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22 September 2015 @ 03:20 pm

It is my delight and honor to host my friend Chaz Brenchley on the blog today. I met Chaz online, and then through the Irish/UK con circuit, oh, several-many years ago now. Most lately he’s been working on a project that I’m utterly in love with, both in concept and execution, and he’s here to talk about it–and its crowdfunding support system–today!

chazbrenchley-200One of the joys of living in the heart of Silicon Valley is that NASA Ames is just over there, and SETI HQ is even closer. We live among the cool kids – and the cool kids like to share. I went to NASA for the recent transit of Venus; and ever since I moved here, I’ve been going to SETI’s weekly colloquium where planetary scientists and cosmologists talk about the latest discoveries, or the specific projects they have on a new mission, or the latest weird theory that’s almost a guaranteed Nobel prize if it should ever prove true (“but right now there are only two people who believe it, and they’re both in this room”), and like that.

So there I was with planetary scientists at my fingers’ ends for the asking, and lots of Mars talk going on around the time of Curiosity’s landing, so it’s really no wonder that I started thinking about Mars fiction. Real Mars, not so much, for it is dry and inhospitable and I have written my desert books already – but old Mars, Mars with canals and an atmosphere and aliens? Oh, yes. Very much yes.

And very much within that spirit, I wanted to steampunk it up a bit; and there was a lot of talk at that time in my social media about how steampunk tended to assume British Empire overtones, as though that were the only choice, and how it so very much was not. So I thought somewhat about that – but I did keep coming back to the British Empire, because I am far from home and the more time I spend in California the more inveterately Brit I become, and because I am the son of an Empire brat (Grandad was a major in the Scots Guards; Mum was born in Rangoon and grew up in Kuala Lumpur and Singapore, speaking Malay more readily than English), and because above all I was really curious. If Mars were a province of the British Empire, how would that actually work? How could it happen, and what would it mean – to the Empire, and to European and world history? And to Mars, and to the presumptive Martians? How do you impose colonial rule on a race that has no concept of empire, or statehood, or governance? And does it make a difference if you’re there by their courtesy, via their aetherships, for reasons you still don’t understand? And how do you negotiate even the broadest heads of agreement where you can barely communicate at all?

And, and, and. This is one way that fiction happens, with a whole slew of questions that need answering. So this last couple of years, I have been writing stories that seek to do that. The first of them, “The Burial of Sir John Mawe at Cassini”, was published in Subterranean and picked up by Gardner Dozois for his Year’s Best SF anthology; the second – “The Astrakhan, the Homburg and the Red Red Coal” – appeared this year in Lightspeed’s “Queers Destroy SF” special issue (Oscar Wilde on Mars!). And I’m working on T E Lawrence on Mars, and A E Housman on Mars, and I’m irretrievably bogged down in a novel about Kipling on Mars (for many of these stories begin with “Y’know, if Mars were a province of the British Empire, [X] would so have gone there…”).

So there’s that, and I am passionate about it, beguiled by it, almost obsessed with it.

But I have other passions too, lifelong passions – and one of those is the Chalet School series by Elinor M Brent-Dyer. Sixty books, written over forty-five years: the tale of an English boarding school established in the Austrian Tyrol, with all that that implies. Mischief at midnight, practical jokes and punishments, prefects and dormitories and matrons and mistresses; but also adventures on a much greater scale, for these books were written in real time through the war and the girls witness anti-Semitic cruelty and take a stand against it and have to flee the Nazis themselves. And retreat first to Jersey, which turns out not to have been such a good idea; and then spies come after them, and the makeshift migratory wartime school yields some of the best stories in the series. And then after the war the school moves to Switzerland (for it needs to stay close to the TB sanatorium that brings in many of its pupils, and staff too – and that supplies another constant theme to the series, loss and survival and the comforts of faith), and things go on much as before until the author’s death in 1970.

