My Inner Child is Sometimes Terrifying

I like coloring. I’m not talking about professional comic book or animation style coloring, the kind that takes hours upon hours of dedicated study and practice. I mean, break out the 160 box of Crayolas and have at a coloring book sort of coloring. It’s nice to sometimes re-live what it was like to be five years old. Granted, I teach kindergarten for half the week, so sometimes I can let my inner child out at work, which is awesome. (Tell me you wouldn’t like to build an epic track to send a wooden train shooting down, or spend hours on your belly playing doll house, you liar.)

Which is why I love going to toy stores in Japan, where I can find all of the stuff I desperately wanted as a child, but found in precious little abundance. Sure, I may look awkward walking into the store as a nearly thirty year-old foreign woman with no children tagging along behind me, but few things beat the giddy feeling of walking out of the store with a brand new coloring book.

Since I’ve been doing pretty much nothing else but studying for the last month and a half, and thus don’t have any book reviews or anything particularly earth shattering to share with the world, may I present instead the color explosion that is my inner child:

Warning: My inner child is sometimes terrifying.

The line art is from a coloring book for the show Puri Kyua, of which the English translation makes about the same amount of sense as the Japanese. As far as I can tell it’s a show aimed at kindergarten girls dedicated to teaching them lessons in friendship, looking pretty, and never closing your mouth. Seriously, there’s not a single picture in this book in which anyone is smiling with their mouth shut. It’s bizarre. Aside from the reference image on the cover of the book, I have absolutely zero idea what any of these girls are supposed to look like, so I just had fun with it. They’re colored in Copics and gel pens, with a few colored pencil highlights thrown in here and there. It’s amazing what some unexpected colors or lines will do for a picture.

Mostly I was messing around for practice with Copics, but I had a vision on a few of them. I’m pleased mostly with the results. I had a lot of fun with this, and I might just search out some more coloring books in the future.

So tell me, readers, do you have a favorite way to experience childhood once again?

Where I am, and Other Interesting Things

It’s been over a month since I last blogged, and I figure it’s high time I did some explaining around here.

First of all, I was scheduled to post a review of The Neverending Story about a month ago, but then WordPress ate half the post and it became too much of a pain in the ass to get it back. It wasn’t a post I was particularly proud of anyway, so I figured it couldn’t do any more harm rotting in the cyber graveyard than it could being posted. If anyone was particularly interested in my opinion of The Neverending Story, it’s ‘meh’. Nothing more, nothing less. Just, ‘meh’.

Anyway, the point of this post is that I haven’t fallen into a volcano or anything, I’ve just been pretty busy. I have another kendo exam in a week, I’ve got an editing project on my plate, and a whole bunch of reading, so once things have settled back down again, you can expect a review of The Freedom Maze by Delia Sherman (I’m half way through and loving it), some more art stuff, some Japan stuff, and a general return to normal–at least until I go home for the holidays.

Tastes of Japan: Kabocha vs. Pumpkin

‘Tis the season of the pumpkin. With Hallowe’en and two Thanksgivings coming around the bend in this household, we are heartily looking forward to a nice, big, orange pumpkin or two in the coming weeks. On that note, I want to draw attention to one, very important fact:


Kabocha is a Japanese winter squash that is commonly translated as ‘pumpkin’ in Japan. While it is true that kabocha and pumpkin are both of the Cucurbita genus, when it comes to cooking and taste, they are about as similar as an apple and a pear. Kabocha is smaller than a western pumpkin with dry, dense flesh that when cooked produces a dry, dense starchy block, not unlike a baked potato. Pumpkin on the other hand is moist and spongy on the inside, and becomes a buttery liquid when cooked. Kabocha is more similar to its cousin butternut squash than it is to the orange, smiling jack-o-lantern pumpkins that we from the west are most familiar with. Pumpkins can be bought in Japan if you know where to look, but because of their size and prevalence in Japanese cooking, kabocha are far more common.

Unfortunately, because kabocha is translated as  ‘pumpkin’ over here, all the traditional pumpkin foods that are staple tastes and smells in October and November are made with kabocha. Oh, and there’s no pumpkin spice over here either. Nowhere else is this discrepancy more stark than with pumpkin pie.

A few years ago, Alex and I attended a Thanksgiving party at the home of the mayor of Osaka. One of the biggest draws to the event was the billing of a traditional turkey dinner with real pumpkin pie. At the end of the dinner when the pie was served, the eyes of the American guests lit up with anticipation and excitement which lasted until the first bite. The pie wasn’t sweet at all. The kabocha sat like a lifeless rock on a bed of flaky filo pastry. One by one, heartbreak come over the dinner guests. To their credit, many politely fought through each bite, all the way to the end, but several plates of kabocha pie were abandoned discreetly on the table, their owners shedding a secret tear of disappointment.

