Tim Cooper’s The Reader: War For The Oaks

Front cover

This is my first review for The Green Man Review, but I cannot help but feel I have somehow come full circle from the moment in a 2005 World Fantasy Convention bar when someone kept telling me how much they enjoyed my Green Man Review reviews and I kept mentioning they had the wrong Cat. Now all I can do is assume they traveled in time somehow. And so. Let’s look at a nifty book in the here and now, in what is hopefully the first of many reviews.

The Reader: War For The Oaks is a hardbound book presenting a photography project by Tim Cooper. It’s a slim little 8.5″x 11″ volume, clocking in at 96 pages. The pleasant interior design presents the photos nicely, along with some pretty arboreal details. The cover, whose design is unobjectionable but unremarkable, features a photo that lets the reader know exactly what the book is about: photos of people reading War For the Oaks in various Minneapolis locations.

There are a few books I have re-read so many times that they are an integral part of fantasy to me, and Emma Bull’s first novel, War for the Oaks is one of them, featuring Eddi McCandrey and her half-human, half-elvish band, the Fey. It was originally published in 1987; the paperback copy I’ve been carrying around for decades is battered and coverless now, but it was a pleasure to have the task of going back and reading it yet again in order to do this review.

I’m not alone in loving this story, and the book’s part in defining and shaping urban fantasy cannot be overestimated. Reading in many ways like a crisper, less Romantic version of Charles de Lint, Bull demonstrates in this book that despite being one of the quieter writers, she will become a major talent. Many nifty but commercially non-viable projects that we would miss if reliant only on traditional publishing have come out in recent years, often supported through crowdfunding; this one was a Kickstarter project. It’s delightful to see a project dedicated to the novel in this way, celebrating how much the book has meant to many readers.

Which is perhaps my major caveat. This book will enchant, down to their very toes and beyond, those who love Bull’s novel and know the city as well. Cooper’s photos show locations from the book in an order corresponding to the novel’s chronology, each time with people reading War for the Oaks somewhere in the picture. For someone who loves the book in part because of its setting, the sole disappointment may be that the photo are low enough resolution that sometimes it is difficult to make everything out.

Back cover

Familiar with the book but not so much with the city? Mileage will vary here, depending both on one’s degree of affection for the book as well as how firmly the reader is attached to their vision of things. Someone with a mental vision that is particularly strong, in fact, might find it jarring to have it contradicted by these pictures.

Familiar only with the city? Here again mileage will vary radically depending on factors like how interested one is in examples of projects like this or if one is a book collector specializing in fantasy and science fiction (in which case, you’ve probably had the novel on your list but just never got around to it). Lovely extra details scatter themselves here and there throughout the book, as well as photos featuring other authors like Elizabeth Bear, Stephen Brust, PamelaDean, Marissa Lingen, Scott Lynch, and Patricia C. Wrede. Essays by Dean, Sigrid Ellis, Sarah Olsen and Katherine St. Asaph appear at the back, along with a poem by Alec Austin.

Familiar only with the city? Here again mileage will vary radically depending on factors like how interested one is in examples of projects like this or if one is a book collector specializing in fantasy and science fiction (in which case, you’ve probably had the novel on your list but just never got around to it). Lovely extra details scatter themselves here and there throughout the book, as well as photos featuring other authors like Elizabeth Bear, Stephen Brust, PamelaDean, Marissa Lingen, Scott Lynch, and Patricia C. Wrede. Essays by Dean, Sigrid Ellis, Sarah Olsen and Katherine St. Asaph appear at the back, along with a poem by Alec Austin.

I’ve stuck this on one of my shelves of favorite F&SF next to that battered paperback copy of War for the Oaks, because it’s definitely a keeper. Next time I’m at a con with the author, I may even take it along, because having it signed by the person whose book inspired so much passion would make it even niftier.

(Tired Tapir Press, 2014)

You can read this review at http://thegreenmanreview.com/books/recent-reading-eddi-and-the-feys-revival-tour/

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Michael DeLuca’s Reckoning 2: Creative Writing on Environmental Justice

Reckoning 2: Creative Writing on Environmental Justice is solid in weight and content. The stories, poetry, essays, and art deal with the world around us and our ethics in dealing with it. This refined focus sharpens the magazine’s impact, I think, and makes it something that tries to evoke change through its art rather than the shallow comfort afforded by something whose theme was simply “Nature”.