These books have a cult following, including some surprising names that I shall not bandy here. And just a few weeks ago, I was walking home from the farmers’ market when I suddenly thought, “Y’know, if Mars were a province of the British Empire, the Chalet School would so have a sister foundation there…”

It’s already established in the canon that boys are sent home to the great boarding-shools of England; but aethership journeys are expensive, and space is at a premium. Of course they’d want to educate their girls locally, oh yes…

And so the Crater School was born, in a failed hotel built as a Norman castle, on the rim of a crater lake inhabited by a Martian naiad. Just across the water from a sanatorium, for Mars comes of course with its own diseases; and there are Basque shepherds on the slopes and Dutch families on the canal below, Indians and Chinese in the great port cities, and and and…

And I’ve stitched all this together into a Patreon project, and we are going to have so much fun, it ought to be illegal. Or at least see us sent to the Headmistress on report. You can read the first two chapters for free here, and the Patreon page is here, if you’d like to support the Crater School for this term and beyond…

(x-posted from The Essential Kit)

21 September 2015 @ 08:06 pm

I was faffing around on Saturday trying to convince myself to get my act together enough to Make The Apple Pie, and mumbled, “Or maybe I could just make a blackberry apple crumble, that’d be easier,” in the vicinity of our guest, who said, “I didn’t know that was an option!!!”, thus indicating I should do that. :)

I poked around the internet and couldn’t find a recipe I really liked, so I kind of invented one. It went like this:

Kit’s Blackberry-Apple Crumble
1 oz butter
1 oz sugar
4-5 green apples, peeled, cored & sliced into 36ths
3.5 c blackberries
a smallish handful of flour

Caramelize the butter & sugar, pour the sliced apples in, stir for a couple minutes, pour the blackberries in, stir, pour the whole thing into a 9x11ish pan and sprinkle the flour over the top.

The Topping
1 c flour
3/4 c white sugar
1/4 c brown sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
6 oz butter

Whisk/stir/whatever first 4 ingredients together. Cut in butter until it’s pea-sized or so. Spread on top of the crumble. Bake at 350 for 45 minutes or until the top is golden-brown & the fruit tender. Let sit for about 30 minutes. Eat with ice cream.

I didn’t have a 9×11 pan, only a 9×13 and a 9×9, the latter of which turned the crumble topping to butter (tasty butter, but not crispy butter) LAST time I made it, so I used the bigger one and the filling was a bit thin, so neither was really suitable. Next time I’ll make more filling, maybe. But it was really good. And also we ate it and I didn’t take a picture. :)

But then I’d used all the blackberries, woe! So this weekend I went out and chopped down a lot of nettles and brambles and made my way back to where More Blackberries Lurked, and this morning I went and picked another half kilo of them. If I hadn’t made the crumble I’d now have enough for more jam, but, well. It was really good crumble. :) So now I’m back to hoping the weather holds long enough for the rest of the red berries to ripen!

(x-posted from The Essential Kit)

21 September 2015 @ 10:52 am

A friend of ours is visiting and working on her thesis. Early yesterday evening she​ came downstairs with the look of one martyred and suffering nobly for her cause and handed me her phone so that she couldn’t check Twitter or FB while she was supposed to be working on her thesis.

Several hours later, just before bedtime, she retrieved the phone and went into her bedroom. Moments later she came back out saying, “Catie? *CATIE*?!” in increasingly alarmed tones. Ted ran out to see what was wrong and she kept saying, “CATIE?” and I finished putting my PJs on and ran out and she said, “CATIE, WHY IS MY TWITTER FEED FULL OF PEOPLE SAYING PRIME MINISTER DAVID CAMERON HAD SEX WITH A DEAD PIG?!?!”

Ted and I, who had both independently imagined that Young Indiana had somehow managed to delete her entire thesis, both stared at her speechlessly and thought, more or less, “Oh, thank God,” because the British prime minister having sex with a dead pig was much, much less awful on our personal scale of things that could be bad than our son deleting somebody’s thesis. Our guest, unaware of our internal panic, was meantime saying, “*Why*, Catie? *Why*!?”

When I regained the powers of speech I confessed I did not know the answer to that question, as I had not been on Twitter any more recently than she had, and that she should go to bed. She did, but she said, “I’m never giving you my phone again!” on the way. :)


(x-posted from The Essential Kit)

18 September 2015 @ 11:30 am
Sunrise over an old graveyard turns the stones to gold in Athy, Co. Kildare, Ireland
Golden Graveyard

Sunrise over an old graveyard turns the stones to gold in Athy, Co. Kildare, Ireland

I love photographing graveyards, especially if there’s some kind of Weather going on. Sunrise turned out to be good Weather at the old graveyard in Athy, Co Kildare, Ireland. Best of all, it was January, so sunrise wasn’t even at, er, the crack of dawn… :)

(x-posted from The Essential Kit)

18 September 2015 @ 10:26 am

I’ve been going out and getting nettle-stung in search of the wild blackberries that are growing in our garden. (Nettles offend me mightily. Plants do not try to kill you in the land of my people, at least, nothing but Devil’s Club, and Devil’s Club looks like it wants to kill you from forty feet away.) Anyway, I’m apparently too easily taunted by blackberries and when I see them I feel obliged to get them immediately instead of preparing myself sufficiently against the nettles, so it’s this kind of adversarial relationship.

