbuilding in such little space with his tale of the aftermath of a hero's death on an inhabitable Mars that is under British Colonial Rule. I've no doubt there'll be more stories in this setting, and I hope they're half as good.

Owie!

May. 23rd, 2016 10:03 am
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I have, as they say, done myself a mischief. No idea how.

Saturday, I thought I had a bug. By Sunday it was clearly an injury. Something abdominal: if I had a left-handed appendix, somewhere around there. I'm okay as long as I keep reasonably still, and I'm okay walking around; but standing up, sitting down, leaning forward, bending over, lifting - these are all horribly ouchie.

Obviously I am going to live with it another day or two before I even pretend that I'm thinking about going to see a doctor.
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From the book description sent by Abebooks, with the volume that arrived today:

Contents include:

Pogonotrophy in Serendip; Of Antick Beards; Of Barbers and Barbarians; Beards versus Bayeux; Radat and Filioque; Beards and Bigots; Of Prayers for Shaving and of Other Matters, including False Beards; Mambrino's Helmet and the Beard of Bessanon; The Augustan Age of the Philopogon; The Beard Romantic and the Scandal of Whiskers; The Nineteenth Century; Hail and Farewell.


Or, in other words, yes: after four years and more of being five thousand miles from my favourite book, I have finally obtained my own copy of Beards: an Omnium Gatherum by Reginald Reynolds, rather than being dependent on the now-far-distant copy in the Lit & Phil.

If I never told you the story of how this in fact became my favourite book, I might do that. Later. Meantime, I'm just going to sit and stroke it, 'k? For that it is mine, I tell you, mine to me...
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So I am browsing the library's copy of The NoMad Cookbook by Daniel Humm and Will Guidara. You could pay a hundred dollars for this book, people. And look! For your money, you could get a typo never before perpetrated, unique to this splendid publication! (Possibly)

Unless "Pureews" is a word that I don't know and neither does the internet, that is.

20160520_121459
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So yesterday, as happens at least once a month and sometimes more, Thursday dinner turned into Curry Club. See this?

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No, you're completely wrong. This is not dinner. This is leftovers. (I have always had a problem judging volume, will-this-fit-into-that. So I overcater. Besides, we only had five people yesterday including ourselves. Standard Thursdays run to twice that. Obviously people hate my curry or something.)

Anyway: lamb (and beef, because I ran out of lamb) kofta in a tomato coconut sauce; pork bhuna; chicken with turmeric and cilantro that I totally made up; tadka dhal; sugar snap peas with ginger; lemon-rice-without-the-lemon. (Oh, and my own chilli pickle in the jar. My own chilli pickle which has nearly run out. I should totally do something about that.) I could eat this all week. Just as well, really. I may have to.
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Yesterday, you will recall that nothing worked.

Today is better than that. Indeed, I started - before coffee! - by defeating a bug in the new iteration of Ubuntu. It was very weird last night; I set up my email client of choice (Thunderbird, since you ask) and found that I couldn't delete anything from the inbox. Not from the keyboard, not by dragging it to the Trash file, not nohow.

Still the same this morning, so I did that thing we do, we modern folks: I went to Google and said "I can't delete anything from Thunderbird". And lo: this is a known bug, caused by a corrupted Trash file. The solution is to delete the Trash file by doing this and this, and then rebuild it using such-and-such. So I deleted it by doing this and this, and then rebuilt it using such-and-such. And lo: today is a day when things do work. And I felt the righteous joy of one who has mastered his foe. King of the lab.

And then we went to brunch at David & Becky's new house, which is kinda lovely, actually; and now we are home again, and Karen is the one who will be writing all afternoon to meet an evening deadline. Me, I have just reminded myself how to find all my emails on the old installation and transfer them to the new one; and again I have done it and it worked, so go me.

Contrariwise and on the other hand, right now I am finding that the resolution on this screen is making my eyes go weird. I am in hopes that I will get used to this, in time, because it ain't tenable long-term. I'm not even sure it's tenable short-term. We'll see. (If I stop seeing, then I guess we'll know.) There are fallback positions, and I don't have to get this worked up about it.

Also, I can spend more time in the garden. That would be a good.
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So I woke up this morning to an Ubuntu installation so badly broken it won't connect to the internet at all. And I had an earlier installation that was working, so I have been sourly upgrading that - and the upgrade has just stalled out halfway through, in a way that I think means that this installation too will be broken if I try to reboot it. And I am not geek enough to know what to do about this, because "just never reboot" is not exactly an option hereabouts.

This is where I think about invoking my long-term survival plan, in the form of a Whole New Machine. Starting fresh, starting clean is always so attractive when things get muddy and messy and tangled-up as badly as this one is. (It has four separate iterations of Linux on it, three of which don't work. Three about to become four, that is.) This one's four years old, after all, which used to be a decent lifespan for a PC back in the day. That day was twenty years ago, but hey: it's all about mindset, and mine is kinda calcified. But when I did upgrade I'd been meaning to buy a machine optimised for Ubuntu, rather than constantly fighting incompatible hardware; and that would mean delay, where I could just wander into Fry's this afternoon and buy something on the instant.

And, and, and. And I did not want to spend my weekend doing this, soddit. Any of this.

And now I am going to reboot this stalled install, and learn just how bad things are. I may be some time. This may be farewell. It's been fun, mostly...
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So for a little while now I have had a book on the back burner, which means in the back of my head for the most part; up front there is really only half a chapter, a twist and a feeling. Also it is quite blatantly Iain (M) Banks fanfic. I do not apologise for this, neither resile from it; I don't believe that Iain would have cared, and I just wanna. Sometime, I'll just take some time and write the thing and show it to people and see.

Not right now, I have other stuff to do and this is not the time. Except that it dawned on me this morning when I was doing entirely other things that I really want to call it OVERSIGHT. Which, again, because I wanna and at this stage I can. It's not punchy, as titles go; but I always did like puns and double meanings, and when those two familiar meanings address two major themes within the work (and possibly three: I did say there's a twist), then hell yes.

Besides which, I really dislike writing without a title in situ - or you could put that the other way and say I always do like writing to a title, so that it gets embedded in the text, like words running all the way through the rock. Makes it much more likely that a thing will actually get written, once I know what to call it.
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So Mars no longer has an internal dynamo or a global magnetic field, though certainly it used to. I am taking it as read that the mere residue, the surface-scatter of magnetised rock is not enough to make a magnetic compass viable. So how would you navigate, on Old Mars in amongst all the canals and without benefit of satellites or GPS? By sun and stars and landmarks, sure - but what am I missing?

[EtA: assuming a 1920s British-Imperial level of tech and understanding...]

[EtA2; I suppose it's too much to hope that Mars' north pole also (currently) points towards Polaris...? *asks internet* Yup: much too much to hope. Sigh.]
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Is it bitterly ironic, or just inordinately depressing, when your work doesn't even make the lists of the undeservedly disregarded?

Ach, whatevs. I finished the new Crater School quarter-day story, and it's a whole damn novella (which I am hoping will prove some compensation for the delay). It just needs a quick polish, and then we'll get it out to my Patreon subscribers as soon as possible. It's called "The Crater Girls in Camp", and features schoolgirls - of course! - and aliens (by special request) and a little bit more of the Mars that no one's seen yet. And Rowany de Vere, because she's awesome.

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