The annual’s mission statement is A locus for the conflict between the world as it has become and the world as we wanted it to be. Editor Michael DeLuca’s opening editor’s note, “On Having a Kid in the Climate Apocalypse,” deals with a life situation that makes that mission even more pressing: having a kid:

My son is three months old. He has no idea what the world is, what it has become. I can say anything in front of him. I can curse. I can cry. He’s happy or he’s sad. there’s no cause and effect. I can read to him from A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, a book that spends hundreds of pages drawing an analogy between a child growing up and an invasive tree species flourishing in a sidewalk crack, a book full of compassion for the poor hated by the rich, casual about the hatred it portrays for people of other cultures. He doesn’t understand a word.

The essay is intimate, frank, and willing to comtemplate its own imperfections:

Maybe this revelation isn’t for everyone. Maybe not everyone needs it. Maybe, to people who aren’t white, aren’t straight, aren’t privileged children of educated families, some of this is so painfully obvious. I’ve spent this essay embarrassing myself. I needed it. I needed to write it. I needed my assumptions undermined and broken up and reassembled around someone who wasn’t me.

While there are several essays in the magazine, all of them nicely put together and executed, my favorite pieces from the issue are all stories:

“Wispy Chastening” by D.A. Xiaolin Spires is slight but significant, much like the narrator’s crimes against the environment, turning this into a sharp look at the idea of thinking globally but acting locally, or even individually.

“To the Place of Skulls” by Innocent Ilo provides an Afrofuturist post-apocalyptic world where its protagonists visit a landscape of grit and myth:

We are going to the Place of Skulls: Saro-Wiwa, Babbe, Gokana, Ken, Nyo, Ueme, Tai, and myself. For you to know, this is not the place Bro Lucas said Jesus was crucified when he was spitting into my face from the broken lectern during his sermon, last Sunday. The Place of Skulls is where a stark reality stares us in the face. We all have after-school exhaustion, Babbe’s diarrhea has worsened, Gokana is still nursing the burns on his legs from our last visit and Mama will yank at my ear if she hears fim about it, but we must go. The Place of Skulls is that important.

“Girl Singing with Farm” by Kathrin Köhler broke my heart and yet I know I’ll go back and read it several more times. What seems like it may be simplistic turns into a beautiful, layered story with a final image that will linger with the reader.

I’m saving the best for last and that is the story “Fourth-Dimensional Tessellations of the American College Graduate” by Marie Vibbert. I love this story so much that I am not going to discuss a single detail except that the ending made my heart leap and it is my favorite story of 2018 so far. I will hold onto my copy of this magazine forever because it contains it.

Highly recommended for those enjoying more literary SF as well as thoughtful essays.

(Reckoning Press, 2017)

You can read this review at http://thegreenmanreview.com/books/recent-reading-reckoning-2/

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Catherynne M. Valente’s Space Opera

It is difficult to describe how Catherynne M. Valente’s new book Space Opera manages to be so wonderfully resonant of Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy yet so insistently, inimitably her own. And yet, that’s the challenge.

Valente’s skill manifests in a book that bounces right along, full of glorious, funny, wonderful, sparkly explosions of humor and wit that still, just as Adams always did, manages to say Insightful and Interesting Things about Human Nature. And it’s funny. Did I mention that this is a funny book? It’s the story of failing rock singer Decibel Jones and his dysfunctional band, the Absolute Zeroes, who have been chosen to represent their world in an interstellar challenge that determines whether or not the Earth will be destroyed.

But it’s more than an updated Adams. It’s a little deeper and a lot better about things like gender pronouns and interestingly diverse cast. It has much more fashion and quirky stylistic details than HHGG, with fabulous living starships that resemble coral reefs, so much music of so many kinds, and enough eyeball kicks on every page that one fears sometimes for the safety of one’s figurative vision.

The first two chapters are admittedly slow going. The book doesn’t really find its legs until a bit into chapter three, after we’ve finally been introduced to protagonist Jones “lying passed out on the floor of his flat in a vintage bronze-black McQueen bodysuit surrounded by kebab wrappers, four hundred copies of his last solo album, Auto-Erotic Transubstantiation, bought back from the studio for pennies on the pound, and half empty bottles of rosé.”

