Shumai at Noodle Factory = delicious. The other dishes we had were fine fast food, but these were excellent.
We have Feast on a book table here at Scintillation in Montreal — I brought one demo copy, and people are SUPER-EXCITED about it. I think if I can actually get this book into bookstores, we will actually sell copies. Must hustle a bit doing all the production prep! Jed has ALMOST finished my ebook; I need to review what he’s sent, probably tomorrow, and then there are just some small bits to finish off. SO CLOSE TO DONE.
Note that we will be CLOSING BackerKit next Wednesday, so we can do a count and get everything we need ready for shipping on 10/31. So if you are wanting curry powder, lovely food notecards, postcards, Kriti Festival tote bags, etc., to be shipped along with early copies of Feast, now is basically the time. They should arrive in time for the holidays.
The tentative plan is to still take book orders in November for a few more weeks, and then shut it all down for the winter, so we can start prepping for the real launch in early March.
Not U Chicago’s Rockefeller cathedral, but for a moment, I was very disoriented! Notre Dame Basilica of Montreal.
Walking up to the Basilica.
Even the ticket office at the Basilica is stunning.
Pretty money, flowers, buildings, doors.
I’m not religious (relaxed agnostic), but the moment when I walked into the Notre Dame Basilica of Montreal and was met by this shattering gorgeousness — for just a moment, it made me *want* to be religious.
Which I suppose is the point.
So many fascinating details at the Basilica. I spent a lot of time appreciating how the builders used light, and also how they managed to use lavish Gothic detailing *everywhere*, while still leaving enough space to breathe. Stunning design, and also so interesting to think about how I’m evolving the religions on the SF novel I’m writing. So far, none of them are really about reaching for the sky, the light, the shine and sparkle, for one. Though that might change.
Back when I was coerced into going through with Confirmation, even though I had left the Church a year earlier, in seventh grade, I picked Kateri Tekakwitha as my saint. She refused to marry the man her father picked for her.
Here endeth the lesson.
Our hotel lobby, and the view from our room.
Pause for pain au chocolate and un cafe latte.
Went a little wacky autumnal in honor of Scintillation convention in Montreal this weekend. One of the nice things about being a writer / professor — good latitude in being able to play with color. I may not be chic like the French-speaking residents of that city, but I can be silly and exuberant, which is surely almost as good. Purple hair, orange nails. Happy Halloween!
OH — IMPORTANT reminder that if you want to pick up a copy of the Sri Lankan cookbook from me in Montreal (whether you’re attending the con or not), you MUST tell me now, so I can pack it tonight. I have 4 listed already, and I think I have room for 4 more in my suitcase. Who needs clothes when you have books?
They have GBBO master class on the tv in the vet’s waiting room — solid choice for anxious pet parents. Ellie is getting an x-ray this morning to look at her chest (where they recently heard a murmur) and abdomen (where she has a large mass that may just be fluid/fat, but maybe something more). She’s getting to be an old beagleish girl, at 13, but we’re hoping for a few more good years. We love her to pieces.
Assistant recap. It’s been a long, slow process, me figuring out what I actually need in an assistant, and I still regret that I didn’t do a better job figuring it out faster with some of the earlier people I worked with. I was running so flat out a lot of the time that I think I just went from crisis to crisis, barely with time to breathe, much less think through whether they were actually doing what I needed done.
For a few years, my assistant was mostly a house manager, keeping the house and garden in beautiful shape, running errands, etc. That was helpful, but less directly leading to more fiction writing than I was aiming for, and now that the kids are older and can do more of those tasks, that really wasn’t what I needed most urgently.
A few things are working much better now, so just to quickly document those:
1) Stephanie has been wrangling snakes for me. That’s how I think of it — she goes into my Inbox and looks for things that are urgent and then makes me deal with them. Financial matters, academic matters, contracts and requests for interviews, booking conference travel, etc. and so on. She pays close attention to my calendar too, letting me know if I’ve managed to double-book a time slot, or forgotten to calendar something.
We have a joint Trello board where we track tasks (hers, Heather’s, mine — mostly mine). She’s very good at the kind of executive function task that requires prioritizing, which I think is a rare skill. She sends me little reminders at the end of the day, and the next morning, and if I procrastinate, her reminders get a little more urgent the next day. “Mary Anne, this really is due now. NOW, I TELL YOU.”
