27 February, 2019

Noncurantist: Word of the Day

Noncurantist, a. [f. It. noncurante, not caring, careless + IST.] Marked by indifference.
1882 W. S. Blunt Future of Islam 42 The faith of Mecca was giving place to a noncurantist infidelity.

Dixie's Land 8.2

[Continuing chapter eight]

After a miserable night, Stewart washed and dressed himself without enthusiasm for his appointment with General Magruder. Stewart doubted that anything Magruder could say would be worse than having William Walker exclude him from the glorious Texas expedition.

He was nearly correct.

The interview with the general itself was no trial whatever. However, Stewart spent most of the brief meeting trying to absorb the information Magruder gave them as they entered his room: President Calhoun was dead.

This Ought to be a Real Thing

Alas, not a real book. Image by Chris Smith.
Once upon a time, people bought books either unbound or bound between plain boards. Then they had them covered in bindings (almost always leather) designed for them; these bindings provided a uniform appearance to a library—and probably made life miserable for anyone searching for a particular book by its appearance, which is how I do it myself a lot of the time.

Shortly after I announced the birth of the Herridge Lake Public Library, my pal (and Sucrophile-enabler) Chris Smith sent me this image. I think it's a glorious thing, and my only regret is that it's purely a digital thing. I wonder, though: how much might it cost to have my own novels rebound in such a fashion?

26 February, 2019


I was looking up the etymology of the word guts just now, and my copy of the Compact OED thumped open to a page with the header GRAPHOSPASM. So of course I had to check out the meaning.

And is there a more appropriate word to encounter for this blog? Graphospasm is defined as "writer's cramp."

25 February, 2019

Froot Loops

Overall Rating: 96
The essential breakfast experience has not changed. Long live the King.

Sometimes simplicity just works. Froot Loops are miniature donuts in day-glo colours; not as shockingly bright as, say, Trix, they seem to shimmer in the bowl before you pour on the milk. The addition of lime-flavoured (and green-coloured) Loops is the perfect touch, breaking up the sameness of red-orange-yellow colouring of the old-style Froot Loops.

Taste and Texture, Dry
The perfect snacking cereal. The simple shape makes them easy to pick up; the variety of flavours is quite noticeable when the package is fresh, and overall is a wonderful, sweet-sour tang that perfectly balances acid with sugar. These aren’t cloying or heavy, and as a result it’s easy to snack your way through an entire package, thus ruining a carefully structured taste trial.

Taste and Texture, With Milk
As above, not quite as bright as Trix when the milk goes on. Froot Loops shines, though, in retaining its crunch and crisp, firm mouthfeel in milk. Maybe they’ve done something to the sugar frosting, which resists the milk quite tenaciously. Even several minutes after the addition of the cow-juice, Froot Loops have a distinct snap to them as you bit down. And the acid zip, though somewhat subdued by the milk, is still there. Oh, and by the way: the [old] TV commercials are right: you can tell this from other cereals by smell.


If anything defines the suburban Saturday-morning kid experience, it’s a couple of bowls of Froot Loops and a couple of hours of Warner Bros. cartoons: sugar, psychotics and falling anvils (or coyotes, or Yosemite Sam). Practically speaking, there is little real difference between Froot Loops and its competitor, Trix. either is a great cereal choice, and if Froot Loops has been given a higher score, it’s for sentimental reasons on the part of the Institute staff. Sucrophile has very fond memories of Froot Loops, and sometimes even science can be affected by sentiment and myth. [February 1993]

Dixie's Land Chapter Eight

The howls of the late-night drunkards bounced weirdly off the walls and rain-soaked streets of the old city. Stewart, walking back to his hotel, felt a small kinship with those revelers; he wanted to shout out his pleasure and joy and the magnificent electricity that seemed to course through him. He could still smell Pauline's scent; it had, he decided, permeated him completely. Grinning, he composed letters to Mother and Father describing the happiness he felt. From time to time he tried to imagine how he would describe the sensation of Pauline's body to the men of the regiment. To do so would be to coarsen the experience, though; some things could never be spoken of without diminishing them. That sensation would have to remain his own personal possession.

New Orleans no longer seemed a monotonous, gray monster to him. Now he and the city shared a delightful secret.

He was surprised, on reaching his hotel, to find Thomas's recumbent form slumped in a chair in the lobby. Stewart shook the slave awake. "What are you doing down here?"

22 February, 2019

Dixie's Land 7.3

[Concluding chapter seven]

Stewart and Patton joined the happy crowd thronging from Placide's Varieties onto the sidewalk. It was relief to be out in the fresh air. Patton was still laughing at the comic antics of the final act on the program; Stewart, familiar to the point of boredom with the play, had had other things on his mind. Thomas, for instance: the servant had been reluctant to leave the hotel, and only when persuaded of the mission’s importance to Virginia’s future had he agreed to visit Barber’s hotel this evening. Stewart had already written a pass for Thomas when Patton, laughing, had pointed out that passes weren’t necessary in Canada. Nobody here would question a negro on the streets unsupervised. It was that realization that prevented Stewart from fully enjoying his anticipated meeting with Miss Martin.

