Eating at the End


The home/glass blowing studio for Esther Glass. I need visuals to remember my settings.

I love the foody bits in stories, when characters take a breather from the crisis building and remember to keep their blood sugar up. While some might poke fun at three pages devoted to a feast, I always loved the descriptions Brian Jacques gave to all his mouse-sized recipes. And if you can track down a copy of the Redwall cookbook, do.

Cooking can also open a window into the world of your story, but I didn’t realize it’s full importance until I started thinking about what my characters might eat after an apocalypse limited them to the Kitsap Peninsula, and the islands contained within the Puget Sound.

What kind of jam will end up on Esther’s toast, and how likely is it that she’ll have flour? Could her pirate girlfriend smuggle gin, or will some other alcohol have to be stowed away in her skiff? These questions expanded further to the clothes they wore, the colors used, and the distribution of rare good among the islands. And because all of this minutia is background to the story, its importance is only seen in the absence of foods that did not survive the end of this particular world. So, rather than shove in a block of needless text about fish migration into a fairy tale, I’m going to post some of my favorite bits of food research here.

Kippered herring is split up the spine, then gutted, salted, and smoked, and they are common to the area, which makes it a pretty decent choice for a winter breakfast. So long as you aren’t like my husband, who finds the smell of herring completely abhorrent.

Gin can be made with most anything, so long as you’ve also got juniper berries to flavor the drink upon its second distillation. The strain of juniper that grows native is still about 80 miles from the Puget Sound. An insurmountable distance for the people in my story, but as luck would have it, juniper is also a common landscaping plant, and it is not impossible that some enterprising distillers might start gathering juniper berries from the well landscaped plots that overlook the sound. It would taste a little different, but it’d definitely be gin.

Some teas can be grown as far north as latitude 50, which makes my home at latitude 47 capable of hosting home grown tea parties! Coffee was an unavailable source for caffeine.😦

Dogfish can be flavored with chives, thanks to the unkillable chive plant that lives in my driveway. While all other plants have died through negligence, flash freezing, and the occasional misplaced wrench, the chives have survived, and I trust them to live at the foot of Esther’s cabin. The for-mentioned pirate girlfriend is the one who harvests them for the fish, because Esther considers cooking to be a strange science far more complicated than engineering a bottle to hold twice the volume of its outside dimensions. Magic is easy, cooking is weird.

Another fun fact, not having to do with food: Indigo dye can be produced from the woad plant, which is currently a noxious weed in Washington.  I needed to put one character in a blue linen skirt (his uniform in an ongoing battle against mermaids), and I was very happy that a natural blue dye would not be difficult to produce after the end of the world as we know it.


The cast relaxes after a setting appropriate dinner of fried perch. 


Trilogies I’ve Loved

I used to avoid trilogies. I was an arrogant reader, convinced if it couldn’t be said in one book, why bother with three? But that was all puff and nonsense. Great story can happen in two pages or two thousand. (But not in six words, Hemingway. I can’t care in six words.)

I think my initial avoidance was out of worry that the second and third books would not elaborate the story in any meaningful way. And I’m not sorry about that worry. I’ve read a few sequels that spun their wheels in a fun way but nothing moved forward. Worse, I didn’t see anything more in the world that I hadn’t already seen in the first book. It was like taking a train ride and forty miles down the coast from Tacoma, I’m still seeing the same old view.

But it turns out trilogies, like classic car remodels, fair isle sweater patterns, and LITERALLY ANY OTHER THIRD THING, are brilliant when they’re good and boring when they’re bad. And I’ve read some very good ones recently. Now I’m going to write about them!


Hundred Thousand Kingdoms in my house, on my bricks, on my wall.

The Inheritance Trilogy by N. K. Jemisin

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms
Starts out with a description of an impossible rose and relates it to the impossible fantasy city that Yeine must navigate if she’s to survive the relatives who want to kill her and the gods that want to kill Everybody. Yeine’s political outsider status is especially interesting as a world building tool, and the differences between her home country of Darr and the city of Sky make it easy to fall into the all new, all different world of this trilogy.

Broken Kingdoms
Picks up shortly after Yeine’s story with a new protagonist; Oree Shoth. The biggishness of the first book might make a blind main character seem like an odd choice to expand on this world, but not here. Oree’s people were almost eradicated by the god Yeine came to love and Oree’s relationships with the gods are on a level of equality rather than reverence. That perspective makes Broken Kingdoms a very different book, and Oree’s blindness forces her to navigate this world more cautiously than Yeina. (side note, I loved that Oree was realistic about her limitations, but never once did she lack agency in this story.)

