Saturday, December 31, 2011

By Popular Request: Drunken Black Eyed Peas

My approach to black eyed peas is to treat them much like the rock in your favorite Stone Soup recipe. In order to make them work, you have to cook 'em with just about everything but a gym sock. So, this recipe is less a "follow the instructions" job, and more of a "go with whatever you have" kind of thing. For example, all men know that you can add bacon to this recipe. Just cook five or six strips until the fat is rendered, and then chop up the bacon and add it AND the drippings to your peas. If you didn't know that you could do that, then just step back slowly out of the kitchen. Everyone else, follow along and make your own modifications as we go.

Okay, you need:
1 package of dried black eyed peas
1 pound of sausage (sage is a nice touch)
1 medium onion, nicely diced
1 bell pepper, cored and seeded, also nicely diced
2-5 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
1 box of chicken stock
1 bottle of your favorite beer (and use a real beer, okay? Something with flavor. Shiner Bock, or darker. Killian's Red or better. Get crazy. It's New Year's. Ditch Bud Light. You can't cook with it.)
1 bay leaf
salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons of butter or evoo

Prep: Soak the beans overnight in water. Do it. It's not hard. Just cover the beans with water, about 1 inch over. If you're one of those busy bodies in the kitchen, you can go ahead and do your dicing and chopping.

Start with a medium sized skillet. Add butter or evoo and heat over low to medium.

Add diced onions and bell peppers and get them sweating. when the veggies have become clear and tender, add the garlic and the sausage. Moosh up the sausage so that it browns evenly and break up all of the big clumps. You want browned sausage crumbles, here.

While that's browning, drain your peas, which should have doubled in size overnight. Make sure you've got no dirt or debris in the peas. Drop them into a stock pot or other large cooking vessel. Add the chicken stock, about 1/2 of the bottle of beer, the contents of the skillet, and bring to a boil.

Taste your broth. You should be able to taste the beer and the chicken stock. Salt and pepper the hell out of peas. Add a bay leaf and any other herbs or spices you might want to throw in. Rosemary and Thyme are great, especially fresh. Just chop up a couple of table spoons worth and add 'em in. If you like your BEP spicy, drop a chopped jalapeno or a cup of your favorite salsa in. Do it now, give it a good stirring to make sure that the peas and the stuff you really want to eat are all evenly dispersed and coated. Cover, and reduce heat to a simmer.

Keep this simmering for an hour. After one hour, lift the lid, take a whiff, and give it a taste. Are the peas tender? They should be firm, but not hard. Easily mushed. Get a couple of peas with the broth, some sausage, and some veggies. What does it need? More salt? Are you nuts? You put the Sargasso Sea in there earlier--okay, go for it, it's your dish. Put your final seasonings in (Chipotle Tabasco sauce, for the win)...and then continue to simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, for another thirty minutes. If the liquid gets low, add the rest of the beer. If the broth is too strong, cut it with water, a little at a time, until you get the consistency you like.

These peas can be served over white rice, as it is basically a Hoppin' John Recipe. They will keep overnight, and taste even better the next day because of science and chemistry.

You're welcome, America. Merry New Year!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

On the Subject of the World Fantasy Award Statue…

I’ve been watching the recent discussions over redoing the World Fantasy Award statue, scrapping the iconic Gahan Wilson-designed bust of H.P. Lovecraft for something or someone less…controversial. Less bad. Less racist-y.

Nnedi Okorafor got the ball rolling with this blog post wherein she states:
 Do I want “The Howard” (the nickname for the World Fantasy Award statuette.   Lovecraft’s full name is “Howard Phillips Lovecraft”) replaced with the head of   some other great writer? Maybe. Maybe it’s about that time. Maybe not. What I  know I want it to face the history of this leg of literature rather than put it aside or  bury it. If this is how some of the great minds of speculative fiction felt, then let’s  deal with that... as opposed to never mention it or explain it away. If Lovecraft’s  likeness and name are to be used in connection to the World Fantasy Award, I think there should be some discourse about what it means to honor a talented  racist.

