The start of the Portolan Project!

Yay! Super-excited to finally get this up — I think this counts as a birthday! Happy birthday!

Here’s the start of the Portolan Project, the SLF’s new endeavor providing free creative writing instruction — an interview I did with George R.R. Martin, asking him about how to write great epic fantasy. Dublin WorldCon, 2019. About 30 minutes total.

Transcription will be coming shortly — hopefully within a week. Thanks for your patience as we get this project up and running!

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To support the Portolan Project and the SLF’s grants and local chapters, please consider

– donating to our Giving Tuesday fundraiser, which will cover initial costs for getting the Portolan Project started:

– or join us as a member, for $2 / month!

If you’re interested in volunteering with the SLF’s Transcription Corps, drop me a line,, with the subject line: TRANSCRIBE

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Pushing back on gendered expectations: the Otherwise Award

I’ve had a hard time talking about what happened to Ruth George last week; I look at her, and I see my sisters, cousins, daughter. It’s heart-breaking. Shattering. This is what I have so far.

I was talking to my students yesterday in our gender & sexuality in lit class about manners, and the way manners are enforced differently for men vs. women. Manners can be a way of making it easier for people to live together, but at the same time, they so often act to prop up the existing power structure. (We’re in the midst of Ann Leckie‘s _Ancillary Justice_, and chapter 19 has some excellent material relevant to this.)

We connected that to modesty culture and the way so many of their parents enforce it in their homes (this class was all young women, and they were full of frustrated personal stories). Wildly differing standards for sons and daughters. Policing of the wearing of bras, leggings, tank tops.

We also talked about how one of our UIC students, Ruth George, was brutally raped and murdered last week, after walking to the campus parking garage late at night; she tried to ignore the man catcalling her, and he got angry.

We discussed the balancing act — what you want to do is change the parameters overall, expect better of men, demand that they resist the patriarchy and the sexist soup that they’ve been swimming in their whole lives. We have to try to reshape the world to be a better place. But in the meantime, we also have to live in the world we’re in, and try to survive it.

So sometimes we’re pushing back on gendered expectations — look, women get to wear pants now, and go to college, and become doctors, and have their own bank accounts. We get to vote, and at least run for president. (Kamala Harris has just stepped out of the race, but a black & Indian woman was a serious contender for president of the United States. I have to count that as a victory.)

Yet at the same time, I’m still going to talk to my daughter about walking alone at night, and being careful with her drink at college parties and bars. I hate that I have to talk to her about this, especially since I know there’s no way to anticipate every act of possible violence. There is nothing Ruth’s parents could have done to guarantee her safety. And yet.

Tomorrow is the last class of the semester, and we’ll be trying to connect all of this to what the various writers we’ve been reading are doing in their work. How Le Guin and Tiptree and Delany and Butler and Leckie all tried to offer us different visions of gender in society. They disturbed the entrenched sexist assumptions in our brains, making it possible to envision different futures. Better futures.

Long-term, we keep having the conversations that hopefully change the behavior of the men around us. Some of the men, at least. And we try to raise better sons. But in the meantime, we balance that urgent need for revolution against today’s hope for health and sanity.

We hope to live to take the fight a little further tomorrow. We mourn our losses.


The award that is closest to my heart is the Otherwise Award, given for works that expand or explore our understanding of gender. I was proud to serve as a juror for it, and recommend its annual finalists and winner to you as a reading list. It would be an excellent basis for a college or high school class.

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My favorite holiday decor

What’s your favorite holiday decor? I think this might be mine — Kevin’s parents’ always hung up all the family cards together, and I loved seeing the progression of Kevin from a little kid to a grown-up.

So we save ours and do the same, and I swear, every year, it’s magical, hanging them up again. I’m not a very sentimental person; I don’t keep every scrap of the kids’ artwork. But these, I just love. Look at the munchkins! They were so wee!

Side note: taping them securely to a ribbon makes it incredibly easy to take them up and down each year. I think that was a Martha Stewart tip. (I haven’t even taken photographs for this year, much less ordered cards, but we’ll get there. I’m going to have to start a new door, I think!)