At this point the alien invasion that’s been textually hovering in the wings for a while hears its cue and manifests:

…in everyone’s rooms at once at two in the afternoon on a Thursday in late April. One minute the entire planet was planet-ing along, making the best of things, frying eggs or watching Countdown or playing repetitive endorphin-slurping games or whatnot on various devices, and the next there was a seven-foot-tall ultramarine half-flamingo, half-anglerfish thing standing awkwardly on the good rug. Crystal-crusted bones showed through its feathery chest, and a wet, gelatinous jade flower wobbled on its head like an old woman headed off to church. It stared at every person in the world, intimately and individually out of big, dark, fringed eyes sparkling with points of pale light, eyes as full of unnameable yearning and vulnerability as any Disney princess’s.

This passage demonstrates the clean virtuosity of Valente’s prose in Space Opera. I’ve loved her other works, particularly The Orphan’s Tales, but this is a very different style for her and it’s truly impressive to see her execute it with the same seemingly effortless grace. Omniscient point of view is handled beautifully, and shows how well suited it is to large scale works like this one.

Space Opera will delight Valente’s fans and undoubtedly bring a new crowd her way, because it’s just plain good and funny and wonderful. I can’t imagine what Valente will pick for her next project. At this point I’m convinced she could make a set of instructions for assembling an IKEA dresser beautiful and engrossing. And I’m looking forward to that read.

(Saga Press, 2018; available April 3)

You can read review at http://thegreenmanreview.com/books/catherynne-m-valentes-space-opera/

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Recent New Processes and the Results: How I’m Managing 5k Words a Day

I came back from PNWA this year inspired by talking to Chris Fox, author of 5,000 Words an Hour, and adopted a new writing process, which has several parts. I want to emphasize that I’m pretty sure this is not a process that’s going to work for everyone. I have, for example, major luxuries such as a) no children, b) the financial resources for a gym membership, c) the time to make use of that membership as well as devoting a significant chunk of my time to writing, and d) good health and reasonably good energy levels. If this process sounds like one that might work for you though, I highly suggest you check out both the book as well as others by Chris Fox.

So here’s what I do.

  • I get up at 5:30 AM and drive over to the gym to work out, doing a mix of elliptical and rowing machine, mainly about 45 minutes to an hour’s worth. In recent days, when the fog has been thick, I’ve chosen to do an hour’s brisk walk instead. Yes, it is dark, and cold, and miserable. No, I am not looking forward to colder weather and having to de-ice things.
  • I come back here, eat my yogurt, start a pot of coffee, and begin writing with absolutely no Internet allowed, whether on phone or computer.
  • I write in Scrivener, (writing software I’ve been using for over a decade now, available for both Mac and Windows OS) and I set myself a goal of 5,000 words, keeping the word count tracking window open so I can see the progress.
  • I do a lot of 30 minute writing sprints, where I spend a few minutes beforehand figuring out what I want to accomplish in the scene I’ll be writing. Some of that will be typed, but if the flow is going well, I may switch over to dictation, using the Mac’s dictation feature, which I’ve come to favor over Dragon Dictate.
  • Usually by 9 or 9:30 AM I hit the 3k word mark, and at that point, let myself walk over to a local coffee shop to pick up a latte and a pastry. It’s a 10 minute walk (and that’s another luxury I have, pleasant and safe surroundings for such a walk.) I can text my spouse at this point, but no Internet access still, even when waiting in line at the coffee shop.
  • Sometimes I’m not sure I’ll hit my 5k mark by 11 AM but most of the time I do. (If I don’t, I keep writing till I do.)
  • I reward myself for hitting my goals, usually with something on a weekly basis, but I’ve also been known to promise myself a treat for the day if it’s hard going. The rewards of late are Breyer horses, which is something that I would normally never allow myself to splurge on. Apparently my inner twelve-year-old is a powerful motivator.

The Breyer that started it all, “The Girl from Ipanema” form th Equestral line.