This isn’t to say that kabocha is a horrible, tasteless vegetable that ought not to be eaten. Kabocha is very tasty when it is prepared correctly. Stewed with other vegetables, it makes a wonderful stir fry which is moist and flavorful in its own way. It brings a great flavor and texture to curry and rice, and when grilled in thin strips with corn and onion, it goes wonderfully with a good grilled steak. Just please, keep it out of my pumpkin pie!

The Magician’s Nephew: Afterthoughts

The Magician’s Nephew: Chronicles of Narnia
by C.S. Lewis
221 pages
4 stars


The Magician’s Nephew is the sixth book written in the Chronicles of Narnia series, however chronologically it is the first, so I chose to start here. I read The Last Battle years ago when I was still in grade school and remember absolutely nothing about it, and I have the most recent cinematic version of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe somewhat fresh in my mind. All this is to say that while I have some exposure to Narnia, little of it is fresh enough for me to have many expectations going into this book. What I got out of The Magician’s Nephew was a bit of a mixed bag. It is, obviously, a children’s novel, and I was able to read it as one much more easily than I am with YA novels. It is also (and this should come as no surprise either) heavy on the Christian symbolism and mythology. That said, I enjoyed the first part of the book for its Dahl-esque glorification of the morality and triumph of children over adults, but the latter half of the book which is essentially an animal version of the Genesis story was much too heavy handed for me. In short, it strapped subtlety to a rocket full of dynamite and blasted it into the sun.

The Magicicans NephewEven allegory is uncomfortable being used in this comparison of Aslan to Jesus.

All right, so above I mentioned that The Magician’s Nephew is a lot like a fluffy version of Genesis, and it is, but it’s also literally the genesis of Narnia. This prequel was meant to describe how Narnia came into being and how the evil witch came to inhabit what should have been a peaceful and happy place, how the wardrobe came to be a portal, the lamp post, the talking animals, the all of it, and as far as world building mythology goes, it does a fairly good job of this in the amount of space it has.

We start the story with Polly, a young girl living in London, who meets the boy next door, Digory after spying on him over the fence. They’re about the same age, so they become fast friends and playmates. We learn that Digory is staying with his aunt and uncle because his mother is sick and is being unsuccessfully treated for a mystery disease. Polly sympathizes with him, and after a bit of a pep talk, the two of them hatch a plan to try to get into the old abandoned house at the end of their complex by moving through the connected walls of all the houses in between. It’s a great plan, except none of the children can decided on math of the whole thing, and instead of ending up in the abandoned house, they find themselves in the secret attic of Digory’s uncle, a room that is regularly off limits.

Uncle Andrew is from the start, a horrible man. He tries to get the children involved in his experiments but fortunately Polly is able to smell a rat, and insists that it is time for her to go home. Uncle Andrew capitulates and offers her a pretty yellow ring, which she happily accepts and then POOF, she’s gone. Of course, Digory doesn’t take too kindly to his new friend being winked out of existence, but Uncle Andrew insists that it was a necessary sacrifice in the name of magical inquiries–after all, the guinea pigs he’d already sent can’t come back to tell anyone what they saw on the other side. So Digory, rightly insists that Uncle Andrew bring Polly back, and Uncle Andrew insists that Digory himself go to bring Polly back, and after a lengthy history on how Uncle Andrew came to be a *ahem* magician, Digory finally agrees to go, but calls his uncle (again, rightly) a coward. So he takes the green rings, which can bring them back, and a yellow ring which flings him through dimensions to where Polly is, sleeping in a tranquil forest type marsh thing. They have a bit of trouble with memory for a time, followed by an argument about whether or not they should really go straight back to uncle Andrew, or explore some of the other pools, which are apparently portals to other places.

So after Digory and Polly get a few shots in at each other’s genders, they agree to go exploring. Using the yellow rings again, they hop into a different pool than the one they popped out of and end up in Charn, which is a bleak, cold world, devoid of people or any living thing really. The children wander around the streets of Charn until they come to a palace which finally has something interesting in it; an entire hall of wax figures. They start out looking like good and gentle people, but progressively, the deeper they go, the people start looking colder, and meaner, until they come to the final statue of a gorgeous woman who looks positively wicked and prideful. Near her is a bell and a hammer and an ominous inscription warning the kids that whoever strikes the bell may or may not bring danger upon themselves, but wouldn’t you just love to find out?

It is Polly’s opinion that the bell ought not to be rung, but Dignory is fairly itching with curiosity and after a verbal fight, he physically (and painfully) restrains Polly to ring the bell for himself. Well, not only does the bell ring, but the ringing gets louder and louder and so loud that it begins to collapse parts of the palace before it finally stops. And that’s not all. The beautiful, wicked lady? She gets up! She gets up and demands to know who woke her. Unfortunately, the whole palace is still coming down around them, so she does her only kind act in the whole book and doesn’t leave the children behind to be crushed by falling stone. She gets them out and sets upon Digory a slew of questions about how he came to be there and to wake her, and gives them an account of her own history. In short, Jadis killed everybody in Charn because she could, and also because she didn’t like her sister.