I am told that other people do not have adversarial relationships with berries. The berries do not taunt them, and they do not pluck the berries. It works out for them, but it seems strangely passive to me. :)

Anyway, so I’d gone into the garden and gotten a couple of cups:


and then went down to a stretch along the road where I’d seen some promising berry bushes earlier in the summer. Tragically, they had all clearly JUST been cut back, and there were no berries. #woe I came home and found more in the front garden, and worked my way up to about 3 cups. As a friend said, it hasn’t been a great blackberry summer, but dammit, 8 cups makes a batch of jam and I was DETERMINED to get a batch’s worth of wild berries so I could do a taste test comparison between a batch made with wild berries & a batch made with commercially grown berries. I thought it might take all autumn to find that many wild berries, but I was determined.

But then I found the nettle bush berries, which were many and lush and taunting and ow ow ow goddamn nettles ow ow ow! And I got another cup and a half! And there were MANY MORE on the other side of the little fence, which I did not dare climb across that day, because I was insufficiently armored!

Yesterday, though. Yesterday I armored myself up and went forth and crashed through decades’ worth of overgrown, dried brambles that snapped mightily beneath my feet, and negotiated with new brambles (brambles can be negotiated with. nettles just need to die in fire.) and hardly got stabbed at all while collecting more and more and more berries. Every time I forged a little farther on, I could see MANY MORE ripe berries only a little distance away, TAUNTING ME.

I cleared out pretty well everything inside the next ring of nettles, and left many many unripe berries on the vine, so it is my great and passionate hope that we have enough warm days left to ripen those ones so I don’t have to go into the nettles, which I suspect I’ll do anyway, armed with clippers, because I am being TAUNTED BY THE KNOWLEDGE THAT THERE ARE RIPE BERRIES IN THERE.

But I did get enough for blackberry jam!


In fact, that there is about 6.5 cups’ worth so now I have an extra 3 cups of wild blackberries and will need to either Go Get More For Jam or possibly make a crumble.

And I made the jam last night, and it’s freakin’ amazing, woo!


Kit’s Blackberry Jam
8 cups blackberries (5 cups crushed)
1 package sure-jell regular (not low-sugar) pectin
1 green apple, quartered but not peeled (optional, helps it to set firmly)
1 knob butter
5.5 cups sugar

Pour berries & pectin into a fairly large saucepan. Squish them a few times with a potato masher. Put the butter & the quartered apple in, turn heat to high, and stir until the mixture has come to a full boil that you can’t stir out.

Pour in the sugar all at once. Bring to a rolling boil, stirring constantly, and boil for one minute. Remove the apple chunks.

Ladle into prepared jam jars and let set for 24 hours. Should be perfect. :)

Note: This recipe used 8 cups of wild blackberries, which are about 1/3rd the size of commercial berries. If you’re using commercial berries, you should probably go ahead and crush them to get your 5 cups, because if you just use 8 cups of commercial berries you’ll end up with blackberry-colored sugar rather than anything that tastes like jam. :)

(x-posted from The Essential Kit)

16 September 2015 @ 09:34 am

You would think I would know by now not to post “I made this” food stuff without also posting the recipe. :) Someone asked, so here’s my recipe:

Lemon Curd
2 egg yolks
2 whole eggs
3 oz (6 tbs) butter, room temperature
1 to 1.5 cups sugar
the juice of 3 lemons (1/2 to 3/4ths cups lemon juice, depending on the size of the lemons; adjust sugar accordingly)

Cream butter & sugar until fluffy. Add eggs & egg yolks & mix again. Slowly add lemon juice. The mixture will look curdled when properly mixed. Don’t worry about that.

Pour mixture into a small sauce pan and heat on low, stirring constantly, until the butter has melted & it looks smooth & satiny. Turn the heat up to medium & cook for 15-20 minutes, stirring constantly, until the mixture has thickened. Don’t let it boil, because it will separate.

An easy way to tell if it’s thickened enough is to dip a wooden spoon in and run your finger down the middle of the back of the spoon. If the liquid seeps back together immediately, it’s not thick enough, but if it leaves a streak that doesn’t fill back in, it is.

Lick your finger. If it makes your ears bleed, add more sugar by the teaspoon (or so), stirring it in until fully melted each time, until you like the taste better.

