Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Coming soonish to a bookstore near you

Coming soonish to a bookstore near you: Well, okay, not soonish. Maybe digitally in a few months, but in print... next year at the earliest.  I don't care - I'm so jazzed!

Because... this is how it begins.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Writing tip: Don't get writer's block!

It's easy to become discouraged when it comes to writing. The more a writer doesn't write, the more discouraging it gets. It grinds you down until you can't get a single word out. And then the worst. You realize you've contracted that deadliest of diseases: Writer's block.
Don't let writer's block happen to you! Take action now! Tell your doctor about.... 

Seriously - there is an almost magical thing that can cure you. That thing isn't abracadabra, it's deadline.

As it happens I've spent most of the last 17 years as a non-fiction writer, working for people with deadlines. Deadlines are tough. If I screwed up on my deadline I'd screw my client's deadline. Out in the real world, that can make or break a writer. Miss just one deadline and a client might go looking for someone else. Reputations take a long time to build but it takes just one flubbed deadline to ruin. Tough as the demands of deadlines are, I nevertheless grew to appreciate the value of having time constraints imposed on me. It meant I didn't have time to become discouraged because I had to write.

But then I decided I wanted to write fiction.

Things are different when you're home alone writing a story or a novel for yourself instead of for a client. Suddenly there are no deadlines. What a luxury to be able to write without the pressure! Unfortunately, believing there's a lot of time to write can end up as an excuse to put off doing any actual writing. When the day is done and there are no new words on the page it can be discouraging. When that happens the next day, and the next, well, you know what happens. Nothing.

Writer's block: it's real, but it's self-inflicted. It's kind of like push-starting a car. Getting those wheels rolling is hard, but once the vehicle's moving it's not so tough to keep it moving. There's even a natural law about it and that kinda sorta applies to writing, too.

When it comes to writing, you have to write to keep writing. Once you've started, do not stop!

Even writing on social media has value for a writer if it's more than emoticons and one-word comments. For me, writing about writing (as I am here), promoting myself as a writer, launching a Patreon account (it's coming soon!), and getting a professional editor to review my work gives me that deadline feeling. So does belonging to writing groups and having first readers I've promised a next chapter by such and such a date.

So when I find myself doubting, when I sense that discouraged feeling, I've found the very best thing I can do is sit down and just write something. Anything. A blog post, even. I drum up that deadline feeling and I push myself to get it done. Pressure. It's the magic cure.

♪ Under Pressure (Queen, with David Bowie)



Sunday, April 30, 2017

Not just your mother's potato salad

Making certain old standard dishes at my mother's house is a risky business. You know the dishes in question -- comfort foods, the dishes that always remind you of home and family and good times (whether they were truly good or just in selective memory). These foods vary from culture to culture, from family to family. For me, it's turkey stuffing, mac and cheese, meatloaf, bow ties (a vaguely Italian dish named for the pasta that is used), potato salad. These are foods that never taste quite right at your best friend's house, or the way your mother-in-law or your neighbors make it. No restaurant makes those dishes properly.

These are the dishes that you want to make just like Mom made. These are the dishes that give meaning to the phrase "you can never go home again".

It is potato salad of which I write.

Let me start in the beginning, which is the logical place to start. Logic ends with that point.

It had been springtime here in New Mexico. I could tell because the calendar said it was late April. Not only that, but one of my apple trees had blossomed (unfortunately not the self-pollinating tree). It was a glorious display. My asparagus had sent up the first spears and I greedily ate the raw shoots moments after harvesting, because that's what you do with the first asparagus. Birdsong filled the air as they hunted for mates, flies buzzed around the horses, and the horses' tails were working as their winter coats flew off, hair by hair, into the warm breezes.

Definitely spring.