The kids obviously don’t think any better of her than they do Uncle Andrew, and hatch a plan to escape back to their own world. Unfortunately it goes wrong, and they end up bringing Jadis back as well. Fortunately she can’t use her magic in the real world, but she is still incredibly strong, which she demonstrates in going on a rampage throughout London on the top of a hansom she stole. Digory makes the brave decision to try and get her back to her own world, but this time he manages to transport himself, Polly, Uncle Andrew, Jadis, the hansom horse and the cabby into a black, world of emptiness.

Well, almost emptiness. There’s a song out there, somewhere in the blackness, and it’s calling up all sorts of things. Stars, a moon, a sun, and as the sun rises, they get their first look at who is singing the song–Aslan the lion. Jadis freaks out and throws a lamp post at him but it harmlessly bounces off his face. She takes off, and Aslan finishes creating the world in seven minutes. The whole world, including all the animals in it grow up out of the ground to Aslan’s song, and then he chooses two of each animal to gift speech to. The animals then go on their way to torment Uncle Andrew who has convinced himself that he hasn’t actually seen what he’s just seen.

Digory on the other hand tries to get an audience with Aslan because hey, if anyone can cure his dying mother it’s God, right? But Aslan isn’t entirely pleased with Digory, since it was Digory who brought Evil into the newborn Narnia in the form of Jadis. He instructs Digory to go to the edge of the world and grab a silver apple from the tree growing there and bring it back, so that he can fend off Jadis for a little while. He gives the cab horse wings to fly them to the tree, where they’re once again met with an ominous message to not steal the fruit and use it for selfish purposes. Digory does what the sign asks and gets his fruit but Jadis has gotten there before them and temps the children to eat from the Tree of Knowledge *cough* which Digory refuses to do and instead flies back to Aslan with the apple and plants it by the river.

There’s then a coronation of the first king and queen of Narnia, and Aslan agrees to send Digory, Polly, and Uncle Andrew back to the real world, with a silver apple for Digory’s mother as a reward.

Back home Digory cures his mother, buries the apple core with the magic rings and goes about his life, which involves inheriting a lot of money and moving to the country, until, when he’s an adult, he comes back to his uncle’s house and cuts down the apple tree and fashions it into a wardrobe for his country estate.

The End.

Wow, that summary is almost longer than the book! I enjoyed this story, as I said, because of the innocent triumph of the children in it. The Christian mythology I could have stomached a lot more easily if it hadn’t felt like I was being beaten over the back of the head with a bible. I also enjoyed the tip of the hat it gives to Jane Eyre in the beginning, and the nice way it ties in little things from the rest of the Narnia books. As a final volume, it would absolutely give warm closure to the series. As a first book, it allows for a simple, easy introduction into the world and its key players. Either way you chose to read The Magician’s Nephew, it is well worth your time.

The next book on my reading list is The Neverending Story by Michael Ende.

The Man With the Knives: Afterthoughts

The Man With the Knives
by Ellen Kushner
19 pages


I was first introduced to Ellen Kushner’s work through her novel Swordspoint which became a quick and lasting favorite of mine. Kushner has a way of writing that carries both descriptive and emotional power without tipping into the realm of wordy or sappy. Her characters are neither too strong nor too weak, but that wonderful middle ground at which a fictional figure becomes a believable human.

The Man With The Knives

The Man With the Knives is a short, plaintive story which continues the events after Swordspoint. I won’t go into tremendous detail as to the plot, because the story is only 19 pages long and there’s too much I could ruin for anyone who isn’t familiar with this storyline. In it, we have Sofia, a spinster doctor in a small village where no one can read, and the mysterious man with the knives, who comes to her half-dead, drenched in rain, and with a terrible infection in his chest. Sofia cares for him and as he recovers they slowly become intimate. The man with the knives is an enigma to her, and to everyone in the village. He is a foreigner, who can only speak a broken portion of their language, but as strange as he is, he has knowledge that saves one of them, and makes him a local hero.

For his part, the man with the knives has things he can’t say, and things he doesn’t wish to say. There’s a painful past he’s running from, and the less he dwells on those events and those wounds the better, though that is easier said than done.

I’ve mentioned before just how amazing Kushner is with opening lines, and The Man With the Knives is no different:

Her father had told her a story about a sailor who fell out of love with the sea, so he put his oar up on his shoulder and walked inland far and far, until he finally met someone who looked at the oar and said, What’s that thing you’re carrying, friend? and there he stayed.

It’s a powerful opening, both relevant to the story and hooking on its own. The folktale feel of it is prevalent throughout the narrative and in much of Kushner’s writing on the whole. The story itself is as deeply mournful as it is tender and loving, with characters whom I’d already fallen in love with in previous works.

Another thing I want to mention is the artwork. The illustrations by Thomas Canty are stunningly gorgeous, and add to the folkish and ephemeral feel of the book.

I’ve read this short story over three times now and I can’t help but to still feel the longing and the sadness that is so engrained into each word of this book that it seems as though they were written in heart blood.