Doing this has pretty consistently yielded 5,000 words each weekday along with another 5,000 spread out over the weekend, with the experience of the past few days, when I was at a writing conference but still managed two early morning workouts and 2,000 words. Currently I’m at over 93,000 words for the month of October. I’ve finished two books since PNWA: an adult novel as well as a middle grade one, and am currently 22,000 words into the sequel to the former.

I’m more productive overall and less likely to put stuff off (I think). Chris quotes Mark Twain as saying “Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.” And it’s true. Get it and soldier through something not particularly palatable, and other stuff becomes easier. It does seem that, for me, working on strengthening my willpower is paying off. Staying off the internet is better overall for my sanity I think; I know I’ve pretty much stopped paying any attention to the trollios because there’s just not enough time in the day and wrangling with them is pointless anyhow.

And what I’m writing is pretty good! Writing that fast means it’s fresher in my head and I’m less likely to lose my way or forget bits I’ve added, The “making it all fit together pass” is easier than with manuscripts written over more time.

So why say all this? Am I taunting you with my productivity? Absolutely not. But I am saying – I started pushing myself a little harder and I was surprised how much farther I could go by doing something that put me in my body and then avoiding distractions and focusing on writing in an undiluted way, free of email distraction. There was no mail so important it could not wait until 11 AM.

I did learn to get better about getting set up ahead of time, making sure my gym clothes were laid out, my headphones ready, and that I knew where Wayne had parked the car each night. One morning I ended up going to the gym in damp clothes and feeling quite virtuous; I’ve also been feeling a lot healthier, stronger, and more energetic as a result of this regime.

I also don’t beat myself up if I miss track. I didn’t write as much as I wanted to at Surrey, but I also spent some time napping and reading in order to maintain my energy level and stay at my best during the conference. Today it was so foggy that I didn’t drive over to the gym — but I still managed to get my 5k in, so hooray for me. Tomorrow will be another day.

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Writing Steampunk That’s More Than A Glint Of Gears: Resources for Finding the Other In Steampunk and Weird Western

One of my projects this year has been fleshing out the on-demand version of the live class I teach, “Hex Engines & Spell-Slingers: Writing Steampunk and Weird Western.” I recently finished up the project and wanted to share some of the results.

Here’s the sections and the suggested reading lists. Continue reading

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An Armload of Fur and Leaves

In the last year or so, I found a genre that hadn’t previously been on my radar, but which I really enjoy: furry fiction. Kyell Gold had put up his novel Black Angel on the SFWA member forums, where members post their fiction so other members have access to it when reading for awards, and I enjoyed it tremendously. The novel, which is part of a trilogy about three friends, each haunted in their own way, showed me the emotional depth furry fiction is capable of and got me hooked. Accordingly, when I started reviewing for Green Man Review, I put out a Twitter call and have been working my way through the offerings from several presses.

Notable among the piles are the multiplicity by T. Kingfisher, aka Ursula Vernon, and two appear in this armload. Clockwork Boys, Clocktaur War Book One (Argyll Productions, 2017) is the promising start to a fantasy trilogy featuring a lovely understated romance between a female forger and a paladin, while Summer in Orcus (Sofawolf Press, cover and interior art by Lauren Henderson) is aimed at younger readers and will undoubtedly become one of those magical books many kids will return to again and again, until Vernon is worshipped by generations and prepared to conquer the world. Honestly, I will read anything Kingfisher/Vernon writes, and highly recommend following her on Twitter, where she is @UrsulaV.

Huntress by Renee Carter Hall (Furplanet), which originally appeared in 2015, and whose title novella was nominated in the 2014 Ursa Major Awards and Cóyotl Awards, is a collection of novella plus several shorter stories. I’d love more in this fascinating and thought-provoking world, particularly following the novella’s heroine, the young lioness Leya, and the sisterhood of the huntresses, the karanja.

Always Gray in Winter by Mark J. Engels (Thurston Howell Publications, October, 2017) demonstrates one of the difficulties with furry fiction, which is the reader’s uncertainty where to site the fact of furry characters, primarily whether to take them as a given or have some underlying science to it, such as bio-modified creatures. Here Pawly is a were-cat, but the unfamiliar reader is forced to spend so much time figuring out whether this is something people take for normal or not that the story sometimes gets confusing, and with multiple POV shifts, the reader keeps having to re-orient themself. It’s tight, sparse military SF that readers familiar with the conventions of the genre will find compelling, entertaining, and quickly paced; newer readers may find themselves floundering a bit.

