More than a Little Worrying

The library is still determining if there’s an effective way we can support families this fall; we’ll know more after tomorrow night’s board meeting, fyi.

I admit, it is more than a little worrying to me, that we might be deliberately choosing to bring people together in the library building(s) — but the alternative right now seems to be abandoning low-income parents who MUST leave the home to work to a patchwork of ad hoc childcare that will likely put their families at even more risk. All the choices are bad, and the failure of our federal government is stomach-churning.

But wanted to share this, at least, so parents knew some of their options. I don’t have any info on it beyond what’s in the graphic, so look at the Park District website for hopefully more info.

Halfway Through Chapter 12

Only got halfway through chapter 12, but sending it along to the first readers anyway, as it’s all brand new material. Drafting is slower than revising! 2500 new words this morning, which is more than I’ve drafted in quite a while.

AND I had a crowd scene in there, with a lot of people gathered together, which honestly is not so easy to write. Would be so much easier to do that scene in a play — oh well!  (I’m not complaining, as I’m very aware that I have one of the best jobs in the universe. Well, I am complaining, but only in the mildest of ways….)

The next few chapters may be a bit more raw than the previous, as I think it’s going to be mostly new material. But still, now that I know what the book is about, it’s so much easier to draft.  Nice to not be muddling around in a complete haze!

And now breaking for e-mail and baking and sewing and such.

There was already a break this morning, a 45-minute interview with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, which will be running a piece on my Feast of Serendib on, I think she said, the 13th? Exciting. 

And I told I’ll be on TV soon, right? Funfun. Well, I’m super-anxious about it, but I will prepare and over-prepare, and that will help. If I drop my food in the middle of the 4-minute segment, I will try to channel Julia and maintain my sang-froid!

My Writer Newsletter

Oh! I meant to say, I’ve managed to actually put a writer newsletter together, for the first time in I don’t know how long, or rather, Stephanie Bailey and Emmanuel Henderson have managed to pin me down long enough to put one together for me.

I want to highlight one thing for locals who are up on Sunday mornings at 7:40 a.m. — I’ll be on TV making Sri Lankan food! See below.

We’re going to try to do the newsletter monthly from now on, which should make it a little easier for people to keep track of my writing, esp. since FB algorithms are so wacky about what they actually show people. The actual newsletter is full of links, which don’t translate well here, I’m afraid, and I’m not going to take the time to go cut and paste them all in right now, since that’s time I should spend WRITING. 

You can subscribe here (and then I think view the archive of newsletters, with handy links?): https://tinyletter.com/mohanraj

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Greetings Gentlebeings!

First, thanks so much for opening this e-mail and supporting me and my writing! 2020 has been a very complex year for everyone, I think; I hope you and your families are in good health. We’re turning now to the uncertain (but hopeful) second half.

In March, where we left off, my new Sri Lankan cookbook A Feast of Serendib officially launched, and became an Amazon bestseller! Unfortunately, the spread of COVID19 in the U.S. meant a lot of the exciting next steps were taken out of my hands. It wasn’t a good time for a new book release, and I had to make the decision to cancel my summer book tour. I’m so sorry we weren’t able to visit all those cities this year; hopefully, we’ll be able to try that again next year.

Thankfully, the cookbook is still selling (slowly) on Amazon and on my site, and the reviews have been glowing (a starred review in Publisher’s Weekly!) — but any help spreading the word would be much appreciated! Maybe your local library would like to order a copy?

TRAVEL AND PUBLICATIONS:

My last trip was to California, where I was an Honored Guest at FogCon2020. Since then, I’ve mostly been hunkered down, writing. I’ve published a few things you might enjoy:

• A Feast of Serendib: 10 Things You Might Not Know about Sri Lankan Food for Jaggery Magazine
• co-authored the mosaic novel Three Kings for George R.R. Martin’s Wild Cards superhero series
• “Paper Star” (a new Jump Space story) published in the Decameron Project

• “Three Fights” (a little pandemic essay) published in How We Are

NEW STORE!