I was lucky enough to receive a copy of the book from the author, however if you can’t find your own copy of this limited run to purchase for yourself, you can read the story in its entirety on the Tor website.

The next book on my reading list is The Magician’s Nephew  by C.S. Lewis.

Robinson Crusoe: Afterthoughts

Robinson Crusoe
by Daniel Defoe
340 pages
three and a half



One of the most frequent difficulties I have with reading classic works is finding a way to reconcile historical context with reading for pleasure. Like many others, Robinson Crusoe is a book which reflects its times, and receives much of its fame for the literary firsts it accomplishes. That being said, it’s likely to be more enjoyable if read academically, rather than casually. By modern standards, Robinson Crusoe is a long drawn out adventure novel about an English imperialist with more wanderlust than common sense, told in such bland language as to nullify the ‘adventure’ part near completely. There were parts that I enjoyed, but lengthy passages of this novel are so boring that I found myself fighting a yawn every other page. It took me nearly a month to finish reading it, which I did by sheer force of will and the desire to finally be reading something else.

Robinson Crusoe

The Life and Strange Surprizing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, Of York, Mariner: Who lived Eight and Twenty Years, all alone in an un-inhabited Island on the Coast of America, near the Mouth of the Great River of Oroonoque; Having been cast on Shore by Shipwreck, wherein all the Men perished but himself. With An Account how he was at last as strangely deliver’d by Pyrates.”

Robinson Crusoe is a difficult character to stomach, even with the historical context. He epitomizes English colonial attitudes, racial and cultural superiority, and just plain dickish behavior. Who is he a dick to? Well, everyone, really, except for maybe the Portuguese captain and the widow he entrusts all his money to. He disobeys the wishes of his parents and runs off on a sea adventure, wherein he’s shipwrecked and told plainly by the captain after they make it to shore that he’s going to be unlucky at sea. But he doesn’t listen, and runs off on another voyage where he’s captured and made a slave for two years. Slavery, to Cursoe, is apparently too unbearable for him to deal with for longer than two years (but perfectly fine for other people, later in the book), so he escapes with a boy names Xury, and they rock around the African coast for a while, shooting lions and such, until they’re rescued by a Portuguese captain. (Well, Crusoe is rescued, anyway. He sells Xury with the upstanding promise of the boy’s future freedom if he converts to Christianity. Yay.)

The Portuguese captain then drops him off in Brazil and helps him buy a sugar plantation, which he raises up quite nicely and is, by all accounts doing quite well for himself, until it’s suggested that he needs some slaves to work his plantation. After about two seconds of thought on the morality of that, and no reflection on his own time as a slave, Crusoe agrees to sail to Africa again to pick up some slaves.

Well, wouldn’t you know it but he’s shipwrecked again, and this time, everyone dies but him. He instead washes up on the shore of an uninhabited island where he spends a dreadful few days before picking himself up and pillaging what he can from the wreck before it finally is broken up in a storm. What he manages to collect is, conveniently, everything that he needs to survive, including wood, sails, iron work, some food, seeds, guns, knives and the like. He also picks up a dog and two cats, though the later he is forced to shoot when they breed with the local wild cats and become pests. So he’s a dick to cats too.

He sets up shop in a sort of dug out cave, where he packs in all of his things, but becomes alarmed that lightning might strike all his powder, so he squirrels it around different places on the island. Then he’s nearly killed in a cave in caused by an earthquake, so he picks up his stuff and builds himself a new shelter, where, I’m pretty sure he contracts salmonella from eating a turtle, falls into fever and has a religious experience. Or rather, he realizes “Oh shit, I could die here, I better prostrate myself before God, just in case.” So he reflects on how utterly impious he has been in his life and vows to change that, and thank God for all the small blessings in his life.

For the next twenty or so years, he makes his home on the island, raising goats, grains, teaching himself rudimentary crafts like agriculture, wood working, leather tanning, tailoring, ship building, herding etc. It’s okay if we skip over these years, because the book does too. Suffice to say, he’s miserable, but manages to convince himself he’s not because God.

After these twenty-odd years of living all by himself, convinced there’s no one else around, he finds a footprint in the sand on the other side of the island, and after much hand wringing, he finally goes to spy on the spot and finds that it’s been used by native cannibals as a feast area. Well, this throws him into a panic and not wanting to be discovered he stops using his gun, and takes great caution when lighting a fire so that they don’t see his smoke. At this point I have to wonder: he’s been living there for twenty years, both him and the cannibals going about their business without care of discovery and, strangely, without ever having discovered the other. There’s a lot of contrived events in this story, but this one takes the cake.

Anyway, he waffles for a while between, “I must kill the savages” and “they don’t know any better, poor ignorant fools”, and finally decides on the latter, and resolves to leave them very much alone, until another group of cannibals arrives on his side of the island with their captives to eat.