"Why, Captain Stewart, how nice of you to come and see me again." Pauline Martin stood up, smiling, as Stewart and Patton were let into the room. Her face was still heavily made up, and she looked a little like a poorly done child's painting. Through the paint, though, Stewart could still see the exotic beauty that had taken up residence in his mind.

20 February, 2019

Dixie's Land 7.2

[Continuing chapter seven]

“Will you slow down your damned horse?” Patton whispered. He had dropped back of Stewart, who noticed that they had fallen behind Captain Menard. “He’s going to notice in a minute.”

“What are you so worked up about?”

“Are you mad? I haven’t had a chance to speak with you alone yet this morning.” Patton looked at him for a moment, and when Stewart didn’t respond he sputtered, “Barber, man! What did you learn this morning about Barber?”

“Why are you suddenly so interested?” Stewart hissed in return. “Two days ago you were convinced I was mad for thinking that the riverboat explosion was an attack. What’s changed?” Could it be that Patton had also had a visit from the mysterious Colonel Hopkins?

“A man’s allowed to change his mind.”

“Well, the change hasn’t done you any good. All I’ve been able to do so far is to find the hotel Barber used. The desk clerk was very polite, but it was clear to me that he knew more than he was telling.”

19 February, 2019

Walk This Way

Image from Wikimedia Commons
My friend/pal/buddy/colleague Dale Sproule has pubbed an interesting piece on his blog, Psychedelia Gothique. "Seven Good Reasons to Write Short Stories" is something I wish I'd had available to me last summer when I served as one of the editors at When Words Collide's Blue Pencil Cafe. Several of the works I was given to review were introductory chapters to novels, written by people who were in well over their heads. I could have used Dale's article to back up my contention that these people should walk (short stories) before they tried to run (novels).

I was fortunate, I think, in discovering SF and fantasy when I was in my late twenties. My one attempt at writing before this was an early-twenties go at a comic novel. I realized very quickly I hadn't a clue about what I was doing, and dropped the project. Then I fell in with a bad crowd* and discovered short stories. Now this was something I could learn to do.

Writing in War Time

Military conflict seems to provide the background for a lot of my writing, both short and novel-length. I'm not completely sure why, because as a rule I don't like stories about manly men shooting at each other with manly guns.* Stories set during wartime have interested me since I was young, however, so I'm sure the origins of my interest are lost.

It's easy to see, though, why I'm still writing this sort of story (Dixie's Land is the obvious example, because it's current, but there are plenty of others to come). Here are the advantages to wartime settings that popped first into my head:

18 February, 2019

Dixie's Land Chapter Seven


“I told you this was a bad idea,” McGee said to Grant the next morning. The Irishman waited, with ill-disguised impatience, while the turnkey played with the lock of Grant’s cell. Beside him, Sherman smiled grimly. Grant could only guess at what was going through his friend’s mind.

“I wouldn’t call it a complete disaster,” Grant said.

“Why, because you weren’t shot?” Sherman snapped. “Good God, Grant, what sort of foot-pad did you think you were?” He turned on the guard. “Dammit, man, are you palsied? Get that cell open!”

“Ease up on him, Sherman,” Grant said. “The poor man’s just trying to do his job.”

“And what made you think that this stunt of yours was your job?” Sherman scratched furiously at his beard. “I should have been the one to do this.”

“For God’s sake, gentlemen, hold your tongues.” D’Arcy McGee looked around him, as though he expected to find others listening besides the obviously interested turnkey. “Let this wait until we’re in Captain Gale’s office.”

17 February, 2019

Tangled Weave Cover

The preliminary cover design for my next novel, A Tangled Weave, is in my hot little hands. Or Downloads folder. Whatever.

The cover is the work of Jeff Minkevics, an artist who regularly works with my publisher, Five Rivers. And I would be shamefully remiss if I didn't thank Lorina, who runs the outfit, for the extent to which she provides for consultation and cooperation between me and the cover artists I've been fortunate enough to work with.

It's amusing, though, that there had to be almost no back-and-forth between me and Jeff on this cover. It turned out his initial concept was almost exactly what I would have used had I the talent and skill to do this sort of thing. And there is a lot I like about this cover:

There are no human figures. I have come to really dislike the sort of Photoshopped-clip art sort of people I see on small-press book covers these days. And anyway, I don't want to suggest to anyone what my characters look like. That's what imagination is for.