I’ve also been busy with some new projects for my Serendib Kitchen business, making fabric masks and trying out new treat recipes. We have a new online shop where you can check out the fun variety of mask fabrics available, order books, curry powder, and more. You can visit the new shop here: https://serendib-kitchen.myshopify.com/. We’ve also started a quarterly treat box subscription for our Patreon supporters at the $10+ tier, and I’m having fun packing those boxes with the latest homemade goodies from my kitchen. You can sign up for the quarterly treat boxes or for our Serendib Recipe Club here: https://www.patreon.com/mohanraj

VIDEOS! SO MANY VIDEOS!

Another exciting project we’ve been working on this summer is the Serendib Kitchen YouTube channel. When I ran the Kickstarter campaign in 2019 to fund Feast, I promised there would be cooking videos. We’ve now released eight cooking videos on our channel, with plans to continue releasing them weekly throughout the summer. Check out me and Jedediah cooking curried beets, or me and Kavi making mango fluff!

https://www.youtube.com/playlist…

And we’re now up to six (6) interviews for an SLF project/the SLF’s Portolan Project (free online creative writing instruction). I interviewed master SF/F writers like Paolo Bacigalupi, Kate Elliott, George R.R. Martin, Nalo Hopkinson, along with exciting emerging writers. Find those on YouTube here, or on the SLF site.

RECENT:

Spoke on WorldCon panel about being a “Token Girl”
In July I was honored to be listed in NewCity’s LIT 50 of 2020. You can read the blurbs (and see a rare photo of Serious Mary Anne) here: Lit 50: Who Really Books In Chicago 2020

Deep breath.

That’s the recap! I know, it’s a lot — we’re going to try to get the newsletter out a little more frequently going forward, so it can be shorter!

COMING SOON:

In the next months, more cooking videos and interviews are coming, and there are two podcasts I’m recording right now, that I hope to launch soon:

• with Benjamin Rosenbaum (“Mohanraj and Rosenbaum Are Humans,” science fiction, writing, and culture)
• with Kel Bachus (not yet titled, gender and domestic business and gaming).

We’re also planning to release a print and updated ebook edition of Vegan Serendib in the fall and add in a new book, Gluten-Free Serendib, hopefully in time for holiday orders.

TV APPEARANCE!
I’m thrilled to be appearing live on WGN’s Sunday Brunch segment later this month! Tune in to WGN’s Weekend Morning News on Sunday, August 16, at 7:40-ish a.m. (Central) for a live demonstration of a fresh and tasty kale sambol recipe.

ONLINE EVENTS:

Finally, if we can’t meet in person, maybe we can meet online. I recently hosted a Zoom demo of my kale sambol recipe with the Skokie Public Library; the first of several exciting virtual events in the works. Plus, I’ll be hosting Fiberworld’s live virtual classes this year! More info here!

Whew, I think that’s it! I have to get back to my teaching prep now, for our entirely online fall semester, but I’ll talk to you again soon!

P.S. Keep up with all of my relevant news & events on my blog here!

-Mary Anne

Snapshots of Sound

I wish I could as easily take snapshots of sound as well as images. It’s very quiet out in the shed this morning, but the quiet has a pleasant underlay — the crackle of a candle (designed to mimic the crackling of a wood fire), the gurgling of the filter on the pool (I know it’s not actually a fountain, but it still sounds like moving water), birdsong breaking through periodically. V. pleasant.

Getting a bit of a slow start — didn’t get out of bed until 8-ish (I was up at 7, and just didn’t want to move), but I’ve done a little baking prep (buttering the trays and freezing them for madeleines) and organized a bit of the mudroom (all while listening to The Sporkful podcast and its ongoing coverage of the racism scandals at Bon Appetit, well worth listening to if you’re interested in foodie / food business stuff).

And now I’m ensconced in the shed, resisting the urge to nap, hoping to go on to the next chapter of novel revisions. My first readers seem to be really loving this draft, so that’s encouraging. I did spend much of the weekend binging season 2 of the Umbrella Academy (v. good, I thought), so I’m going to need to resist the urge to throw bloody explosions into everything. Okay, maybe ONE bloody explosion. Two? Two is surely okay…

Onwards.