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Wild Cards story draft DONE

Wild Cards story draft done (a little over 10K words) and sent to George and he only had to ask me for it three times and it was only two months overdue and GAH. I feel so unprofessional, but I really got totally stalled out on this story, and I don’t even know why — once I actually started writing, each time, it went FINE.

I mean, there are ten things I want to fix about it already, and I’m sure the Spanish is a MESS, but that’s what the second draft is for, and I’d better wait for his notes because sometimes George makes me kill off major characters or otherwise chops the story up in unexpected ways. (He always makes it better, though. He’s an excellent editor.)

And now, I am very tired, and I have to be up at 7 to get Anand to the bus, and I somehow ended up making leftover turkey soup in between scenes tonight, which has hopefully cooled enough that I can put it in the fridge now. It’s not actually done, but it’s at a good pausing point; I kind of want to experiment with it tomorrow. But first, the refrigeration, and then, the sleeping.

I am very very relieved to finally have this story drafted.


“I’m sorry, abuelita. I can’t help you.” Jesús sat back on his heels and shook the loose dirt off his hands, careful not to shake too hard. Wouldn’t want to lose a finger. They didn’t usually drop off that easily, but still, best to be careful. “Lo siento.”

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Sri Lankan Shepherds’ Pie

Sri Lankan Shepherds’ Pie
(15 minutes cooking time + 40 minutes baking / cooling)

Usually mashed potatoes go pretty fast around here, but we made so much for Thanksgiving that we actually had some leftover. Shepherd’s pie to the rescue — but I had a long work day today, so I wanted a version that required the minimum of actual cooking.

Could I avoid chopping onions and carrots the way we usually would for shepherds’ pie, and still come up with a tasty dish? Yes, as it turned out, if I combined it with the approach we use for ginger-garlic chicken. Though if you don’t have leftover mashed potatoes, you’ll need to make them fresh, which will add a bit of cooking time, I’m afraid.


2-3 cups leftover mashed potatoes
1.5 lbs ground lamb (you could use beef or another meat instead instead)
1 heaping teaspoon ground ginger
1 heaping teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 – 1 t. black pepper (or cayenne)
1 teaspoon Sri Lankan curry powder
2 T flour
1/4 c. ketchup
1/8 c. Worcestershire sauce
1 c. chicken broth
1 T lime juice
1/2 c. frozen peas
1/2 c. frozen corn

NOTE: If you don’t have leftover mashed potatoes, boil the potatoes and mash them first, before starting the meat, as there isn’t really a good pausing point during the meat-cooking process.

1. Set oven preheating to 400F. Turn lamb into a sauté pan, add ginger, garlic powder, salt, pepper, and curry powder, and fry on high until browned — the lamb should give off enough oil that you have no need for more, although do add oil if needed.

2. Add flour and stir for a few minutes, until flour is browned and the ground lamb is thoroughly coated.

3. Add ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, and chicken broth; cook a few minutes, stirring, until well-blended. Simmer a few more minutes until liquid thickens into a sauce. Add lime juice, stir, and adjust seasonings to taste. If there’s excess oil, blot it up with a paper towel or skim it off at this stage.

4. Stir in frozen peas and corn until well blended. Turn off heat and turn mixture out into a casserole dish. Spread with mashed potatoes.

5. Bake at 400F for 25 minutes, until top of potatoes are golden brown. Remove from oven and let cool (and set) for 15 minutes. Serve hot.

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Imagining people opening these packages with delight

Tamarind-chili marshmallows — they look a little deflated in the mixed sweets bags compared to the other marshmallows, and I hope people don’t mind — that’s just what the tamarind does to the marshmallow. It still tastes good, I promise, even if it’s not quite as fluffy.
It’s so satisfying, packing up these larger packages, with the sweets and the soaps and all; I’m just imagining people opening them on the other end, hopefully with delight. 🙂
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