The Furry Future, edited by Fred Patten (Furplanet, 2015) is a solid and entertaining anthology that showcases how widely ranging the stories that use the rationale behind the existence of anthropomorphic beings as part of the narrative can be. Authors in the collection include Michael H. Payne, Watts Martin, J. F. R. Coates, Nathanael Gass, Samuel C. Conway, Bryan Feir, Yannarra Cheena, MikasiWolf, Tony Greyfox, Alice “Huskyteer” Dryden, NightEyes DaySpring, Ocean Tigrox, Mary E. Lowd, Dwale, M. C. A. Hogarth, T. S. McNally, Ronald W. Klemp, Fred Patten, and David Hopkins with illustrations by Roz Gibson and cover art by Teagan Gavet. This book is one that scholars writing about furry fiction will want to be including on their reading lists for reasons including its focus, its authors, the snapshot of the current furry fiction scene that it provides, and the variety of approaches to anthropomorphic body modification.

Along with the furry fiction, I wanted to point to an indie humorous horror collection that is one of the most specifically themed I have yet encountered, Ill Met by Moonlight by Gretchen Rix (Rix Cafe Texican, 2016), which features evil macadamia nut trees, including “Macadamias on the Move,” “Ill Met by Moonlight,” and “The Santa Tree” in a lovely sample of how idiosyncratic a sub-sub-niche can get. The production values of this slim little book show what a nice job an indie can do with a book and include a black and white illustration for each story.

You can read this review at http://thegreenmanreview.com/books/armload-of-fur-and-leaves/

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Stonewall Kitchen Dark Chocolate Chili Cinnamon and Nibs Bar

I’ve never reviewed a chocolate bar before and I will, furthermore, confess a shameful love for plain Hershey’s bars that dates back to the time my grandmother was first left with me unattended and violated my mother’s up-to-that-point successful “no candy” policy.

However, the Stonewall Kitchens Dark Chocolate Chili Cinnamon and Nibs bar is a very far thing from that Hershey’s bar. It is dark as a stormy night, but carries a surprising amount of heat (of the various chili-augmented chocolate bars I’ve tried, it is the most fiery.) The darkness is a mellow one, developing a deliciously unctuous mouth feel. This is a nibbling bar, to be savored, bit by bit, each time edging up to almost too spicy and then backing away at the last moment.

My only nitpick with the chocolate bar overall would be that the cocoa nibs add texture, but I’m not sure I found them necessary. They seemed more like dry little distractions from the chocolate experience.

The ingredient list is substantially shorter and freer of long chemical names than that Hershey bar: dark chocolate, cocoa nibs, chipotle chili pepper powder, cinnamon powder, and cinnamon bark oil adding up to 440 calories for the three-ounce bar. Definitely a bar that I’d buy again if the opportunity presented itself, and it makes me curious to try their other products.

You can read this review at http://thegreenmanreview.com/food-and-drink/stonewall-kitchen-dark-chocolate-chili-cinnamon-and-nibs-bar/

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Guest Post: To France and Beyond

I was one of the very few kids who were able to graduate early from high school. Very few high schools in Minnesota had been doing this during my last year of school. My school, a fairly large school in a podunk town, was one of the very last schools to offer this service, and I was one of the lucky ones to get out.

Some of my friends and I from St. Andrews.

The year before my senior year I had been accepted to a creative program in Scotland. It was by far, the best experience I have ever had. Not only was I staying at St. Andrews, I was surrounded by like minded people. Plus, I got to take really amazing classes with some of the brightest people I’ve ever known. That was where I met some of my best friends, who throughout the past year or so I have still kept in contact with.

Magali giving me a Marvel movie education.

One of my very good friends that I met at St. Andrews, Magali, lives in a small town a little outside Paris. A week or two after the program ended, Magali and I messaged and video chatted as much as we could due to time zone changes. At this point, I had gotten my first job and she was getting ready to go back to school.