At about this time, Crusoe begins to fantasize about how nice it would be to have a couple servants in his ‘kingdom’ and puts a plan into motion to rescue one of the captives, which he does by killing all the cannibals. Turns out, their captive is a cannibal from a rival nation, and that just won’t do. So after assuring himself that Friday, as he calls him, is well and truly bound to him in gratitude, he begins his re-education, mainly by informing him that his religion is all a bunch of hogwash meant to keep him subjugated under a ruling class of kings and priests, while Christianity on the other hand, is 100% not that.

Right. Anyway, Friday eats it up and converts and is thus finally allowed to carry weapons, is taught English (along with being taught to call Crusoe ‘master’) and is from that moment on, ordered around like a servant, because that is the natural order of things.


They live like this for another couple of years until they spot some more cannibals with captives. So they repeat the same plan, killing all but two of the cannibals and taking two of their captives, one of whom is a Spaniard, and the other is, conveniently, Friday’s father, only it really could have been any native at all, for all the point their being related has. Crusoe nurses these two back to health and the Spaniard tells them that there are a bunch of other Spaniards on the mainland who have also been ship wrecked. Seeing his escape, Crusoe convinces him that all the Spaniards should be brought back to him so that they can build a boat together and sail to a civilized port. At first the Spaniard isn’t too keen on the idea, but Crusoe reminds him that he owes him his life, so he capitulates in the end, and sails off with Friday’s father to go get the other white men.

While Crusoe and Friday are waiting, an English ship comes into view, and by God, an English ship is like, 100 times better than sailing away with those half civilized, slave owning, inquisition doing Spaniards, so Crusoe goes to make friendly with them. The only problem is that the ship has mutinied, and the captain is a captive.

Well, Crusoe by now is now well practiced in freeing captives, so he does what he does and captures or kills the mutineers and frees the captain who is most gracious and agrees to whatever plan the crazy bearded man dressed in haphazard goat skins lays before him, and before long, they’re all sailing away, happy as clams on the ship back toward England.

But what about the Spaniards, you ask? Fuck them, that’s what. Crusoe doesn’t so much as spare them a thought as he sails away for home.

When he gets there, however, he finds he’s got no money anywhere, which sucks, expect for his plantation. So he goes to see the sea captain, who doesn’t recognize him at first, but then finally does, and is told at length how he might reclaim his portion of the plantation. He does this, and rewards the captain, and the widow who was holding his money for him before, and then heads back to England. But not by boat, because he’s had nothing but bad luck that way. No, he decides to go over land, but because he’s an idiot, who doesn’t take the well placed advice of anyone around him, he decides to hike through the mountains in the middle of winter to get home and he, and Friday and all their guides are nearly eaten by wolves because of it.

But he manages to get home alive, and marries and has some kids before he ever thinks about what may have happened to the Spaniards he’d sent for with an escape plan. So he hires a boat and sails off to them, and finds them still alive, still trapped on the island. To this he thinks, “Huh. All’s well that ends well, you’re now my colony, here’s some livestock and some women. Bu-bye!” He then sails home again, leaving them on the island he has been calling up until the end The Island of Despair and ‘my prison’.

The End.

Now, if you’re like me, you may be thinking that Robinson Crusoe is a self-serving asshole who is a master at self justification and selective thinking in which, when bad things happen to him, they are well and truly evil, but when the same bad things happen to other people it’s time to take advantage of their misfortune. I would give the book more credit for having been written in the time it was (published in 1719), however Crusoe as a character is so contradictory, and so blind to his own hurtful hypocrisy that he’s just not likable. I didn’t root for his success at any part of the book. I kind of wanted him to be eaten by his parrot, whom he also abandoned pitifully. He’s arrogant, self-serving, with an admitted lip-service to religion until he very nearly dies; he’s racist and misogynistic, and above all, learns nothing of moralistic value from his hardships.

Stylistically, the book is bland. While Defoe does describe things in great detail, the parts which should have been exciting and adventurous are told in the same tone one might use to describe the weather. What is, for all intents and purposes the prologue and the epilogue are way too detailed, and drag the story out longer than it needs to be with unnecessary events that add little to the character (though if they were meant to showcase the evil morality of imperialism, I could stomach them more). The capitalization of every noun (at least in the edition I read) was also hard to get used to at first, but it stopped bothering me by about halfway through the book.

I didn’t enjoy this book as much as I wanted to, which always upsets me a little. I hate being disappointed by books, especially by classics, but you can’t love them all. I suppose if you take it as a political satire it’s digestible, but on its own it’s not very savory.

Read more pokes and prods at Robinson Crusoe at this nice blog:

Fighting with Fiction

and have an academic look at the colonialism and racism in Robinson Crusoe here:

British Literature 1700 – 1900, a Course Blog

The next book on my reading list is The Man With the Knives by Ellen Kushner.

Tastes of Japan: Yaki-imo

With the days shortening, the nights cooling and mellow winds bringing in the smell of farmers burning their leaves, autumn is arriving in Japan. The first bright orange leaves are a welcomed sight around here, signalling the final days of oppressive heat and unpredictable summer storms and giving the residents of Kyoto a much anticipated–if brief–reprieve between the temperature extremes of summer and winter. Seasonal dishes are also changing around now, and perhaps no other food in Kyoto is a better symbol of the coming of autumn than the sweet potato.