Okay, she doesn’t say it quite like that. But gentle persistence is one of her strengths. I’m probably not the easiest person to work for; as Jed and Kev will tell you, I get very set in my ways and very sure that I know exactly the best way to do things, so it takes a little finesse and management, to get me to actually do something I’m avoiding. She’s remarkably good at it.
If I had to cut all the other help, I’d keep someone doing this to the last, because it’s what’s most directly useful for managing all the gazillion projects that I have going on, and also for my sanity. She’s working about 10 hours / week.
2) It’s been hugely helpful having Kirsten take on finances for both the SLF and my writing business. She’s been having me log hours for the SLF, which is illuminating even though I don’t get paid, and is also making sure the checks go out on time, which I was not always prompt with (and then had tremendous guilt about).
I have something of a mental block around money sometimes, legacy of digging myself into a BAD hole in my 20s. I had $40K in credit card debt at one point, on top of student loans, which was a literal nightmare, or rather, many of them. I eventually pulled my way out of it and paid it all off, but it was a painful time, and I’m still weirdly avoidant about dealing with my own money sometimes. (I’m fine with working as a trustee on the 9 million dollar library budget, oddly enough. I have no stress looking at those spreadsheets. Weird.) Like, I’ll avoid writing a $25 check for eight months, even though the money is RIGHT THERE. (PayPal is easier, but sometimes my overseas authors want checks.)
Kirsten is super-organized, and uses apps that will generate little charts for me that show exactly what projects the SLF is spending staff time on, etc. (I think Clockify is doing that, though perhaps she pairs it with something else, I’m not sure.) It’s been a MASSIVE weight off my mind, and is lesson #1 — if you can find someone to take on the things you’re bad at, that is helpful. She put in a lot of hours at the beginning, getting things organized and into professional shape; now it’s just a few hours / week, managing it. (She also manages staff time sheets and getting them paid.)
3) Similarly, if there are tasks that are tedious, those can be helpful to outsource. Heather has been primarily doing two things for me — researching publishing details (like what printer costs how much, and how many postcards I’ll need to order, running comparative calculations), and managing my social media (the latter of which is tedious to propagate physically, and she’s also better with apps that help with that). It’s super-helpful. If I can pay her to do 5-10 hours / week of that, and spend that time writing fiction and essays instead, that’s clearly worthwhile for me, both directly financially and in terms of getting the writing that makes me happy done.
4) Karen is working entirely for the SLF, 5-10 hours / week, primarily as volunteer coordinator right now, learning the ropes of what we do there, but possibly aiming towards managing director; we’ll see. She’s not on Facebook, which so far hasn’t been a problem, but is a little disconcerting for me, since I live here. I can’t tag her into things to bring them to her attention, which is odd. But she’s been good to work with, and helped me organize my thoughts and set priorities, rather than trying to do all the things at once.
People ask how I get so much done. This is how. Is there more money coming in than going out? Um, not yet. But I’m hopeful that we’ll get there within a year or two. For now, it’s an investment in my business as a writer, and in the SLF as an organization. Before this, I was turning away paid writing opportunities, lots of them, because I didn’t have time to do the writing. That was clearly a problem. It’s improving.
I had dinner with George R.R. Martin on Tuesday — he’d just arrived in Chicago for a Chicago Public Library event where he was guest of honor. Delightful evening; it was nice to have a chance to talk with just George and his assistant Sid for a few hours. We talked Wild Cards a bit, of course, but mostly talked about how hard it is for both he and I to resist all the interesting ideas and neat projects that come our way, and how much work it is to *not* work constantly, but simply rest and take time to think through our own writing (and lives).
We had dinner in Greektown, and I have to give props to the staff at Athena restaurant, who clearly recognized him, and just as clearly behaved completely professionally, letting him have a relaxed dinner. Chicago is more chill than some other places — in both New York and London, Sid says they get seriously harassed by paparazzi and selfie-seekers, with people physically shoving her out of the way, trying to get to George. Not cool, folks.
Many funny moments, but one of the most amusing was when he was trying to count up how many people work for him at this point. Even leaving aside the entire staff of the movie theatre he owns, I think he’s up to 7 full-time assistants now. I am feeling slightly more justified in my part-time and contractor people. (see next post).
Be like George? Not a bad career model in a lot of ways.
I may not start killing off my characters at quite the same rate, though!
Dear parents of the game design afterschool class, I just wanted to give you a quick update on what we’ve been doing.