The Outer Alliance had some prescient thoughts here as well. And while both of the above seem to be calling for some sort of moderated discussion, the majority of the responses seem to be of the “Yeah, I never liked this guy because he’s a racist and a misogynist anyway!” variety. It feels like a lot of people in the SF/F community want to tar and feather Lovecraft, and moreover, have wanted to do so for some time. And changing the design of the statue is exactly the right message to send to all racists…or something…

I’m not here to pile on, and I’m also not here to throw stones. I truly don’t have a horse in this particular race. But I am confused especially when so many of my fellow authors and colleagues seem to be of one mind on the subject. I cannot help but wonder aloud if Lovecraft’s views on race are really what you take away from a reading of his works?

I mean, seriously: when you read “The Dunwich Horror,” do you put the book down and think, “Man, Lovecraft hated black people”? Is that the take-away message from reading his Cthulhu Mythos stories? Wait, before you answer that, consider a couple of recent opinions by people not necessarily so mired in the F/SF world. A few years ago, when Lovecraft finally cracked the Library of America series with a collection of stories selected by Peter Straub (and curiously, he chose not to include the poem "On the Creation of Niggers" in his book), a couple of reviewers weighed in on Lovecraft in the most recent round of criticism and commentary.

Daniel Handler, aka Lemony Snicket, wrote a review of the book wherein he said:
While the notion of an unseen world is hardly unique to Lovecraft -- fantasists from Coleridge to Rowling have enjoyed peeking under earthly rocks -- one can hardly imagine a universe more removed from our own than that of Cthulhu. Biologically impossible, logistically unplumbable and linguistically unpronounceable, it's a world that makes you want to lock up all the wardrobes rather than venturing inside them. It is little wonder that the scarred witnesses of Cthulhan excursions talk to us in language as unspeakably florid as the universe they're attempting to describe. Lovecraft's narrators are all desperate with misery, and it is worth quoting several of these hysterics as they begin their tales, to approximate the accumulated tone of so much hand-wringing.
Around the same time,'s Laura Miller dropped this little nugget of wisdom on the site:
There are two camps on the subject of the haunted bard of Providence, R.I., and his strange tales of cosmic terror. One, led by the late genre skeptic Edmund Wilson, dismisses him as an overwriting “hack” who purveyed “bad taste and bad art.” The other, led by Lovecraft scholar and biographer S.T. Joshi, hotly rises to Lovecraft’s defense as an artist of “philosophical and literary substance.”
 Miller goes on to say:
Perhaps the most curious thing about Lovecraft is that much of what aficionados love about his work is exactly those things his detractors list as faults. Take, for example, the fact that while Lovecraft is usually described as a forefather of modern horror fiction, his stories are, to put it bluntly, not very scary. 
I’m not saying that Lovecraft didn’t have his problems, and I’m sure not saying that Lovecraft’s own fears and prejudices weren’t consciously or unconsciously included in his Weird Tale fiction. I’m just suggesting that we’ve moved away from being a culture that allows other—and even repellent—points of view a place in the greater discourse to being a culture that wants to label anyone who ever said the word “nigger” a racist and then quickly bury them in a forgotten tomb so that their poison cannot infect other people.

This, to me, is socially retarded thinking. It’s this kind of thinking that would have the unmitigated gall to censure the word “nigger” from Huckleberry Finn. If ever there was a book that merited the use of the word for no other reason than the discussion it brings forth (never mind the fact that you’re love-knifing Mark Twain), it’s Huckleberry Finn. And yet, earlier this year, that blasphemous tome hit the shelves, no doubt to the delight of people who genuinely felt that they made the world a better place.

But back to Lovecraft. I first read him when I was 13 years old—and may I suggest that the best time to first read Lovecraft is during your teenage years? At a time when you cannot contemplate a world past what Sally Jo Finklestein thinks of the joke you made in math class today, having an author get into your head who’s message is one of entropy, decay, and the fact that humanity is so much a flyspeck in an uncaring universe can be both terrifying and liberating.

What it didn’t make me want to do was go beat up black people. Neither did Robert E. Howard, another writer frequently thrown under the bus for his beliefs. Ditto Edgar Rice Burroughs. Again, the take away for me was very different. Or maybe it wasn’t so different from everyone else. Once it was pointed out to me that Lovecraft was xenophobic, “The Horror at Red Hook” suddenly made perfect sense. Hand in hand with that was the more ubiquitous fear of miscenegation. Now the Deep Ones in “The Shadow Over Innsmouth” had a more sinister undertone—from Lovecraft’s point of view, that is.