Nasty Surprises

Sigh. I didn’t expect to have to post about racism in a garden group, but here we are. 2020 is full of nasty surprises. Just posted to my local group.

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Admin request: While we understand the impulse to make jokes about the “Chinese seeds,” often with references to conspiracy theories, monster plant imagery, and pandemic concerns, unfortunately, the cumulative effect of such posts and comments ends up adding to the racism that many Chinese Americans in our community already face, which has been accelerated by the recent health crisis.

And while the Chinese government certainly at times deserves criticism (as does our own, frankly), this isn’t really the appropriate place for those discussions; they’re very much off-topic.

So your admin team is asking folks to please refrain from such jokes going forward. Let’s keep the garden and this group a cheerful place, welcoming to all. Thanks!

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Octopi on My Face!

New fabric! Octopi on my face! This mask makes me feel like a pirate. 🙂

I have been trying to be restrained about buying new fabric patterns, but I’ve run out of a few of my original fabrics, so I gave myself permission to replace those. I went with something ocean-y for summer — aren’t these great? I made these for myself because my children keep stealing my masks and losing them. One with ear elastics, for quickly taking on and off, one with head and neck elastics, for more comfort in longer wearing.

The small print trellis pattern one is ideal for masks; the larger repeat is tricky, because if I want to center the most interesting elements, I’d have to waste quite a lot of fabric. So I can’t guarantee that anyone ordering this would get the exact same layout as you see on mine, but I’d try to make sure there’d be at least something fun on it — a steampunk whale or an octopus or a funky seahorse.

Both designs (“the deep deep depths” and “Tethys trellis (small)” are by one of my favorite artists on Spoonflower, Cean Irminger. “By day I am an upstanding mosaic designer for New Ravenna Mosaics on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. By night I am a superdork drawing whatever weird things pop into my head. By morning I’m exhausted.”

It Hit Me Yesterday

I’ve been working too hard — it really hit me yesterday, when I was suddenly on the verge of tears for absolutely no reason around 7 p.m. And after Dr. Who, Anand made a joke about not bothering Mommy when she’s working or she’ll get mad, and I burst into tears. He was very apologetic (“I was just joking! You’re not a bad Mommy!”), but I’m clearly feeling like I’m working too hard (there were several 12-14 hr work days in the past week) and not enjoying my children enough.

I’ve been making good progress on the novel revisions, but it comes at a cost — the house has gotten messier again, without me around to direct the kids in their cleaning chores, almost all my front yard window box annuals are pretty dead, after my forgetting to water them for a week — I’ve been just getting up and going out back to the shed, and haven’t been walking around the front garden at all. Progress on the basement clean-up has completely stopped (often making it hard to find things I need), and there haven’t been any board games in a few weeks either.

Need to make haste a little more slowly, I guess, and not let the basics of house and garden slip off the task list, or I get super-cranky and sad. Dead plants = miserable me. I’ve just drenched the window boxes; hopefully some of the plants will revive. We’ll see.

The sudden time crunch is really three things coming together:

• trying to get this novel revision finished before the semester starts (while knowing I need to put at least two days towards a Wild Cards deadline in there)

• trying to bring on a bunch of help and then build out a set of modules for the Portolan Project before the semester starts (so teachers and at-home learners can use it this fall of e-learning)

• trying to prep for my own teaching; I’m still mostly in the learning how to use tech and reading about online learning stage, but the need to actually start building out content is looming and starting to stress me out; I’d better start on it soon, or I’ll start having nightmares about being unprepared on the first day of class (which I think translates to nightmares about forgetting to wear pants to a Zoom session…)

So, those three things are time-sensitive, but I also need to keep steady on the regular household stuff as well, or it starts to dissolve into chaos and that makes me super-stressed. Stepping on squished grapes that a child has dropped = v. irritating. I think the family mostly needs to help more, especially the kids, since Kevin has his own course prep and math research to worry about. I have them organizing the mudroom now, so that’ll help.

