Saturday, July 30, 2011

Week In Review, July 30 - Book Release, Cowboys and Aliens, Mandarin Pancakes

And... I'm back!

I am making some changes to the blog, and one of the first ones is to have a "week in review" post every weekend. I've always liked these kinds of posts on other blogs. I find when bloggers do such a post, those are the posts I never miss. So, I suppose we should all write what we love to read.


I am so far behind on this, it's just not funny. However, since I got two weeks socked out of my schedule in the middle of this dare, I am adding a week to the end of it. We'll see what I can do with two weeks and three weekends.

One of the things that has burst forward is an old idea I had for a Mick and Casey story, which I call "The Scoundrel's Confession." It was inspired by O.J. Simpson and the idea of a notorious killer being able to confess after being cleared of a crime. I could never get a latch onto it before, but now that it's working, it unfolding with all kinds of layers, into a rich story. I think it will end up a novelette, rather than a short story.

Book News

The paperback copy of Have Gun, Will Play is out! Almost. Even though Amazon's Create Space is the publisher, it appears to be available on Barnes and Noble before the page is up and ready for orders on Amazon. Hunh? What gives? Who knows? Once it's actually up and functional, and the e-version is associated with the paper version, I'll do some promotional stuff, like maybe giving away a signed copy or something.

Changes in the Blog

I will not be posting every day any more. The blog has evolved beyond the "small pan" of mere reporting dare progress, and the daily posting isn't necessarily good for the blog or me any more. The point of the blog is to help my writing, so.... I will be posting three times a week, and extra times as the mood strikes me. Every weekend I'll post a week in review post like this. It will include a writing update, and I will also keep the word counts in the sidebar. Then on Tuesday and Thursday, I'll post regular blog posts. When I get back to the interivews, those will appear on Fridays. If I get excited about something, I'll post on additional days.

At the Movies

Cowboys & Aliens is a grand film. The western has always appealed to me more as a mashup with other genres than in its pure form. (Hey, I write a mystery westerns. Whaddya expect?) I've never liked movies about nasty evil monster aliens. But good grief this works. The only flaw is more a trade-off than a flaw -- in bringing the two genres together the story gets a little squeezed, moving sometimes too fast from emotional point to emotional point, because there has to be room for the strangeness too. I mean, in a traditional western, there tends to be more room for silence and scenery, and for processing what's going on. In a monster movie, those silent moments are not processing moments -- they're tension moments. Cool, visceral, lurking danger moments. Favreau manages to balance these needs, but the pacing feels a little odd because we get half as much grandeur and half as much big scares.

Which, I think, makes it work. Most modern audiences don't sit still well for the grandeur moments these days, and those of us who aren't specifically fans of big scares really don't want to sit through more than necessary. You get a good taste of both without excess on either. I would say that the only reason this is a flaw is that it makes the geography seem a little less vast, because the characters move through it too fast. They don't seem to have to ride very far before they bump into something or someone.

However, Favreau clearly did listen to the lessons Spielberg gave him in John Ford visual geography. The horizon is almost always at the top of the screen, both dwarfing the characters, but also giving a slight sense of claustrophobia. The other thing he seems to do is boost the saturation on the colors, over the traditional western look. The landscape is not just vast, it's alive and vibrant, almost dreamlike.

This movie is a great example of an ensemble cast (as the best westerns AND monster movies are). There is just as much of a balancing act going on here -- with the supporting cast almost like that landscape, rising up and enveloping the stars of the show, their colors too a little over-saturated and vivid. Here again I am a little sorry that some elements feel rushed. I'm glad that we aren't subjected to too much detail on yet another town living in terror of a tyrant, but I sure wish we could have seen a little bit more of the chemistry between Harrison Ford's tyrant, and Adam Beach, as the young man who sees through to the good in him. We get to see some of that good for ourselves, but we don't get to see how Adam Beach sees it.

There is some cringe factor here, but not nearly as much as you usually get in a modern monster movie. It is appropriately PG-13.