One afternoon when it was almost hot and felt kind of summerish, I got the notion that I had to have potato salad. Just like Mom used to make -- the only way it can be made, after all. The next time I went into town I bought a bag of organic Yukon golds. I couldn't make the dish right away, as I had to be out and about too much over the next few days, so I stored the potatoes in a cool, dark place till I needed them.

For three days I thought about potato salad, because it was spring.

Then it wasn't. New Mexico changed its mind. The thermometer dropped to 10° overnight. A frigid wind blew through my valley straight from the North Pole, not even pausing at the spaces in the wall of my cabin. I had to build a fire in the wood stove, the first time in weeks. Fortunately I hadn't gotten around to moving the logs outside yet. Procrastination does have value.

By morning there was a few inches of snow, and though the sky was blue at that point it clouded over shortly and snowed again. Several times.


Somehow the notion of making a batch of potato salad wasn't as attractive as, say, a hot pot of thick potato soup. Not that I made the soup. I made cornbread instead, but that's another story.

Springtime again... maybe

And thoughts returned to potato salad. I decided to go for it.

Mom's recipe is pretty simple, but it must be exactingly followed. That's the risky part about making one of these family recipes if you're at Mom's house. She wants it to be made just like she has always made it. And so does the rest of the family. No fooling around. No experimentation. Just tried and true.

Well. 

If you've read other stories of my cooking here, you no doubt are aware that following directions is not exactly my thing. I wasn't at Mom's and what she didn't know wouldn't hurt her. Plus I didn't have all the ingredients.

I'm sure you're wondering how that could be, since I had been wanting the potato salad for a week and I had been to the grocery store in that time. I can only say that I didn't feel like buying mayonnaise. I rarely use the stuff and so any leftovers after making this recipe would just go to waste. I figured I could fake it. That's pretty much my approach to life anyway, so why not with potato salad?

Why go by the rules when you can invent something new? Choosing a route off the beaten path is always entertaining. Yes, there's the risk of getting lost, of attacks by dragons or saber-toothed tigers, of death rays and carnivorous plants, quicksand and... you get the picture. But adventure! Excitement! And the possibility of treasure.

No different with cooking, though that's just my opinion. I've had my failures (I just threw out a batch of sourdough that refused to rise and was sad that even after a second chance it chose to remain a lump of flour and water). I've had some dubious results that probably no one but me would like. But sometimes... treasure!

Okay, today's potato salad isn't everybody's treasure. For one thing, I don't put sugar in it, for another -- faked ingredients. But I did have potatoes. And celery. That was a good start, right?  The rest of the ingredients were what I had in my fridge and in my garden that survived the snow.

Ingredients (all organic)
  • 3 lbs gold potatoes
  • salt
  • celery
  • garlic tops
  • green onions
  • white vinegar (a couple tablespoons at most)
  • Icelandic yogurt (or other plain yogurt)
  • dill pickle juice (a couple tablespoons at most)
  • sour cream
  • black pepper, ground
  • olive oil (a couple tablespoons at most)
[EDIT: 05/01:  Last night I decided the recipe would benefit from some olive oil, since oil is one of the ingredients in mayo.  So I did add a splash or two and that gave a richer taste.]

Directions
  1. Boil potatoes till cooked but still firm - if you're going to want salt in your recipe, add some to the water. 
  2. Cut potatoes into little chunks when cool enough to handle. 
  3. Sprinkle a small amount of white vinegar over potato pieces and mix. Cover and cool, mixing occasionally so the vinegar will be absorbed uniformly.
  4. Chop celery into thin slices.
  5. Chop garlic tops into small pieces.
  6. Chop green onions into small pieces.
  7. Add the chopped ingredients and the rest to the potatoes when cool.  You'll have to experiment with quantities so add the yogurt, pickle juice, and sour cream in small amounts, tasting as you go.
  8. Chill before serving.
Note about Icelandic yogurt: It was in the grocery store and I hadn't seen it before. It had interesting stuff on the container including a list of all the nasty stuff that wasn't in it. It's thick, like Greek yogurt. I liked it and will get more.
My mother would not approve of my potato salad. She would taste it and be polite, but I know she'd be comparing to her own. Mine would come up a faint second best. But you know, I haven't lived at home for a long, long time. I've been making potato salad for decades and each time I make it I follow my own taste buds. At first my potato salads and all the other comfort food dishes did taste like Mom's. Over time they evolved. Sometimes the changes came about because I didn't have the exact ingredients, sometimes because I had no reference to compare to. Mom lives far away and I don't get to enjoy her cooking much anymore.