Sold in convenience stores all over the city, yaki-imo, or baked sweet potato is as ubiquitous a sight (and smell) as oden between the months of October and February. Wrapped in foil and baked over embers or in burning leaves, this simple, fragrant snack is incredibly popular in Japan, and a perfect food for keeping the chill out of the body. When cooked to perfection is it soft, hot and flaky, with a sweet and starchy flavor that is sure to fill you up fast.

Unsurprisingly, sweet potatoes aren’t native to Japan. They were introduced in the early 1700s and quickly became popular as a reliable crop when violent summer storms could wipe out other staple foods. They are used in the Tsukimi autumn moon festival, where they are cooked in a variety of ways and offered to the moon in hopes of a plentiful harvest for the year. They are also sometimes used in shoju liquor, and are frequently baked in pastries around this time of year. Personally, I like the caramelized sweet potatoes with the black sesame seeds best.

Japanese snack foods also capitalize on the popularity of yaki-imo during the autumn months. Calbee brand Osatsu is a light, baked sweet potato snack which is yaki-imo flavored. They are one of Alex’s favorites. It’s incredibly easy to go through an entire bag of these without even realizing it.

Autumn is a great time for visiting Japan. The weather is mild, the colors of the trees are stunning, and the food is flavorful. If you happen to be in Kyoto during this time, have a taste of yaki-imo, fresh off the embers, to warm yourself up in between the gorgeous sights of the changing of the seasons.

A New Release and Some Life Updates

After days of waiting in anticipation after the first announcement of its release, I give you, for your reading pleasure, Darkly Never After in both electronic and paperback formats. All proceeds from the sale of this anthology will go to the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, so I encourage you to buy paperback (but if you don’t have the coin in your pocket for it, I completely understand). Do anything but pirate it, I beg you. No one got paid for this. Our editor and formatter gave up pieces of their soul for this book, and all our authors are now scrabbling under couch cushions for loose change and stray ramen noodles for want of sustenance. At least let some money trickle to the charity.

Right, dramatics aside, all proceeds are going to the St. Jude charity, information for which can be found here.

I hope the book gives you delicious nightmares and oh, don’t forget to check under your bed and leave a light on. I’m told that helps.

darkly never after coverClick me!


Moving on. Last week I celebrated what was the beginning of my last year as a twenty-something. I’ve got one more year to party, live it up, drink excessively and make bad financial decisions before I have to finally settle down and become an adult. You know, I think I said something very similar to this a decade ago and that would be very troubling and worrisome, if I actually did party, drink excessively or make bad financial decisions. All things considered, if there’s one thing that I’ve learned about being an adult, it’s that there’s a lot of grey area concerning what ‘adult’ actually means, and even more when we start throwing adjectives like ‘responsible’ and ‘well-adjusted’ into the mix. I certainly don’t feel like an adult, but I wouldn’t know what to expect that to feel like anyway. I still make some pretty immature decisions, mixed in with some more moderate ones, but mostly I’ve learned that no one ever really knows what the hell they’re doing. Twenty-nine feels like an age in which I should have all my ducks in a row and a clear path planned out for me, but I’m still not entirely sure what the right path for me even is. I don’t know if anyone does. At my age, my parents already had three kids and our family was surviving on one full-time income and one part-time income only. There’s no way in hell I can picture myself doing the same thing, but people do what they have to do, as the situation calls for it. That’s what I’m doing, and I’m fortunate that the decisions I’ve made so far have netted me positive results. I hope they continue to do so.

In any case, Amber sent me a bottle of Chartreuse for my birthday, and you know what that means:



Finally, I’m in the final stretch for a double deadline at the moment, so I’m going to disappear for a little while. I’ve put Bone Wall on hold ( I know, I KNOW) to write a short story. I’m going through the up and down roller-coaster ride of “This is the greatest idea I’ve ever had” and “OMG, this is crap, everything I’ve ever done is crap. I’m just going to sleep forever”. Eventually it’ll even out into a nice sort of sour optimism as I finish revisions. So yeah, not a lot of time to read or review or blog. I shouldn’t even be writing this post right now, but I’m hoping if I get everything off my plate tonight, I’ll be able to spend my Sunday writing.


The Black Horse: A Darkly Never After Short

Once upon a time, when the world was still young and the Sun was still just a moon, there lived three brothers. The first was fantastically wealthy, the second was fantastically powerful, and the third was neither of those things, but he was passably clever, and unlucky enough to get involved with the black horse.

Darkly Never After is a collection of thirty-one dark stories and poems. There are no happy endings here. Villains and wickedness, dark magic and evil deeds preside in this anthology of adult fairytales. If you have a penchant for the fiendish or an interest in the dark stains on basement walls, Darkly Never After invites you to return to the magic and fantasy of youth, leaving the rose tinted glasses behind.