I'm really enjoying the Kindle's ability to let me read LOTS of books at once. I tend to do that anyway, but what happens is I lose track of the physical copy of a book, and then I forget and eventually give up. I also like to read shorts and magazines, and it's really nice to have all of these at my fingertips all the time.

This past week I finished Agatha Christie's collection of Miss Marple stories "13 Problems" or "13 At Dinner." This is actually two collections put together of short stories with one particular conceit: People exchange mysterious stories after dinner and challenge each other to solve them. These are armchair stories at their finest, and maybe were part of the impetus to write "The Scoundrel's Confession," which is largely a kind of drawing room story about something that happened a long time earlier.

I'm currently reading Dorothy Sayer's "Clouds of Witness" and Deb Geary's "A Modern Witch."

Video clip of the Week

Monty Python and the Battle of Pearl Harbor

Tasty Food of the Week

After Cowboys & Aliens, we headed over to our favorite authentic Cantonese restaurant only to find that they were still closed for renovations. So instead we went to the Taiwanese place, which has a more limited menu, but is the only place in town to get certain things. We noticed they'd added a few things to the menu, including a new dish referred to as "Beef Crepe" or "Onion Crepe." I don't read Chinese well enough to sort it all out, but it looked like the Beef Crepe was actually jian bing -- a large flat pot sticker, often called a "Chinese Hamburger." Which is tasty so we ordered it and found it was something rather different.

It was a homemade green onion pancake -- not the thin crispy frozen kind some restaurants get and fry up, but the thick, chewy flexible kind -- fried golden and wrapped around some stewed beef with a lot of hoisin sauce, lettuce and onion (and maybe some cilantro -- but that may have just been the sauce). God that was good. The thing to remember is that the dough they make for those hearty green onion pancakes is the same stuff that is supposed to be used in the Mandarin pancakes used to wrap Peking Duck or Mu Shu Pork. Many restaurants just use flour tortillas and steam them. Its not at all the same. This was a huge treat.

We are so lucky to live in a town in the middle of nowhere which also happens to have a large Asian population.



On Tuesday I will post something long, thoughtful and important, I just don't know what it will be. (I wrote a bunch of such posts in rough form over this summer. Gotta see which ones I want to polish up this week.)

See you in the funny papers.


ModWitch said...

I so love those pancakes. Had a hole-in-the-wall place to get them in Toronto, but that was 12+ years ago now. I crave them...

The Daring Novelist said...

They aren't actually hard to make. (I have a recipe from my food blog in that link I had in the article.) It is a bit of fussing, though, compared to just ordering them in a restaurant.

The link just takes you to a recipe for the plain Mandarin pancakes, but if you want to make a green onion pancake out of the dough, you just take make a bigger pancake, roll it out and spread on a little sesame oil and chopped green onion. You then roll it up, and take the roll and coil it into a patty, and then roll it out again to no more than a quarter inch.

Then you fry it in a regular frying pan, and serve it with dumpling sauce (or wrapped around some meat and onions with hoisin sauce).

ModWitch said...

You have a food blog? And I'm just figuring this out now? 'Kay, off to figure out how to make my own pancakes... Many thanks!

The Daring Novelist said...

Since I wrote that, I've been making double recipes, and using a stand mixer. (I.e. 2 cups flour, 1 cup boiling water)

For green onion pancakes -- the two cup version makes between 8 and 12. You roll out the lumps of dough in an oval, spread a little oil, sprinkle on minced green onion, and roll it up tightly like a little jelly roll, and then coil that roll into a round, and roll that flat. Then you pan fry it (but don't be shy about the oil).

You could probably do this easier by making it like a multi-layer Mandarin pancake: Partly roll out three or four rounds, spread oil in the center and sprinkle on green onions and then pile them and roll them thin. But I haven't tried that way.

ModWitch said...

A good weekend project. My kids will love all the rolling and squishing.