I love Chinese food like the sun loves the Earth – I want to keep it ever close to me, never let it go. Sadly, my wife doesn’t share my lust for Chinese – or at least, she wants to be sure it’s good Chinese, which is difficult to find in our immediate orbit.
Can I? CAN I?
I don’t know if I even repeated the question before I was in the grocery store for fixings.
That said, I’m a bigger fan of Sichuan than Cantonese dishes. I like heat, whereas she wanted something sweeter than my typical fare. I checked a few online resources before finding Bee’s advice at Rasa Malaysia - using plum and worcestershire sauce in place of the glommy staple of orange juice. I didn’t have any plum sauce on hand, so I substituted chili paste which would add some sweetness while also adding the spice I crave.
Here’s the recipe, in order of prep work and suggested timing. Stir fry is always tricky at first. Just remember, when cooking the vegetables, the densest materials go in first, followed by those which are more delicate (such as mushrooms) or which you want to stay crunchier (celery, asparagus).
- 1 lb pork tenderloin (cut into 1″ cubes)
- 2 Tbsp soy sauce
- 1 Tbsp sugar
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- garlic & ginger to taste
Mix all ingredients and marinate, refrigerated, for 1 hour.
- 4 Tbsp water
- 4 Tbsp ketchup
- 2 Tbsp oyster sauce
- 2 Tbsp chili paste (I use sambal olek)
- 1 Tbsp worcestershire sauce
- 2 tsp sugar
- 2 tsp cornstarch
- 1/2 tsp rice wine vinegar
Whisk all ingredients together for the sweet and sour sauce.
- 1/2 red pepper, cut into 1″ strips
- 1/2 green pepper, cut into 1″ strips
- 1/2 onion, cut into 1″ wedges
- 1 lb asparagus, cut into 1″ diagonal … stalk things
- 3 ribs celery, cut into 1″ diagonal slices
- 1 can water chestnuts
Heat wok over screaming high heat until water flicked into the surface sizzles and evaporates.
Coat wok with sesame oil and cook pork tenderloin until done through, about 3-5 minutes.
Remove pork and add vegetables in the order listed, each for 1 minute’s time – garlic and ginger, peppers, onion, asparagus & celery & water chestnuts (so the aromatics for 4 minutes total, peppers for 3, onion for 2, etc) stirring constantly.
Add pork back to wok with vegetables and mix in sweet and sour sauce, stirring to coat. Serve immediately with crispy chow mein noodles and scallions to top. Jasmine rice is your best choice for a serving bed, as it holds tighter to the sauce than noodles.
When I was a boy, there was one thing I coveted above all else in the world; and that was my father’s library.
His den was lined with dark cork, where he could push-pin notes, sketches, or the completed crossword puzzles he loved. Along one wall, however, was a floor-to-ceiling bookcase which had no empty spaces.
The closest to his desk were the comic books, from his childhood: Uncle Scrooge Adventures being his favorite. Next came a shelf of history and mathematical texts, game theory and strategy.
The remainder was science fiction and fantasy, stretching from the 1930s to the 1980s.
I learned to read through his comic books, destroying them in the process. He didn’t mind. They were there, he said, to be enjoyed and read; not to be kept inviolate.
I moved on to the fantasy in kindergarten. We bonded not just as father and son, but as readers and fanboys.
I learned to pronounce words like “squamous,” learned the purpose and function of an iron maiden, learned what light speed and wormholes were at my father’s knee.
I made him swear that, when he died, the library would be mine.
He was a loving father, and when he moved from my childhood home back into his childhood home, he brought along every book except the comics.
When he moved to Scotland, he left them behind in a storage bin.
When he died, the books were mine.
I would have preferred he lived. The books were, however, some consolation.
Catching sight of his ashes while cleaning this weekend, his words returned to me: They are there to be enjoyed and read. Not to be kept inviolate.
That has to be balanced with my need for space, though. So the cartons have been carried into the attic, except a handful of books.
It also has to be balanced with my need to read more current fiction. Most of the genre work I read is from over thirty years ago, with a few notable exceptions.
I don’t intend to actually review these books – who needs a review of something published in 1953?
Instead, I want to share what they bring to me, what I take away from knowing this was important, once, to the man who was most important to me.
I’m starting with the hardcover first edition of Roger Zelazny’s Lord of Light.
As ALS was stealing his lung capacity, Dad altered his email signature to reflect one of its quotes:
“None sing hymns to breath; but O! To be without it …”
In my last post, I talk about why I read horror. I also admit it’s not my favorite genre to read.
So why write it?
The first answer is simple pragmatism. An editor makes an offer to pay me to write a horror story?
Horror it is!
I’m not, however, the kind of person who finds it easy to do something just for money. As I write about elsewhere, I have to care about the things I work on. During the first year of the Edge of Propinquity, I made a point of devouring more horror than I had in years, working to learn the genre, what I liked, what I disliked, where I could go.
What I enjoy:
- A personal stake in the protagonist’s dilemma
- Some sympathy for the antagonist’s plans
- Speaking to a part of the human condition
- Speaking to some element of society that has broken
- A leavening of action and adventure
That last one is not necessary for me to enjoy a good read, mind you. However, I find it difficult at this stage of my development to write anything as clear and direct as Russell or Ballingrud – though I have made the effort in my story Splendid Isolation, appearing in 100 Doors to Madness, which is unencumbered by the trappings of high action.