Darkly Never After

darkly never after cover

Available Now!

As I Lay Dying: Afterthoughts

As I Lay Dying
William Faulkner
267 pages


I’m not sure if the rating that I gave this book is entirely fair, because I can’t say that I knew what the hell was going on in the book half the time. Between the dialect, the propensity for each chapter to start in media res, characters losing their marbles, and strange shifts in time, this may have been the hardest 267 pages to understand that I’ve ever read. And for the love of god, Kate, give it a rest about the goddamn cakes!

As I Lay DyingYour mother is not a fish.

OK, so Faulkner apparently wrote this book over six weeks between midnight and 4am, and pretentiously did not change a word of his original draft. This may explain why it’s so hard to understand. I don’t know about you, but 4am is not a time in which the thoughts in my head are, shall we say, coherent. Not only did Faulkner not edit it at all, he considered it a masterpiece work of genius. This tells me some things about his character. The narrative is told through the first person point of view of fifteen different characters. Alex tells me that the voice of each character is authentically Sounthern, and I’ll have to take her word on that.

The story is about Addie Bundren, who, for the first fourth of the book is laying in her bed dying. After that, the story is about the attempt of her five children and her self-centered husband to bury her in her native town.


Let’s start with the kids. Cash is the eldest, and either a little slow or the most prudent character in the book. I alternated between the two. He’s a carpenter by trade, and he’s busy sawing and nailing up his mother’s coffin outside of her window while she’s held up in bed. We meet his brothers Darl and Jewel as they come up the hill with the wagon. Darl is the second eldest, and has a bit of an inflated sense of his own intelligence (sounds a bit familiar). Jewel is the third in line, and is both his mother’s favorite and her secret shame. We don’t get introduced to the final two children, Dewey Dell and Vardaman until a little later, but Dewey Dell is the only daughter, and she’s got bigger problems then her mother’s impending death. Vardaman is the youngest and is in heavy need of either some counseling or a lesson in biology by the end.

Then there’s Addie’s husband Anse, who sort of starts out as a bit of an indecisive idiot and slowly morphs into a self-centered asshole by the end. I suppose he was an asshole from the start, but I had a bit of sympathy for him in the beginning that was blown all away by the end.

The cast of characters is rounded off by Cora Tull, her husband Vernon and her cakes which, I’m sorry, get so much unnecessary mention in the story that I’m including them as characters. There are others, too, but they only exist to fill in plot details and are not worthy of mention.

While Addie lays dying, and Cash builds her a coffin, Jewel, Darl, and Anse are outside discussing whether or not Jewel and Darl should go off to earn three dollars. On the one hand, their mother could die at any minute, she wants to be buried out of town and the weather looks like it could start storming at any minute. On the other, three dollars! So the boys skip off to get paid, and Addie dies without any of the people she wants to see with her. The doctor arrives too late to be of any help, because he is also an asshole and delays leaving, specifically so Addie will die, and be free of her good-for-nothing husband. (Is this something doctors do in the South, because that’s terrifying.)

Vardaman, who has spent the afternoon fishing, walks in to see his mother breathe her last and is instantly scared for life. He takes it out on the doctor’s horses, beats them and sends them scattering because he believes the doctor is the one who killed his mother. I’m inclined to agree that, while he’s not guilty of murder, he’s at least guilty of gross neglect.

Meanwhile, Dewey Dell’s thoughts on the whole matter largely boil down to, “I wish the doctor could read my mind and give me an abortion without me having to ask him.” Yup.

The boys finally return home with the three dollars fresh in their pocket to learn that their mother has died, they take it a bit hard. Darl seems quite shocked at the event, as if, you know, she hadn’t been sick, in her bed, on the verge of death these last few weeks. Cash still isn’t done with the coffin, either. It’s explained that it’s because he really wants to make his mother the pimp’nest coffin in the world, but I think he’s just a shitty carpenter. Anyway, this causes a very large delay in getting her even in a box, and dead bodies don’t stay fresh for long. Keep that in mind. It’s important for later.

By the time Addie is finally in her coffin, staring off on her way to her final resting place, it’s started raining, and hard. Jewel insists on bringing his prized horse along, and Cash insists on bringing his new tool box, presumably for all the touch up work on the coffin he’s going to have to do.

Fast forward through a lot of Anse refusing the help of his neighbors, and they finally reach the river. But oh noes! The bridge has been washed away! So they go a little upstream to cross a different bridge, but it too has washed away. GASP! So Anse finally has to give up and head back to Tull’s land to cross his bridge. By this time, Addie has been dead for a week. Mmmm. In this time, Vardaman has come to the conclusion that his mother is a fish, and Darl doesn’t help this by telling him that Jewel’s mother is a horse. Darl also starts losing the plot around this point.

