What I Learned about Writing from Seanan McGuire’s October Daye Series: Ethical Representation

It’s a well-known and much bandied about truism that writers are like magpies: we find inspiration everywhere and borrow tricks and tropes and things from one another ALL OF THE TIME. A Google search for “writers like magpies” pulls up 1,010,000 results.

Sometimes, the shiny bits we steal aren’t ideas so much as best practices. And that’s what I’m going to focus on in my new, monthly “What I Learned about Writing from” series of posts. I’m kicking the series off with Seanan McGuire’s lovely October Daye series, which I discovered just as I was starting my PhD program and have been reading loyally ever since, because the series taught me something that’s been heavy on my mind, of late.

(Speaking of magpies and Seanan McGuire, the other day I ran across this post on her Tumblr and it is amazing.)

Anyway, to return to the topic at hand. Writing. Learning about writing.

shuffles through notes

Oh, yeah. THERE ARE SPOILERS AHEAD. If you haven’t yet read A Red-Rose Chain (Sept. 2015), you may want to stop reading here. And you may want to reconsider your life choices. Hie thee to a library or bookstore and read it (and the rest of the series, and everything else she’s ever written) ASAP.

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Calabacitas Meet Enchiladas: or, Veggie Enchiladas Fiery Enough to Warm this NM Expat’s cold, cold heart.

Even though I love living among the trees and rain in the Pacific Northwest, I miss my home state’s food. Especially during green chile roasting season.

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People keep suggesting local Mexican restaurants, but I prefer my enchiladas NOT to be doused in tomato sauce with cilantro and oregano seasoning #thankyouverymuch. So, I’ve taken to concocting my own recipes.

Before I give you the recipe, I just need to mention that I put enchiladas together the LAZY way. I stack them, instead of rolling them. If you’ve ever made lasagna, the same principle applies here. Feel free to roll these if you’re morally opposed to stacking, but know that I’ll be giving you serious side eye. Because why make life harder for yourself? The enchiladas are just as tasty the lazy way. #teamstacking

This recipe makes 1 large (9″) and 1 small pan (bread loaf sized. Not sure of actual measurements) of enchiladas.

You’ll need:

  • 2 jars of green chile sauce of your choice (I use El Pinto’s, because it’s the only authentic New Mexican stuff I can get my hands on in the Pacific Northwest. It’s only available in medium, here, but very flavorful. Tastes like home.)
  • 3-4 roasted green chile, peeled and diced
  • 3 medium zucchini, halved and sliced
  • 2 medium bell peppers, diced
  • ~15 oz frozen corn
  • 24 corn tortillas
  • ~8 oz grated cheese of choice. I recommend a sharp cheddar.
  • Sour cream (for topping)
  • ~160z refried beans
  • olive oil (2-3 tablespoons)
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • 2 tsp cayenne powder
  • 1-2 tsp salt (to taste)

Toss zucchini, bell peppers, and corn with olive oil, cumin, chili powder, cayenne powder, and salt. Spread into a thin layer on a sheet pan and roast in a 400 degree oven for 20-30 minutes (until soft but not smushy). I did not defrost the corn, so my roasting time was on the higher side.

Once roasted, transfer vegetables into a large bowl and mix them with 1 1/2 jars of the green chile sauce. Reserve the remaining 1/2 jar for later.

Oil a large, oven-safe casserole dish and line the bottom with six corn tortillas. It’s fine if they overlap. Spread a generous amount of beans on the tortillas (about 1/2 of them). Sprinkle with cheese and cover with six more corn tortillas. Spread about 1/2 of the vegetable mixture. Layer six more corn tortillas on top of the vegetables and spread those with a thin layer of beans, some cheese, a small amount of the remaining vegetables, and about 1/2 of your remaining green chile sauce, and 2/3 of your diced green chile.

Repeat this process with the remainder of your ingredients in the smaller baking dish.

Bake 35-40 minutes (or until the tortillas are soft / easy to stab with a fork), remove from oven, and top with more grated cheese. 

Top with sour cream, chopped onions, avocado, or just as is. Whatever floats your enchilada boat.

Enjoy!

NOTE: the green chile sauce I use contains roasted tomatoes. If yours doesn’t, you may want to add some diced tomatoes to your veggie mix about halfway through the roasting time.

ON THE BOOKS WE SHARE

I’m becoming an aunt this year, and like the bookworm I am my first thoughts on hearing the good news were “what books should I buy for the baby shower?” and “I knew bookmarking that site with all the bookish onesies was a good idea.”