Kingdom of Gods
The only way out is through. Your favorite god from books one and two heads the third. He becomes mortal, learns to deal, and discovers what godhood is missing. Also the apocalypse happens. (And Oree came back for a bit and maybe I’m in love with Oree, okay?)

next up,

justice tea

Depicted here with Erik’s fanciest tea cup.  He’s a fancy gentleman, but in this series, “she’s” a fancy gentleman.

the Ancillary Justice series by Ann Leckie

Ancillary Justice
An AI for a ship is confined to a single body called Breq after the rest of her is destroyed. The story toggles between present Breq’s predicament, and past AI’s experience as a tool of war. And she collects music. And (in flashbacks) can sing twenty part harmony with herself spread across an entire city and I am in love with that idea so much.

Ancillary Sword
Has Breq in a position of limited power, which she uses masterfully to ensure the rights of all people (not just the socially attractive ones) under her care. I like that Breq does not change very much as a character, so we can see how unerringly moral she is even when given a zero sum game. She also is excellent in stark contrast with the political games that play out around her.

Ancillary Mercy
While the trilogy is set inside a vast star systems reaching empire, the true momentum of the story comes to a head between a small number of very important people. And they drink tea, and Breq sings while everything fails around her, and suddenly you realize you’ve fallen in love with Skynet.

and my most recent love,


Seen here on my fairy tales shelf.  Not seen; the stacks of books on the floor I had to pull to make room on this shelf for a face-out display.

the Ironskin series by Tina Connolly

It begins looking like a fantasy version of Jane Eyre (already sold, right? hold on,) and quickly becomes a story of women’s liberation in the aftermath of a war against the fey. The protagonist Jane is cursed by the fey with anger, which she spreads to anyone around her unless she wears an iron mask to cover her scars. She starts out using that anger to govern a fey-cursed little girl, and learns to master it just as the war breaks out again. (Although, as a former baby sitter with my own serious anger problems, I might have chosen war…)

Follows Jane’s fashionable sister Helen shortly after the story in Ironskin. I thought for a half a moment that this book would lack for Jane’s little bundle of rage, but Helen’s story is so different from Jane’s that I found I wasn’t missing it. This series is like watching different feminist movements that we have lived through find themselves inside a fantasy setting. Helen comes from within society rather than apart from it, and she uses her position (and her own, self inflicted, fey curse) to fight against this world’s equivalent of MRA’s. (This is the city book to Jane’s country book, and like the sisters they feel like two sides of the same coin.)

This is a greater departure from the first two books, jumping ahead of Ironskin by about twenty years to follow the little girl Jane was first hired to govern. Dorie is a scientist, half fey, and uninterested in the traditional trappings of femininity, but the world she lives in is still Very Interested In Those Things. It’s awesome to see the seeds of those first two books sprout in Silverblind; feminism is learning interseciontality, magic is better understood but used to further the people who are already in power- all those real world ties that make fiction true. And Dorie decides for herself at the end what it means to be a woman (after hunting some wyverns, presenting as male to further her career, and attending a friend’s art show.)


And there you have it!  Three trilogies that really work the advantages of three books!  Omg, that’s nine reviews.  I’m going to take nine naps now.



Personal Cannon: The Ten Megan Classics

Once upon a 1909, Dr. Charles Eliot put together a compilation of literature in trustworthy forest green boards with serious gold type and called them The Harvard Classics. These were meant to provide any person who read them with the elements of a liberal education, but reading them still won’t qualify you for a supervising position at Target.

Of course, now it’s 2016 and the very idea of cannonical literature holds as much water as a sieve: Whose cannon? Why is this book important? What do you mean English 101 kids are reading Gardner’s The Art of Fiction but not Barry’s What It Is? (Both are brilliant books on writing, but I prefer Lynda Barry’s because it’s got all sorts of pictures and is less interested in academia than the occasionally heavy handed Gardner.) There are so many ways of learning, so many important books, that it is impossible to read them all. But I do like the idea that a set group of books can provide a single person with the elements of an education for… whatever, so I’ve drummed up a personal cannon that when read will give you the elements of a Megan education.

Rather than the 51 classic books provided by Dr. Eliot, I have limited this list to a ten book summer course. If undertaken, these ten books will provide you with an introduction to Megan, and you will be well on your way to all of the neurosis, excess coffee, and indecipherable reminders written at 3am that she enjoys on a daily basis. Alas, you will still be unqualified for a supervising position at Target.

Half Magic by Edward Eager: Thinking deeply about the proper way to word a wish will extrapolate itself to thinking deeply about every word said, until you’re not sure you should ever say anything! And Katherine fights Sir Lancelot, that’s fun.