I gave myself permission not to write today, since I haven’t actually taken a day off since I started nine days ago. I might still work on the novel, if I feel like it, but it’s okay if I just wander around and take garden photos instead.  That ‘get novel revised before semester starts’ deadline is purely self-inflicted, after all. Processing some e-mail will help too, get the looming anxiety eased a little.

Here, have some summer beauty allium and a happy bee. I love the crispness of those transparent wings.

A Worldcon Report

SF/F folks, please read. Probably of interest to lit. people generally, esp. those involved with running literary festivals. I think Cheryl Myfanwy Morgan has done a terrific job of both summing up some of the major issues with WorldCon currently, and suggesting a constructive path forwards.

I particularly STRONGLY support future WorldCons committing to a solid online component, for equity reasons if nothing else. (But there are lots of good reasons for it.) And I think part-time paid staffing to help with continuity will make everyone’s life a lot easier, without eroding the best of fannish passion and commitment that have brought us so far already.

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“…One of the issues that people have been complaining about is that this year, yet again, some Hugo finalists were left off programming, or asked to be on programme items that they knew nothing about. How do we keep making the same mistake year after year?

The first thing I want to note is that CoNZealand has somewhat less programming that a normal Worldcon. That means it is harder to give everyone the programme slots that they want. Lots of people probably think that with an online convention you can have as much programming as you want, but I suspect that it isn’t as easy as it seems. I’m hoping that after CoNZealand we’ll have a good idea of how much it costs to run an online event that can cope with a Worldcon-sized audience, what the timelines are, and so on.

Something else that is worth noting is that, having been made aware of the issue, CoNZealand has done something bold and innovative. They have given free attending passes to all Hugo finalists, and allowed them to buy full Attending Memberships for the price of a Supporting Membership. You might think that every Worldcon should do this, but in the past it would have been fairly pointless. A free membership is of no use if you can’t afford the cost of travel and accommodation, which is much higher.

This provides an interesting challenge for future Worldcons, assuming that in-person events are possible. Should they continue this new “tradition”? If so, does that commit them to providing at least some programming online? I’d like to see them do that.

The main issue, however, is the perennial question of why the same mistakes happen year after year. Is there no continuity? Do people not learn from what went before? There are, of course, some people who work on Worldcon in some capacity every year. Not all of them continue to work in the same area though. Also, working on Worldcon every year is much easier when the convention simply moves around North America. Doing that when it moves around the world is much harder.

Another issue is that, while the people working at lower levels may be the same year-on-year, the senior management team is largely new each time. Those are the positions that the local people want. What they don’t want is to have a bunch of foreigners come in and tell them what to do.

What it comes down to, is that the competitive nature of the site selection process often results in the bid being won by a group of people who are then determined to show they world what they can do. They want to put on their sort of convention, not do things the same way that the Americans do them. And that leads to a lot of reinventing the wheel.

There are other factors that prevent us having as much continuity as we would like, and I will come back to them later, but we have arrived at the other major issue that people have been complaining about: Site Selection…”

Pre-Worldcon Report

Wait, what? A Worldcon report already? It hasn’t even started yet. Well no, but social media has been full of outrage already, so I wanted to look at the issues raised. I should start by saying that I don’t want anything here to be taken as criticism of CoNZealand.

Honored to Be Listed in NewCity’s Lit50

Honored to be listed in NewCity’s Lit50 for Chicago. I think this was one of the photos where the photographer wanted me to try to look serious. Not so easy! 🙂

I do like the colors in this outfit — purple in the hair (color by Splat!), bright blue blouse, dark blue jacket. (Props to Old Navy for having a well-fitting and flattering basic dark blue jacket at a very affordable price that I could grab on short notice.) Might need to do some serious lipstick research at some point — this one is okay, but something a little more wine-colored might be even better. I am such a make-up novice!

See more photos and read the blurbs about all of us here:

Lit 50: Who Really Books In Chicago 2020

Chicago provides a home to a wide range of writers from different aesthetics, interests, cultures and different neighborhoods within a city known for its neighborhoods. This year, we wanted to focus on writers who contribute to the growing body of American letters and critical thought across genres.