One night, we were messaging and suddenly, I had reached an epiphany. I had been working almost everyday at my job and had enough money for a plane ticket to Paris. My fingers anxiously typed and waited for a response. Magali couldn’t have been more ecstatic with the idea! That night we planned a time to chat to talk in more details about the trip.

Pax and I at the beach at St. Andrews.

I had known at the time that I had enough credits to graduate early, so from that point on, I set my goal in mind and focused on my trip. Magali and I had told all of our friends about me visiting. We had started to get the gang back together. Our friend Jane traveled from the Czech Republic to stay with us for a week and then our friend Pax from London had taken the train to stay with us for a weekend.

So, in March when I graduated, I continued to save up for a month before I made the nine hour plane ride there. Every day was exhausting, mentally and physically. I had been working eight hours a day, five days away. My feet burned after every shift and after each day it felt like the days kept getting longer. I had been working in customer service for about almost a year and my high school job had almost got the best of me. It had gotten to the point where I was taking more orders than I could handle.

But in the end it was all worth it.

Jane, Magali and I at the Eiffel Tower.

I took a trip that some people don’t do until they retire. The best part was that I did all by myself. I planned, budgeted and saved up for it all by myself. It was one of the most empowering experiences I’ve ever had. I was seventeen and had a month long sleepover with my best friends. I couldn’t of wished for a better trip.

I spent the days walking around Paris, going to Kpop shops, going to art museums and most importantly, eating a lot of food. I remember we went to the Lourve where Magali demanded we take a picture of her flipping off the Mona Lisa. I had also spent a week going to school with Magali and meeting all of her friends, who were all wonderful and kind people to be around. They tried teaching me French, but my pronunciation was always way off.

Magali and Jane flipping off the Mona Lisa.

I encourage any young women to take a trip like the one I had. It was one of the most eye opening and jaw dropping experiences I have ever had. In the end, you only get very few chances to do something like this and you should take advantage of that.

Molly Baumgardner is a young writer and cat enthusiast. You can read some of her work at https://www.wattpad.com/user/awesomewriter65

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Where I’ll Be: OryCon 40

Here’s my schedule! If you want to meet up, please talk to me about it BEFORE the con; by the time the convention rolls around, I am always booked pretty solidly.

Sat Nov 10 10:00:am
Have a morning coffee with your fans!
Alma Alexander Cat Rambo Diana Pharaoh Francis Dr. Jessica Hebert Manny Frishberg

Sat Nov 10 11:00:am
Cat Rambo Reading
152 Readings
Cat Rambo reads from her works.

Sat Nov 10 2:00:pm
Let’s Talk SFWA
What is the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) and what can it do for you, the genre writer?
Cat Rambo Curtis C. Chen Jim Fiscus Mark Niemann-Ross

Sat Nov 10 4:00:pm
Autograph Session 6
Dealers: Autographs
Cat Rambo Ethan Siegel Kat/K.R. Richardson

Sun Nov 11 11:00:am
SFWA Regional Business Meeting
Cat Rambo will give a briefing on the latest in SFWA and the business, as well as answer questions.
Cat Rambo Curtis C. Chen G. David Nordley

Sun Nov 11 1:00:pm
Tropes, Memes, and Literary Devices
166 B
Why do we use them? Lazy writing, or a good start to something better? Let’s discuss how tropes, memes and literary devices hurt us, or help us!
Cat Rambo EM Prazeman Frog Jones Seanan McGuire

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Guest Post: Brian McNett Serves Up Colorful Purple Wheat Noodles

A bit of a preamble. I often say things which are completely true, only to be confronted by people who flat out claim that I’m only making it up. That I *must* be making it up. There’s no way the very true thing I just said is true.

I’ve learned to cite my sources. So, before we begin, a word about the color purple. Not the movie, although it was good. Very good. Alice Walker’s novel won the Pulitzer in 1983, and went on to become both a hit musical, and the film starring Whoopi Goldberg in her debut as an actress. It might have been something far less in the hands of a director other than Steven Spielberg. But no, not here to discuss film. Here to discuss food, so:

Anthocyanins! Water-soluble, vacuolar, pH-sensitive pigments! Part of a parent class of molecules known as ‘flavonoids’. Mostly 3-glucosides of the anthocyanidins… The important bit is that under the right conditions, they make plants PURPLE.
Continue reading

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