I generally jar mine by boiling Bell jars and lids and proceeding as I would with jam. I also prefer 6oz jars for lemon curd because I’m the only one who eats it in my house and I don’t usually go through a bigger jar before it goes off, but that may not be an issue for everyone. :)

Unopened jars keep in the cupboard for…quite a while, and opened jars keep for a couple-three weeks in the fridge.

The recipe makes about 2 cups of lemon curd and scales up well, although I wouldn’t more than triple it, probably.

(x-posted from The Essential Kit)

15 September 2015 @ 10:22 pm

Iiiiiii have made an aaaaaaamaaaaaaazing batch of strawberry rhubarb jam.

Ted, who likes zingy strawberry/rhubarb jam, thought there wasn’t enough rhubarb in mine generally, so I did half and half instead of favouring the strawberries, and it’s rrrrrrrrrrrrrreeaaaaaaaaaallllly good.

I used jam sugar because I didn’t have enough regular sugar, and I thought I might have a little too much s/r for a kilo of jam sugar, which is often soft anyway. So I took what I’ve learned about unripe apples and got one and chopped it up and threw it in to boil with it.

It’s setting beautifully and it’s a gorgeous color and it smells amazing and it tastes SO GOOD. #pleased

I also made lemon curd yesterday, and tasted it just before I jarred it and OMG tart so I added another half cup of sugar and it was perfect. Then I turned one of the jars upside down without tightening the lid enough. Argh. But I mostly salvaged it.

AND a box of pectin, mac&cheese & chocolate chips arrived, only days after meeting up with a friend from California who had also brought chocolate chips, so now I have All The Chocolate Chips and made really nice cookies this evening.

Speaking of said friend’s visit…it was SO GREAT, wow! It had been–I don’t know, at least ten years since we’d seen each other, maybe twelve or thirteen, and we went to admire the Book of Kells and the Long Library and then got on a tour bus and totally ignored everything they said, so we decided to have lunch and then hang out at the Library Bar and just keep talking. It was *such* a nice day.

(x-posted from The Essential Kit)

14 September 2015 @ 09:56 am

I dreamed I was trying to deal with our book collections, and found not one, but *two* copies of author Robin McKinley’s (obviously, from 1. the well-read condition of the books, and 2. their (differing) covers) 1980s-era fantasy novel ONCE UPON A TIME, and the fourth, interstitial (it fit between books 1 & 2), book of Pamela C Dean’s Secret Country trilogy.

*grabby grabby grabby hands* I would pay good money to go back into that dream and read those two books cover to cover…

(x-posted from The Essential Kit)

09 September 2015 @ 10:03 pm

I am, for all of you who have asked, much better today, thank you. Muuuuuuuuuuch better.

Apparently I alarmed my poor husband, because he did come home to get Indy from school, and when he arrived home I was sleeping on the couch and he couldn’t remember the last time I was sick enough to give up trying to push through and just went to sleep on the couch. Evidently he went back to work and told people I’d been sleeping on the couch and they said “so?” and he was like, “no, you don’t understand. catie NEVER. DOES THAT.”

He told me this evening that if I’d said this morning he needed to stay home to bring Indy to school, he would have done that, and then he would have brought me to the doctor. I said I’d have waited until Thursday to go to the doctor myself, but it seems me sleeping on the couch for five hours of the day is Very Alarming Behaviour and Ted was having None Of It.

Anyway, although I was skeptical about sleeping after resting on the couch so much, I went to bed before 9pm and slept 10 hours with a brief wake-up at 1 to use the bathroom; I’d drunk a 750ml Lucozade (Gatorade, basically) during the day, which caused Indy to say, thoughtfully, “You’ll have to pee a lot tonight.” *laughs* I also thought, at that time, “Thank God for Night Nurse,” which is the Irish equivalent of NyQuil only it still has an active ingredient in it and is therefore worth taking, and then I went right back to sleep. And I was about 90% better this morning one way or another, and I’m still coughing but am otherwise pretty good this evening, so he didn’t have to bring me to the doctor.

Poor Indy has the cold now, though. :/

(x-posted from The Essential Kit)

09 September 2015 @ 03:41 pm

A while ago I was muttering about how I wanted somebody I *knew* to have test-run a relatively new distribution opportunity for self-published writers, and one of my friends said, “Er, Catie, you’re the one who does that. You go charging off the cutting edge and we all wait to see how it works out and then follow, having learned from you.”