And you know, when I do go home and eat a meal there, I compare her dishes to mine. And I wonder why what she makes doesn't taste like it used to.


[EDIT 05/01/17:  Google for some reason won't let me comment or reply to comments on my own blog!  So don't assume because I don't reply that I haven't read your comments!]


Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Hopeless and helpless

This is my desk. I didn't set it up for the shot. It is what it always is, except that occasionally things get moved or replaced.

Over on the left almost out of the picture is bottled Starbucks coffee. In the morning it'll be brewed coffee, with the bottle for later if the French roast wasn't enough. If I develop caffeine jitters I'll change over to room-temperature weak green tea till it's time for my evening glass (or two or three) of Merlot. Unless it's a hot day and then maybe a beer, though not often 'cause I'm not much of a beer drinker.

You'll note the coffee is sitting on top of my day planner. I'm very good at writing things down in the planner, not so good at paying any attention to what's scheduled. Quite often there are coffee rings on the pages. I can't explain it, but there's something about the warping of a day's page from the dampening and drying that I find attractive.

Behind the planner and the coffee is my Kindle. Mostly it's off, but there's always one app running in the background -- it's called Ship's Clock and it's the coolest thing ever. It chimes every half an hour, emulating the old fashioned sound of a ship's bell that regulated the sailors' duty watches (do ships still use those bells? I don't know). It took me a long time to learn how to tell time with it but I can do it now. Except that if I don't pay attention I don't even hear the chimes. But I like it anyway.

I've got an atomic clock because otherwise I'd never know what day it was, or month, or the date. I have to check that clock before I look at the calendar on the wall because come on, if you don't already know what day it is how can you tell from a calendar on the wall? Sometimes I need to know what time it is in between bells, too (and yeah, sometimes I need to know what time the bells are supposed to be telling me).  The atomic clock provides temperature too, but my laptop's fan blows on it so it's not reliable. Besides, I'm sitting in the house -- I can feel what it feels like in here without help.

Vitamins and other supplements. Those are empty bottles waiting for me to remember to reorder. I really should get around to it.

Rune stones. Why? I don't know. They seem cool. I'm no good at reading them (or tarot cards or any such predictive tools), but I could learn if I keep at it long enough. After all, I learned the ship's clock. The meanings of the runes are in my Kindle. Handy device, the Kindle. I hear a person can read books on it. Just kidding -- I do occasionally do that, but ewwww. Books on a little screen? Give me paper any day.

The laptop's on a metal stand. The theory is that the metal will help conduct heat from the laptop. Seems to me it gets awfully hot anyway. On either side and behind the the laptop are my speakers, and hidden behind the laptop is the monitor for my XP machine, which I can't quite convince myself to get rid of. To the right of the screen is the ailing, failing desktop computer tower. It's hard to see because of the stuff leaning against it. I do remove it all if I turn the old computer on, but that happens less and less anymore.

Do you see the cute koala bear peeking up from behind the papers? I don't recall where I got it but it has to live on my desk. I don't know why. Poor thing is buried in old mail and project binders. My theory is that if I have them nearby, I will someday open the envelopes or the binder covers. In practice I only do that when I get a threat about a bill that's due, or if a deadline for a project is fast approaching.