Lovecraft was trying to scare us. And he tried to scare us with what scared him. But in the end, it wasn’t how he felt about blacks or Jews that lives on after his death. Don’t believe me? Google “Cthulhu merchandise.” Go on, I’ll wait. Now click on the “Images” tab. What just popped up on your screen? Plush, stuffed dolls? Dice bags? Games? Hats? Bumper stickers? Look closely at all of that merchandise and see if you can find the word “Nigger” on any of it. No, let me save you the trouble. You won’t.

Lovecraft’s legacy is not his views of anyone who was different from him. It was his magnum opus, “The Call of Cthulhu” and the pop culture juggernaut that it spawned. The word “Lovcraftian” has become synonymous with “a myriad of tentacles.”  Sure, we can read something into that, too, I suppose…but really, I find all of this knee-jerk tar and feathering a bit tedious, and moreover, a little insulting.

Jack London is still taught in schools across the country. White Fang and The Call of the Wild are standards in middle school. His short stories about boxing are considered classics.  And yet, Jack London was vocally and verbally opposed to a black heavyweight boxing champion, and wrote a number of articles that ran in Hearst newspapers across the country urging Jim Jeffries to come out of retirement and “wipe the golden smile off of Johnson’s face.”

And yet, no one is calling for London’s works to be pulled from the shelves. Wasn’t he, too, a racist? Of course, he wasn’t the only one, and certainly not in the first two decades of the twentieth century. He was merely stating in print what the vast majority of white men in this country already thought. He was, inarguably, of his time and place.  

Bottom line: the writers who survived the pulp jungles did so because there was something in their work that would not let it die. There was something about what they wrote that spoke to, and continues to speak to, new generations of people. There are bound to be some rough edges to the work. After all, we’re talking about material written before World War II, before the Nuremberg trials, before the introduction of The Great Society in 1964, before the inauguration of Barak Obama in 2008. It can seem far removed from our modern world, but it’s not. It was only 50 years ago that the Civil Rights Movement brought the idea of equal rights for blacks into the mainstream. In other words, my dad’s generation. We are not so far along as people think. But my question to you is this: will condemning pulp authors for racism move us further down that path?

I don’t know if this will add anything to the debate, or if I’m suddenly going to be called a racist for not agreeing that the statue needs to be changed. But if anyone wants to pile on, do so in the comments.

Monday, December 12, 2011

A Christmas story for the holidays

Auld Acquaintance
By Mark Finn

Peter Crampus walked through the chaos and cacophony, his head down, his shoulders hunched. All around him clots of people swirled and eddied, their brows furrowed, their eyes dark and feral atop fixed smiles. Arms, elbows, and hips were thrown in a desperate attempt to make room, to gain purchase, to seize, to loot. Muttered curses, shouts of glee, howls of outrage, and maniacal laughter all conversed into a formless wall of sound that drowned out the meager strains of “Silent Night” being pumped through the department store’s intercom system. Nobody cared, anyway. There was nothing so distracting that could have captured the attention of any person present. It was Black Friday, and it was war.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Now taking Pre-Orders for Blood and Thunder second edition

The Spiffy-Looking Second Ed.

Hey folks, for those of you who are interested, you can now pre-order the signed and numbered limited edition of Blood & Thunder: The Life and Art of Robert E. Howard, second edition. Greatly expanded and updated, this handsome hardcover is published by the Robert E. Howard Foundation Press. To place your pre-order, follow this link here:

There will most likely be a standard (that is to say non-signed and numbered) edition, but that comes later in 2012. If you are collecting the REH Foundation volumes, then you want to grab this copy to keep your numbering up.

I'm so happy this book is going to be available again to the legion of REH fans out there who are still indoctrinated by L. Sprague de Camp's various snarky asides in the introductions to the Lancer Conan books. And if anyone out there would like to buy a copy and send it to John Howe, you'd have my eternal admiration and respect.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

A Very Quick Sneak Peek at Blood & Thunder Second Edition

More details coming soon, but for now, here's a sneak peek at the cover, designed by the redoubtable team Jim and Ruth Keegan:

Oh yes, that will do just fine, thanks!