I Don’t Think People Understand

So, one thing that I think people don’t understand about remote education is just how much time teachers will be putting into making videos. I tried to explain it to a friend of mine on the phone, how I do take after take when recording a video, and somehow I failed to convey it well — she seemed to think I was saying that teacher insecurity was what led to online prep taking so long. What I was trying to say is that it’s just inherently time-consuming making even semi-decent videos.

Take this one, for example. Kel messaged me yesterday and asked if I could make a quick intro video for Fiberworld registration in the next few hours — about 30 seconds. I had to stop and think for a minute before saying yes, because I knew I was mostly scheduled in meetings for the next few hours, and I’d need to set aside about 30 minutes for this. In the end, it took me about 20 minutes to complete, and more than 30 ‘takes’ recording it.

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Here are the steps:

– write the script (Kel did that for me)

– either memorize the script, or just start recording it, knowing that by the time you say it twenty times, you’ll have it mostly memorized anyway

– shift position a bunch of times, moving distracting items (like my potted plant that was halfway behind my head) out of the way

– fix the lighting so people can actually see your face

– stumble over the words a bunch of times, so you have to start over

– get frustrated with the angle and how your face looks and start recording all over (okay, that part, I’m willing to put down to teacher insecurity, but it really does take a while for most people to get over that)

– realize that even though you’re holding the phone up near the screen with the words, your eyes are still darting over to glance at the next line periodically, and it looks weird, and you really are going to have to memorize it and walk away from the screen

– but mostly, repeat and repeat and repeat until it actually looks semi-natural, as if you’re just talking — which is important, because otherwise, students will get distracted and fixated on your tics and errors and will miss the actual point of what you’re trying to say. (Imagine a teacher who walks into class with toilet paper stuck to her skirt. Imagine just how many kids will be paying more attention to that than to what she’s saying. There’s a reason why we care about presenting well.)

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This is the process that I learned when I was making my first Kickstarter video (Kickstarter has a good video on this, actually, talking about how you should condense written paragraphs down to bullet points you can just talk, etc.), and I’m not even talking about pushing through the self-consciousness, etc. Thankfully, I’ve done enough videos now that I’m mostly past that, and can just accept that it’s not going to look perfectly professional and also I will not magically transform into a supermodel.

And there’s certainly an interesting option of doing what the kids do, and letting it be more raw and stumbly and whatever, which is undoubtedly a lot faster to produce, and has the virtue of seeming very honest and relatable. But that its own art form too; if you could see my daughter editing a TikTok video (or watching endless YouTube tutorials on how to do so), it’d be clear that the appearance of casualness is often not very casual.

So, anyway. I just wanted to lay this out a little, that for every minute of video time your teacher produces, they may well be putting in 30-60 minutes of production time. They’ll get better at it and faster as they go, but for a lot of them, this is a very new process, and it’s intimidating and hard.

And after all that, if teachers choose to point your kid to a Khan Academy video or something on YouTube instead of recording something themselves, that’s not a sign that they’re just lazy — it’s often a better, more efficient option, and will result in a better educational result. (And remember that reviewing lots of videos and selecting ones that are appropriate for your students and your class goals is also time-consuming work. Lots of videos don’t offer transcripts either, making it a slow process.)

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I’ll also note that this is the process for a short video, maybe 3-5 minutes, and no, I wouldn’t try to memorize an hour-long lecture. But I also would recommend against recording hour-long lectures; it’s super-challenging to keep students engaged through something like that, and most of them will click off.

There are tricks you can use, like embedding quizzes periodically, but if any of you have done mandatory work anti-harassment trainings and the like, you’ll know that those often feel really clunky and annoying. If our goal is student engagement, helping them to get honestly excited about the material and actively thinking about it, short videos are generally going to be much more effective than long ones.

So if your expectation is that the teacher will just stick a recorder in front of their face and talk, as if they were in front of a classroom — well, it just doesn’t work very well. If that’s what you’re demanding from your kids’ teachers, no wonder the kids are super-bored and falling out of their chairs.

Here endith the lesson.