Anyway, Tull still has most of a bridge left over from the flooding, and fast forward through a bunch more shuffling and indecisive waffling, and they decide to unpack all unnecessary persons from the wagon to have them walk across the half a bridge, while Cash attempts to ford the flooded river with Darl’s aid from the opposite bank. Jewel walks his horse along side of it, and they would have gotten to the other side except the log of fate rises up, gets tangles in their lead rope and capsizes the whole wagon. So Addie in her coffin, Cash, Jewel and his horse and an entire team of mules get swept away. Jewel and his horse escape because the horse is necessary to the plot later, but Cash winds up unconscious with a broken leg, and all the mules drown. The coffin is recovered, along with every. Single. One. Of. Cash’s. God. DAMN. Tools.

So now they have a fresh problem. They have a rotting mother, a carpenter with a broken leg, and a wagon and no mules. Tull refuses to give his mules to the cause and frankly, I don’t blame him. The man obviously knows a disaster when it washes up on his lawn. So Anse’s solution is for Jewel to sell his horse to buy new mules. This is where any sympathy for Anse died in me. This is a man who is willing to sacrifice anything, so long as it doesn’t actually cost him anything to do so. So Jewel tearfully, angrily sells his horse (which, by the way, he worked his ASS off to buy in the first place) and buys new mules to finish the journey.

So now we’ve got a rotting mother, one son with a broken leg, two sons losing their marbles, one angry son, one daughter who could care less, and a very self satisfied father. So far so good? OK, onwards.

Somewhere around here, Addie starts monologuing from within her coffin. She confesses that Jewel is not Anse’s son, and oh, how she has been suffering for that, but after she made it up to him by giving him two more kids, she realized that she’d done her life’s work, and could just go ahead and die.

As the weather worsens, they are eventually forced to stay the night in someone’s barn. Poor Addie has been dead nine days by this point and is stinking to high heaven. Everyone outside of the family is mortified. They’re being followed by a pack of buzzards, which have captured Vardaman’s attention away from thoughts of fish mothers, and he vows to go see where they roost at night. This is rather fortunate, for while he’s off buzzard hunting, he happens to see his brother Darl setting fire to the barn. Good ol’ Darl, always looking for a solution to life’s little problems.

Obviously this doesn’t sit well with the man who owns the barn, but thankfully Jewel has a soft spot for animals and with super human strength hefts up the pimp coffin and his (presumably oozing) mother, and carries it out on his back. He then busts back into the barn, and into every single stall there to lead the animals out of the blaze, one by one.

So now we’ve got a rotting mother, one son with a broken leg, one criminal son, one son who’s lost his damn mind, one angry, burnt son, one daughter carrying multiple secrets, and a very self satisfied father. Still with me?

So without laying blame to anyone, even though everyone knows damn well who burnt down the barn, they set out again. Jewel, who is obviously pissed right the fuck off, refuses to ride in the wagon with Darl. I’m sure Cash wishes he had that option, because by this time, his leg is getting much, much worse. Obviously they need a doctor, and quick, but Anse is in a bit of a hurry by now, so any old doctor will do. Hell, what about a veterinarian?

When they finally get into town, everyone’s temper is a little frazzled. Jewel picks a fight with a random passerby, who dares to speak ill of his decomposing mother in the wagon, and is nearly knifed for it. Dewey Dell tries to buy her abortion with the $10 her lover gave her, but the first pharmacist she sees refuses her.

They decide to set Cash’s leg in cement, because cement on unprotected skin never hurt anyone. Predictably, Cash’s leg turns black, and they become in desperate need of a real doctor.

Next, Jewel and Dewey Dell jump Darl and have him arrested for arson, which messes with Vardaman even more. Dewey Dell tries another pharmacist, but gets hoodwinked by the assistant instead, who gives Dewey Dell a shot of turpentine, a bunch of capsules filled with talcum powder and a roll in the sack to ‘cure’ her. Presumably he kicks her in the ass and laughs at her on her way out.

Somewhere in this jumble, Addie is buried in a footnote.


Cash’s leg is then cracked out of its cement cast which sounds about as pleasant as the book explained it, and Anse, upon discovering that Dewey Dell has been hoarding ten whole dollars, all to herself when poor Anse has been surviving oh these last few years without any teeth, declares her the worst daughter in the world, and steals her abortion money. This he uses to go get himself cleaned up, get new teeth and get remarried, all while his broken family waits for him on the wagon that still smells like dead mom.

The end.

Now, I realize that there’s a lot more going on in this book than what is presented on the surface, but the book went to such pains to hide those meanings that I find myself disinclined to care. For a book that details the trials involved in burying one’s mother, The Stranger is better. For a book that tries to make its point in the least possible sense, Slaughterhouse Five is better. For a book that tries to relate what life is like in the South, To Kill a Mockingbird is better. This book was a very frustrating read, and I’m glad it was as short as it was. Honestly, I don’t think I could have read it to the end of it was over three hundred pages. If you’d like a more academic analysis of the book, pop on over to Alex’s blog here, where she reviews As I Lay Dying with bigger words and less swearing.

The next book on my reading list was going to be Bridge of Birds by Barry Hughart, but the first five chapters were such a tremendous disappointment that I abandoned it to read Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe instead.