Matilda by Roald Dahl: This will provide a counterpoint to Eager, when the Trunchbull gets away with her atrocities by never committing any act by half. All in, until no one will believe you, Miss Honey.

Beggars in Spain by Nancy Kress: My first introduction to Hugo winning SciFi by a lady type. The sheer idea that it could be done was well formative. Likely, you will bond with your future husband over all the hobbies you’d both aquire if you never had to sleep.

Making Comics by Scott McCloud: you have already read a few comics as a prerequisite for this course, and now you will understand their language.

The Art of the Novel by Milan Kundera: Story as music, explained by the son of a student of Antonin Dvorak. (Not that Kundera’s life as an expat Bohemian living in France is any less interesting than his connection to Dvorak.) All art is intersectional, all story has the capacity to be Art. Which is the excuse you’ll give when caught humming O Mangum Mysterium while you read.

The True Deceiver by Tove Jansson (translated by Thomas Teal): Art as a novel.

Cruddy by Lynda Barry: Visceral and ugly, looked at so hard that it becomes beautiful. You’ll still need to take a shower after this. You’ve been warned.

The Dispossessed by Ursula K. LeGuin: I loved this book so much that I made a shirt with her map of Annares on it. I. Made. A. Shirt. I expect you to make a shirt after reading this.

Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor: Science fiction is fantasy, fantasy is real, genre is whatever you want to make it. This book is scary and amazing, and Onyesonwu is going to rewrite your world. Extra credit: follow Okorafor on Twitter for delightful animal pictures!

The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett: Read this at any age, the wee men talk funny but it’s Tiffany and her grandmother’s understanding of the world that is Real. If you want to be a witch, read the Tiffany Aching books. (Obvs you want to be a witch. Who doesn’t?)

List is reflective of the order in which these books were read.  Extra credit: read Half Magic out loud while following your dad through the garage, and then read the chapter What Happened to Katherine another twelve times.


So what is your cannon? What ten books would make a you?

Dissecting the Frog

I recently read The Sense of Style by Steven Pinker, which I recommend for any sensible person who loves the English language. It debunks so many of the crumbling rules for writing that drag down our prose, and leaves intact the scaffolding that any writer needs to make herself clear. But the best and most useful things were his examples of beautiful prose, and the scalpel he took to them. Some very pretty passages were dissected to show off their moving parts; something my husband has suggested I do to our library on a few occasions.

With my husband’s encouragement, and Steven Pinker as guide, I’ll try breaking down a few of my favorites. With any luck, the process will train my subconscious to an inert sense of style, and limit my need for eighth, ninth, eleventeenth drafts. More likely, I’ll be just as fussy as I’ve ever been with any draft after the first, but perhaps I’ll know better what to do with it.

This is my favorite book. Ever.

I loved The True Deceiver. It was the winter book to contrast with Tove Jansson’s The Summer Book, and while Summer is kindness between a grandmother and little girl, Deciever is a frigged story about two women from the opposite sides of everything finding a mutually beneficial relationship that utterly ruins them come spring. Their polar personalities can’t survive a shift in either direction, and the end leaves them both lost in themselves. It is a very quiet book, hung expertly together in a tiny snow-locked town, and the language is so tight that any excerpt will be wanting the rest of this book. (It was translated from Swedish by Thomas Teal, so I’m super impressed with him as well. This book has no seams, no out of sort passages that might remind the reader that English was not its first language.) That being said, I’ve chosen this one near the beginning of the book as it illustrates the town and Katri Kling’s place in it.

“Inside the snow banks were deep, narrow tunnels where the children had dug hideouts for themselves during thaws. And outside stood their snowmen, snowhorses, formless shapes with teeth and eyes of bits of tin and coal. When the next hard freeze came, they poured water over these sculptures so they’d harden to ice.

One day Katri paused before one of these images and saw that it was a likeness of herself. They had found shards of yellowish glass for eyes and given her an old fur cap, and they’d captured her narrow mouth and her stiff, straight bearing. Attached to this woman of snow was a large snow dog. It wasn’t well done, but she could see that they meant it to be a dog, and a threatening dog at that. And crouched at the hem of her skirt, very small, was a dwarfish figure with a red potholder on its head. Mats usually wore a red wool cap in winter.”*

It may seem counter-intuitive to begin this experiment with a translation that I’ve already declared needs the rest of its parts to be truly beautiful, but I love the simplicity of this. It is very tempting to cloud every part of the story with as much poetry as possible. That can be done well, that can be very pretty, but in this the beauty comes from the story itself, not the lens through which we see it. Katri is a cold woman, this is a cold book; everything is ice. The only spot of true color is in the red cap worn by her brother’s tiny effigy; and in Katri’s frozen heart he is the only person who can not be reduced to numbers and yet he is a very small part of this story. (The yellow eyes do not count. Yellow is the color of sun through ice, and the “-ish” lessens its impact. Yellow in this passage is not a color.)