In the first class, we played a role-playing game called Hero Kids. The nine students picked characters that had been pre-made for the game, and gave them names and colored them in. Then I was their game master as we talked through an encounter (pretend story) — there were giant spiders attacking the school, and the hero kids fought them off. After the attack, they voted on whether to dissect the spiders or not — luckily, the dissection went well, and they discovered vast amounts of gold and gemstones in the spiders’ bodies. There was much rejoicing.
They should have come home with a six-sided die (a D6), which is theirs to keep; it’s what they roll to see how an encounter went. For example, if they roll a 4, 5, or 6, their attack succeeds. If it goes badly, then they roll again, to see if they take damage — if they roll a 1, 2, or 3, they take damage — in this game, the first time you get hit, you’re bruised, the second time, you’re hurt, and the third time, you’re knocked out. (If they have a shield, they can roll to see if their shield protected them.) We didn’t play that long, so nobody was more than bruised, and with their healing potions and the help of the healer character, everyone was back up to full strength and loaded with treasure when class ended.
In the second class today, they broke into two groups of 4 (one child was out sick), to design their own characters and play separate games. They came up with a species (human, goddess, sea monster, etc.), and a name for their character, and some of them drew and/or colored in their characters too.
They also learned how to use a 20-sided die (a D20) to ‘roll up stats,’ which is a key part of classic Dungeons and Dragons. I made sure that they were all pretty evenly balanced — if they rolled too high or too low, I had them re-roll. They rolled for strength, health, magic, defense, speed, ranged attacks (with a bow and arrow, or other weapon you can throw), and more. In classic D&D, you’d also have characteristics like ‘charm’ — if you encounter a monster, you can try to sweet-talk them instead of fighting. We didn’t get into that today, though.
Then they took turns as game master, each one leading three kids through a little encounter. So far, the games we’re playing are very much like D&D, so there’s lots of adventuring and fighting of monsters. Role-playing games don’t have to have fighting, but at the end of a long school day, they’re full of energy, so getting to throw dice around the room and act out fight scenes (that’s called LARP-ing, live action role-playing) seems like a good way to burn off some extra energy. If you wanted to play at home, you could definitely play this outside too — you just need a place to roll the dice, and somewhere you can keep a pencil and paper, to keep track of your stats.
They should’ve come home with a D20 today, and next week, they’ll bring home a dice bag too. If they’ve lost their dice, tell them to let me know — I have some extra they can take home. But my hope is that with a D6 and a D20, they’ll have what they need to do more role-playing games at home — with you, or siblings / cousins, or friends. My son (also in the class) likes to do adventures with the family, where he’s the game master, and we’re playing pretend in his adventure. It’s a good way to make putting away the laundry go by a little faster!
I’m including a link to some photos from the class. We’re hoping to develop this class for a future offering through BaseCamp, so I’m blogging about it (in general terms) on Facebook. If you’re okay with your kid’s photo being posted online, let me know; it’d be great to show people what this looks like. But totally fine if not, of course — I’ll assume not, unless you give explicit permission.
Next week, we’ll be working on creating a magical land, so I’ll be bringing in Legos for them to experiment with, and we’ll be drawing maps!
I need bulk spices, because in the next week, I’ll be making up 118 4 oz. packets of my dry-roasted Sri Lankan curry powder to send out with Kickstarter orders. 118! (Possibly plus a few more; we’re going to be closing pre-orders next Wednesday.)
Suggestions on where you’d buy masses of coriander seed and such? Pete’s has a decent selection of Indian spices, so I may just go there. My real inclination is to swing by the Indian neighborhood on Devon, with a side trip to Geetha’s for Sri Lankan goodies for my freezer (so nice to have effortless idiyappam on hand), but if you have other recommendations, send them along.
My new Sri Lankan cookbook, A Feast of Serendib, launches on March 6, 2020, but we’re doing a long, slow pre-launch of the special Kickstarter edition in the interim. Right now, we still have discounted Kickstarter pricing available for pre-orders, along with Kickstarter goodies — you can pre-order here: http://serendibkitchen.com/a-feast-of-serendib/
If you’d like to support the development of more mostly Sri Lankan recipes, I’d love to have you join the cookbook club — for $2 / month, you’ll get recipes delivered to your inbox (fairly) regularly: https://www.patreon.com/mohanraj
And here’s all the foodie social media:
Serendib Kitchen blog: http://serendibkitchen.com
Serendib Kitchen Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/serendib_kitchen/
Serendib FB Group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/132029834135500/
Serendib FB Page: https://www.facebook.com/mohanrajserendib/
Thanks for your support!