I said “!” because I didn’t know that was a thing I was perceived as doing, but since it apparently is, I’m gonna talk about my experiences with Patreon now. :)

I’m on my second Patreon project: the one currently running is an Old Races Short Story Project, plus occasional extra sundries as I happen to do them. My first project was MAGIC AND MANNERS, a Jane Austen pastiche in which I asked the all-important question, “What if the Bennet Sisters had too much magic rather than not enough money?” (It will be widely available in October! Or November if things go badly, but definitely around then!)

Patreon has two options: one is that patrons pay a creator Per Thing, and the other is that patrons pay a creator Per Month.

I did M&M as a weekly serialized novel, with Patreon’s Pay Per Thing option, with a promise to not post more than one chapter a week, and with a guess as to how many chapters it would run, so that patrons could decide how much they wanted to/could afford to pay per chapter.

It worked, but frankly, I don’t recommend serializing something on Patreon that way.

The problem is that on the creator end, you end up getting nickel-and-dimed on micropayments and percentages going to the site. If I post 5 chapters in a month and get paid Per Thing on it, and someone donates $.25 per chapter, or $.05, I can end up actually getting nothing at all from their donation after the credit card fees, which do not like tiny tiny payments at all. This isn’t good for anybody! My patron has spent fifty cents (or whatever) in support of…credit card fees…and I have given chapters away! (Which frankly bothers me a lot less than the idea that people who are trying to support me are only succeeding in supporting a credit card.)

I think there’s a great window of opportunity for Per Thing support on Patreon, but serializing a book is not the way to take advantage of it. I think it works better for more one-off kinds of projects: songs, completed books maybe, poems, paintings, I don’t know. Not chapters, though. Not in my experience.

I therefore debated with myself a lot over whether I was going to do Per Thing or Per Month with the new Old Races Short Story Project. My goal is to post a story a month, plus some extras, but Patreon WILL let you *not* charge for something, so I could’ve kept doing Per Thing.

But this is a thing I’ve noticed by running crowdfund projects: lots of people are actually interested not just in The Thing, but in Supporting The Artist. Especially if it’s relatively convenient. Many people have $5 (or whatever) that they’re willing and able to spare per month to help artists, you know, not starve. Or pay the rent, or the cable bill, or just basically worry a tiny bit less about all of those things so they can do more art.

It makes practically every creator I know twitchy to imagine going out and just…asking for money. “Hi! I’m a writer! Give me some money so I can write, please!” We almost all feel like we had damn well better provide something in exchange for that money. We almost all always *do* provide something in exchange…but honestly, my experience has been that most of the time, patrons say “No problem,” if there’s no new content that month. Especially if they’ve been warned in advance, as I did when I switched my Patreon from the M&M project Per Thing payment system to the ORSSP By Month system. I did that in May or June, and told my patrons I’d be starting the new ORSSP in September.

I lost a handful of patrons, but I expected to lose *most* of them, and was kind of stunned that I didn’t. And now the new project is underway and I’ve picked up more patrons, and I’m getting near to my funding goal, which is enormously exciting to me. So I’ve learned that Patreon is a spot where creators can potentially go to just hang in there for a few months if life gets chaotic (as, gods know, mine did this summer), because a majority of patrons really do seem to be there to support the artist; the stories and whatnot are sort of a perk.

I’m trying to come up with some closing statements here and not doing very well. I think the Per Thing model is a really good one, especially for bigger ticket projects (hello, Amanda Palmer), but I didn’t like it for myself for a weekly Per Thing. I’d no doubt be happier with it as a monthly Per Thing rather than a weekly one, but there’s an ease in the Per Month payment, because that way I don’t have to set it to trigger a payment on a piece when I post it. (That burned me last year, when Patreon’s user interface wasn’t as good/I hadn’t grimly memorized what I had to do, and I ended up posting several things for free, which was aggravating because it was so easy to do accidentally more than because I hated to post the chapters for free…)

A thing to remember going into it, though, is that Patreon isn’t Kickstarter. With all that that entails, good and bad. It’s not a huge cash cow, generally speaking. I know artists whose Patreons will cover a nice dinner out with drinks, monthly (or, more practically, the cable bill). I know others who are actually breathing more easily because they’re paying the mortgage now, and others who can buy a cup of coffee at Starbucks once a week with their Patreon funds. It doesn’t have that shiny video-game high-score goal thing that Kickstarter does, or the pressure of SUPPORT IT NOW BEFORE IT DISAPPEARS! And that’s not its purpose, of course, but it does mean it’s a very different kind of fundraising and success has to be judged very differently, and realistically.

(x-posted from The Essential Kit)