I've got a half dozen CDs waiting to be ripped so I can listen to them. I'm using MediaMonkey nowadays instead of iTunes. Mostly because I resent the lack of flexibility of iTunes. Apple so thinks it is better than everything else. Sorry, all I want to do is be able to find the music I've got in my computer and play it. I don't need your proprietary smugness, iTunes.

There's my daily journal and my moon phase calendar. There's a drawer under the laptop with a bunch of cables and lip balm. Somewhere under everything should be my Passport external drive. Hmmm. Haven't seen that for a while. But it's there, I'm sure.

The Writer's Market. But of course. Because someday I will actually need to market some of the stuff I write. But not today. Why? Because it's scary. Because it's hard. Because I have to clean my desk before I can get serious.


Tuesday, February 21, 2017

RIP Mr. Potatohead

Okay, to be truthful, this potato was always going to be sacrificed. I just thought it would be dinner, not compost.

This was my third try at baking potatoes in the ashes of the wood-stove. The first two were great, honest. This potato is hard as a rock and weighs next to nothing, just like a charcoal briquette.

I like the idea of baking potatoes while simultaneously heating the house and heating water. Wood stoves are great that way.

But let me be clear about this: Just because it's buried in ashes in the wood stove and you aren't paying for gas or electricity to bake it doesn't mean you can forget that it's there.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Mexican wolf program: Bound to fail, but not because of ranchers

Mexican wolf release 2017
photo: White Mountain Independent
These are not words that pro-wolf people like to hear, but they need to be said: The Mexican wolf program will fail. It was fated to fail right from the start.

Contrary to what some preach, it's not because of ranchers, or obstructionist local governments.

No, the program has been doomed from day one because of a false premise of biology, and a false promise to the public.

Background

In 2014 over 100 Mexican wolves were counted in the wild in New Mexico and Arizona. In 2015 there were fewer counted, but that doesn't mean that there were fewer wolves. By the nature of the methodology the count does not include all wolves. The count is performed by fly-over. A spotter plane finds a wolf pack, and the wolves are then counted from a helicopter. Obviously there is no way to get an accurate count with this method. Wolves don't stand still to be counted, they run every which way. Some may hide and not be counted at all. Some may be counted multiple times. Some wolves might simply never be spotted by the plane, especially those that are outside the official Mexican wolf area (like the ones that are in my area).

Whatever the count, Fish and Wildlife Service biologists say the number of wolves is too few to ensure a diverse gene pool for the species.  Environmental groups, like Defenders of Wildlife, say the release of captive-bred wolves is imperative to the genetic health of the wild Mexican gray wolf populations.

I say that no number of Mexican wolves will ever ensure a diverse gene pool.

You can't make something out of nothing.

Every single known Mexican wolf in the US, both in the wild and in captivity, is a descendant of a very limited gene pool of captive wolves. I do not know what the genetic spread of the Mexican wolf might be, because that seems to be a big secret that the public is never allowed in on even though we foot the bill through our tax dollars. But I do know that you can't create something out of nothing. You can't create a diverse gene pool for a species from a limited founding population.  

This is well known science. It's true for animals in the wild, so it's got to be true for Mexican wolves. Take the cheetah, for example. About 12,000 years ago, a mass extinction event caused an extreme reduction of the cheetah's genetic diversity. Today the cheetah suffers from what is called the "founder effect". This is when a new population is started by a few members of the original population. Such a small population size results in reduced genetic variation from the original population and a non-random sample of the genes in the original population.

Genetic diversity serves as a way for populations to adapt to changing environments. Lack of genetic diversity can, all by itself, lead to extinction for that population. All it would take is one disease that the cheetah population is genetically unable to resist. Lack of genetic diversity means that if some cheetahs can't handle the changes in their environment brought about by climate change -- something that's a fact of life right this very moment -- then the likelihood is that none of them could handle it.  As it happens, it appears that climate change has already adversely affected the ability of wild cheetahs to reproduce and to hunt.

Why would Mexican wolves be more resilient than cheetahs?