Earlier posts talk about my creation of Gordon Velander and the Gentleman Ghouls. FAMISHED: THE COMMONS reveals more of the breadth and depth of the world of the Ghouls, and FAMISHED: THE RANCH will complete the arc at some time in the future.
As to the human condition, FAMISHED was praised by reviewers for its themes of isolation and family. I’ve made nods in different directions with other work, but it’s safe to say that exploring isolation and its effects on the human psyche takes up a good portion of my time.
As to society: See “family” above, as well as the effects of over-consumption and the human desire to establish control.
Others might find the same exploration of the human psyche in non-genre fiction, or in historical pieces. Many of the greatest science fiction writers and essayists of all time spent their lives focused on societal ills, real, imagined, or potential.
In short – establishing the things you enjoy reading allows you to write more effectively. What I enjoy has turned to the shadowy side of societal and psychological issues, and the fact that I find a personal catharsis in the darker elements of those explorations has made horror a good place for me today.
My publishers at Apocalypse Ink Productions ask the question in this post from January.
Honestly, horror isn’t my first choice to read. It hasn’t been since Lovecraft caught me in grammar school.
When I read it now, however, it gives me more understanding of the human condition than any other genre I enjoy.
Vampires in the Lemon Grove by Karen Russell is one such tale. At the age of forty, it speaks to me of the dissatisfaction that comes with age, the endless quest to keep your mind and soul and body satisfied and together. The horror in Russell’s story comes from an understanding of the track my own life is on, and the likely results of a slip.
The Monsters of Heaven by Nathan Ballingrud is a shattering story of loss, with a redemption that may be worse than the crime. It calls to mind helplessness, powerlessness, the heaviness of grief and the vast, undeniable gulf that guilt and isolation create. The horror comes not from the creatures, but the things which call them forth.
Both these stories feature monsters, but they are truly about people; people who live and suffer and ache. They are people to whom I relate, deep within.
The Shadow Minion at Apocalypse Ink reads horror for a frisson of fear, for the adrenaline rush. She reads to escape the boredom and stagnation of everyday life. I understand that, and yet …
I read horror not for the monsters, but for the victims – even when they are one and the same. I read not to be terrified by the things that happen to them, but to ache alongside of them at the choices they make, to weep out the darkness which they carry within.
Horror is not an escape for me. It is a release.
It reminds me that the world suffers, that others in the world suffer.
Horror tells me that things will not get better, will never be better, cannot be fixed.
Then I set down the book, and look at the peeling paint on my study wall. I feel the cold February drafts from the holes in my window insulation. I regard the ancient, half-broken computer on which I do not write enough under a bulb which has never given me enough light.
This reminds me that things can be fixed. From home improvement to toxic relationships to addictions. It is up to me.
Life can be a struggle. But even so, it is a beautiful struggle.
I read horror not for the darkness it displays, but for the light which it unwittingly reveals.
Am I the only one? Possible, but doubtful. Why do you read horror? Tell me.
In Part I, I discussed my mantra: “Write what you’re passionate to know more about.”
In Part II, I explained how that impacted the writing of the FAMISHED series.
However, when I embraced this mantra, it also became clear that the flip side was true:
Don’t write about things you couldn’t care less about.
This caused problems for me in both books in one specific area: Modern law enforcement.
As I grew older, I came to respect the work of law enforcement agents more than in my youth, and developed an appreciation for the difficult jobs they do.
But the nuts and bolts of police procedure or detective work never grabbed me, as it has so many others.
I have never watched CSI, SVU, NYPD BLU. Grimm is as close as I ever came to an enjoyable police show.
I found more success studying private detectives. While they, too, are bound by codes, conventions and laws; their often solitary work intrigued me more than the team efforts of modern policing. (Film noir and pulp magazines such as Black Mask influenced me in my young adulthood, which played a part in this.) As such, I brought myself to study the modern methods and needs of real-world private detectives – but I never found a way to make a study of the official police agencies palatable to me.
However, the very first draft of THE COMMONS dealt with a public and fatal attack on a prominent American politician. That could never be kept a secret from law enforcement, and as I realized this limitation of my horizons, I scrapped that entire treatment.
The next draft of THE COMMONS introduced a private detective to investigate a disappearance, but alpha readers indicated his presence unbalanced the book and drew attention away from my true protagonist. He was cut from later drafts of the novel.
Realistic portrayal of situations, people, and procedures have always depended upon the author’s enthusiasm for the subject. A lack of enthusiasm for that knowledge inevitably led even famed authors to mistakes.
As a small example, in Lord of the Flies, William Golding described a thin crescent moon that rose just after sunset. A larger example: H. Rider Haggard’s King Solomon’s Mines featured a scene in which a total eclipse of the sun occurs on the day after a full moon. Astronomers – or even enthusiastic amateurs, passionate about the night sky – inevitably caught and published these blunders.
Those examples showed small details. How much worse might it have been if Golding or Haggard had made astronomy a main feature of their works?
Hence, my last statement on this theme: For accuracy, for excitement, for all good writing – if you didn’t care enough to research it, you should not have written it.