Dwelling on this small scene so early in the book is more than a bit of passive interest in the scenery. It sets Katri’s place in the story as an icy witch feared by children, and when the thaw comes with spring at the end of the book, we see her whole world crash through the ice.

*Jansson, Tove. The True Deciever (New York Review Books, New York)

Body in the Subconscious Mind

I wrote a fantasy story recently about a woman who wards mermaids off from ships but it was really about women’s bodies. That surprised me, because my subtext is usually about the formation of stories and I was pleased that another facet of my interests had subconsciously taken hold. I’ve been stuck on mermaids for at least three short stories now (and countless abandoned paragraphs in WordPad; I use it because it doesn’t distract me with my own atrocious spelling errors), to the point where I was beginning to worry that I wouldn’t be able to write anything but mermaid stories, but I see now that they were a distraction to ween me away from my compulsion to flay open whatever story I worked on to see all its still moving parts. Thanks, subconscious!

I am almost Thirty. I apologize to the people I’ve casually lied to, claiming the age Thirty since I was twenty-eight: I had no real reason to do so, other than it offered fewer syllables and seemed to carry more weight. I am still twenty nine, but close enough to thirty that my doctor used it as explanation for why my back was suddenly misaligned (she also kindly assured me, without judgment, that random joint pain is very rarely cancer). I have considered thirty as a marker since deciding in high school that I want to write, to be published, and to be read, preferably on a mass-market scale, well before I turned Thirty, because of some magazine article I’m probably misremembering that claimed most professional authors did not publish before they were thirty. It was an arbitrary number then; something to beat. As it’s closing in, nothing about it really feels arbitrary.

I went through some major revisions from first draft to second with this fantasy story. The protagonist in my story is in her forties. (Apologies in advance to the people I will inevitably lie to, claiming Forty at the tender age of thirty-seven.) She is very tall, her features are very broad. She has albinism, and trouble with her eyesight, but she is comfortable in her body, well settled in, and that confidence spreads into every part of her life. I liked this character, and I tried to draw her several times to get a better handle on her personality for the second draft, but nothing looked right until I started to think about my own body, its softness that I hated through my twenties for subverting the quills I try to wear in public, my ankles that are still mismatched in strength even though the sprain was months ago. My cheekbones that only now are starting to look a little like my great grandmother’s when I smile. (Noice.) And I realized as I was going through the stretches that keep my back aligned and the pushups that just get me amped for writing that I was okay with my shape. Well, it was more the pushups and Abby Hoffman’s awesome comic about being fat at a doctor’s office that inspired this acceptance.* My body’s weird, yeah, but it’s livable and sturdy (except for that ankle.) And it struck me as a thought my protagonist might have, so I returned to my character sketches.

I actually got it right this time.


I did not draw myself. I am a convoluted mess that could never survive a short story full of murderous mermaids. But I was more honest with her look and she took on a real shape that was closer to true than most of my character sketches have come before. And as I sketched her counterpart, a twenty year old with an indefinite prettyness about her that she did not work for or care much about, I realized that the underlying conflict, beyond “how do I keep these mermaids from eating my crew?” was between these two women, and ultimately my life between these two perspectives. Thankfully all of that is running background to the story. Inner cogs are spread here on the blog for examination, and are carefully tucked away inside the narrative to hum along and keep momentum. Wouldn’t want anyone reading a high seas adventure and have to think about the author huffing and puffing on a yoga mat.

The second draft replaced almost every one of the four thousand words in the document, which may not seem like much, but when you have a completed story it’s pretty hard to reject all of it in favor of the unknown. That’s what first drafts are; the unknown. But the first draft of this story was obsessed with this character’s body, how it fit on the ship, how it loomed on small islands, all without reason. Second draft, after I balanced her with the counterpart to my own inner conflict, the story took a real shape.

It is not finished. It requires some real editing to make it presentable. But then, that’s often how I feel about myself.

I am still a long ways off from this idealized forty… I can hardly imagine what I’ve managed to get wrong!


*my excellent doctor has never suggested I eat more vegetables as a solution for my ankle turning black for all the bruising around a sprain. She’s the best. Also, read Abby Hoffman’s Last Halloween because it is also the best.