Sharing books can be a very poignant act. I helped teach several of my younger siblings to read with my favorite books, and we bonded over our enjoyment of the characters’ hijinks. Days with Frog and Toad by Arnold Lobel, Ivy Cottage (of the Biscuit, Buttons, and Pickles Series) by E.J. Taylor, Laughing All the Way by George Shannon and Meg McLean, and Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak were all particular favorites. Especially Frog and Toad. Even today, when I pass on books I’ve loved to friends, family, or even acquaintances, I feel a sense of excitement and camaraderie that’s hard to beat. When you and your friends have read and loved the same book, you’ve expanded your friendship beyond this workaday world and into whatever exciting new realm exists between the book’s covers.

To put it lightly, I am more than excited to share the worlds and stories I’ve come to love with my little niece or nephew in the years to come. But while I wait, I thought I’d share my mental list with all of you. So, here are just a few of the books I hope to share with my family’s newest addition:

Infant-Toddler Years

I’ve already mentioned early-childhood favorites like Arnold Lobel’s Frog and Toad series and Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are, but I’m also looking forward to sharing classics like Beatrix Potter’s tales and A. A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh series. Oh, a Harry the Dirty Dog by Gene Zion, because who doesn’t love that book?

Early School Years

When the little niece or nephew is old enough to read, I’ll want to share the books that helped me develop my sense of self what now seems like way too many years ago: The Ramona Quimby series by Beverly Cleary, everything by Roald Dahl (but especially Matilda), The Boxcar Children books by Gertrude Chandler Warner, and the Hank the Cowdog series by John R. Erikson.

Middleschool Years

This is where the fun really starts, because this is when I get to introduce the kid to J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia, Elizabeth George Speare’s The Witch of Blackbird Pond, and basically everything by E. Nesbit (especially The Five Children and It). These books were the source of my make-believe sessions for years and years.

Junior High and High School Years

Most people don’t look back on adolescence fondly, and I think that means it’s a time when we really need books that speak honestly about the world and help us come to grips with everything we’re going through. So, in these years, I’d like to share Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief, Junot Diaz’s The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Leslie Marmon Silko’s Gardens in the Dunes.

There are a LOT of books I didn’t list here (the Victorian novels I teach, the sci-fi and fantasy novels I binge read every chance I get, the random bookstore finds that bowl me over and leave me with a new perspective on the world), but as I realized while writing, it’s hard to know what to share until you know the person you’re sharing with. Personality is a huge factor in book recommendations, even and especially with family. So I’ll look forward, for now, to reading Days with Frog and Toad together and playing all the rest by ear. Maybe I’ll recommend Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan and maybe I’ll recommend Mira Grant’s Newsflesh trilogy. Who knows?

 

Rereading Great Expectations 1000 Miles From Home

The first time I read Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations (1861), I still hadn’t left my home town. I was either finishing up or had just finished a Master’s degree, and I had a lot of time on my hands. Reading Dickens felt like a productive and enjoyable use of my time, and I found myself falling hard for Pip and his world–the Ram-Pages, the Pumblechookian annoyances, everything.

Reading through it now, my affective experience is immensely different. And, I’ve come to realize it’s precisely because I no longer live in my hometown of twenty-four years. I left home, just like Pip. So, if now I really think Pip is an a**hat of immense proportions, I now also no longer have the comfortable ability to look down on his a**hattery as if I have no part in it. I feel uncomfortable reading about Pip because, every now and again, I see a fragment of myself in him. Like Pip, I left home with “great expectations.” His were a fortune and life as a gentleman, and mine were a PhD and whatever that brought with it–but both of those things effectually reclass the individuals to whom they apply.

Funny how time and distance can change the way one experiences a four-hundred page novel that, theoretically, hasn’t changed for 165 years.

Like Pip, my new experiences and expectations have necessarily affected the ways in which I relate to old friends and family. Like Pip, I’m often struck by regret and wish these changed  relations weren’t the case. Like Pip, I find myself unable (or unwilling) to do much about it. I want to, but I’m distracted. I want to, and try to, but I don’t know how. A call now and then, a letter now and then, a visit now and then. All of these just remind me of how different everything is, how impossible it is to go back. Ergo, I must consider myself, like Pip, a bit of an a**hat.

Except, everyone else is changing, too. They can’t go back to the way things were anymore than I can. In fact, they are all working toward their own “great expectations,” and, probably, struggling with their own attendant regrets. Nobody, not even Pip’s pal and provider Joe Gargery, is sitting at home unchanged. So maybe it’s time I cut Pip, and myself, a break. Maybe, in the great bildungsroman of life, this is just another lesson all of us learn as we’re growing up.