If 12,000 years isn't enough for cheetahs to recover genetic variation why in the world would any scientist pretend that 40 years of human selective breeding will build genetic variation in the Mexican wolf? Build it from what? You start with x amount of genetic variation and that's what you have to work with. There isn't going to ever be any more.

"From seven animals you have a reduced genetic diversity to begin with... we won’t increase genetic diversity unless we magically find a new animal, which we won’t,” Sherry Barrett, head of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife’s Mexican gray wolf Recovery Program, recently said.

There are over 300 Mexican wolves in captivity, some in zoos, some running semi-free in preserves. All of them live in controlled conditions and receive regular veterinary care.  If there was any point to raising more Mexican wolves, it could be readily done. But what's the point?  All the captive wolves come from the same founding population. They don't have different genes. Breeding more of them won't save the species because there will never be more genetic diversity than there is right now.

If the head of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife’s Mexican gray wolf Recovery Program knows that the program is not going to create genetic diversity, what is the program for?  To raise more animals for zoos? Mexican wolves are at tremendous risk in the wild and it would take very little to wipe them out. Putting more wolves in the wild, as Defenders of Wildlife and others want, won't change anything.

Albert Einstein may or may not have said “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results”.  It seems true no matter who said it.  So I have to ask:  Why do we continue to pour money into the Mexican wolf program that, purely on a scientific basis, is doomed to fail?  Isn't that kind of insane?



Saturday, February 4, 2017

We're all this way but...

There's still time to change the road we're on.

Click to enlarge image or read the text below

Once upon a time there was a woman (or maybe it was a man… doesn't matter) who didn't much like where she lived.

She was surrounded by pushy, misinformed people who nagged at her to come over to their side. She battled those people and their ways valiantly. She lashed out at their thinking, and she girded her loins (why do loins need girding, anyway?) for the inevitable backlash.  She defended herself artfully, seeking weaknesses in their stubborn beliefs to replace with her enlightened viewpoint. She used all the logic and reasoning she had, and she used facts, and bolstered them with the opinions of those who supported her own beliefs. 
Now, this woman (or man… doesn't matter) didn't really want to fight.  She truly longed to live a peaceful life. She yearned for the relief that moving on would provide her. But all she could see was the fight in front of her, and there was little time to spare for where she would rather be.

So she stayed immersed in the reality she hated.
Thus she never looked to the place where she wanted to be.

And so she never got there.

The opening line for this post is a paraphrase from Stairway to Heaven, of course.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Join Author Steven F. Havill 
2 events in Eagar AZ 
January 19 and 20, 2017

Thursday Jan. 19, 5:30 PM  
~ Round Valley Library book discussion (Heartshot) and chocolate chip cookie bakeoff
Friday Jan. 20, 11 AM - 1 PM
~ Wildfire Espresso Bar book signing.  Steve will have a variety of his books available to purchase


   Undersheriff Bill Gastner knows that Posadas County, New Mexico, is not your average peaceful backwater.  So when wild Ricky Fernandez and four other teens die in a mysterious car crash, Bill’s instincts tell him there’s more there than just a tragic drunk-driving accident.  Then a bag of cocaine turns up in the car, and Bill has his hands full with a publicity-happy new sheriff — and helping a newbie undercover cop find the drug’s source.

   But in a county reeling from unimaginable loss, people will do anything to see quick, brutal justice done.  Soon, a nightmarish revenge spree sparks murder and destroys a vital lead.  Now Bill races against time to bait a desperate last-chance trap.  And if confronting a murderer doesn’t kill this determined lawman, tragic obsession and an even deadlier enemy just might finish the job….


   Steven F. Havill is the author of over two dozen mysteries and westerns.  He has written two series of police procedurals set in the fictional Posadas County, New Mexico; along with other works. 
   If you’re a Longmire fan, you’ll love Steve Havill’s books!