The typeface matches that used on A Poisoned Prayer. This creates, I believe, a subconscious link between the two books—which are linked, though A Tangled Weave is not, properly speaking, a sequel (readers of the first novel may be cheered to know that Lise and Rafael return, though in supporting roles).

The flintlock pistol provides another link, echoing Rafael's case of rapiers from the Poisoned Prayer cover. I like to think the weapon suggests adventure.

The elephants are the MacGuffin. You'll have to read the novel to learn the what and the why. Coming to a bookshelf (very) near you this August.
Dino Pebbles

Overall Rating: 91
We think we’ve found the perfect breakfast insanity. And gentle readers know what to give the Institute for Christmas.

As usual, image is from the collection of
the Sucrophile Institute
What they eat for breakfast on “Miami Vice.” A pastel riot of marshmallows overwhelms what looks for all the world like a sugar-silly version of (I kid you not) Kellogg’s Special K. The marshmallows are supposed to represent surfboards, suns, dinosaurs and, we think, pineapples (the box says “Dino Goes Hawaiian!” Scary thought, that)

Texture and Taste, Dry
The only thing that keeps this from getting a perfect 100 score. The marshmallows have the tooth-rotting intensity of all cereal marshmallows, but the cereal itself―what there is of it, anyway―lacks character dry. It’s sweet enough, all right (the ingredients list reads: “Rice, Sugar, Marshmallows”), but eating this cereal dry is like chewing on air, once you get past the marshmallows. On the bright side, you won’t want to eat this stuff dry anyway. It’s too good with milk to be thrown away on snacking.

Texture and Taste, With Milk
Adding milk liberates Dino Pebbles. A heady perfume is released when the milk hits, and the sweetness is now enough to induce diabetes in bystanders, a sort of insulinated contact high. We’ve never before come across a cereal sweet enough that it tasted as if we’d already added extra sugar to it. The perfume is sort of flowery, and there’s a strong hint of roses in the fruitiness of the flavour. Best of all, there’s no bitter aftertaste, a failing common to cereals at the sweeter end of the spectrum. This stuff is sweet all the way down.

For the time being, at least, we’ve found our home. This is it: the best sweetened breakfast cereal in the world. Kids, don’t tell your parents how great this is. Tell them it’s made with spinach or kale or something; tell them anything you have to to get them to buy it for you. How can we doubt the US is still a great power, when possesses the industrial might to produced a processed food product this magnificent? Do you think the Japanese or Chinese have anything to match this?

[October 1992]

The Stories We Tell About Ourselves...

... Aren't always true.

So I've been learning, in the aftermath of my previous post about the Royal Artillery cap badge supposedly worn during the Great War by my paternal grandfather. It turns out that pretty much every claim in that post was wrong.

Now, I did express some concerns, in that post, about how my grandfather could have come to wear a Royal Artillery cap badge. I just didn't express a sufficient number of them. And even the facts in that post that were correct were incorrectly described. So here's a summary of what I've learned over the past four weeks or so:
Not my grandfather's cap badge, it
turns out (photo Do-Ming Lum)
The cap badge could never have been my grandfather's. Sidney Skeet enlisted as a private and was a private when the war ended. The cap badge illustrated was an officer's cap badge, an assessment confirmed by multiple authorities.

There was no such thing as "powder blasting." The apparent discoloration of the badge is actually caused by a commercial process, called bronzing. According to the historical researchers at the Royal Artillery Museum (to whom many thanks for responding to my queries), "As a result of experience in the Boer War, [Royal Artillery] Officer’s No. 2 Field Dress cap-badges were bronzed.  This was a commercial manufacturing process.  (Boer sharpshooters had been a problem in regards to un-bronzed cap badges)." In other words, bronzing made it harder for the enemy to pick out officers for, shall we say, special treatment.
Example of the cap badge my
grandfather actually wore.
Image from Wikimedia Commons.

The badge is not necessarily that of the Royal Horse Artillery. As the quote in the previous paragraph implies, the badge belongs to the Royal Artillery. The same cap badge was worn by members of the Royal Field Artillery (by far the most numerous arm of the RA Regiment), the Royal Horse Artillery, and the Royal Garrison Artillery.

I had my grandfather's service history backward. This was just simple ignorance on my part. I misread the medal card, which turns out to show that my grandfather enlisted in the Army Service Corps (in 1914) and (at some unknown point) transferred to the Dorset Regiment. He was with the 4th (Territorial) Battalion of the Dorsets in Mesopotamia from the time of their arrival at Basra (February 1916) until the end of the war.

So how did I get so much wrong? The short answer is, don't believe everything you read. The badges and medals I received at Christmas 2018 were framed, and on the back of each frame was a description of the contents. Some investigation on my part shows the descriptions to have been written by a friend of my grandfather who was sometimes prone to tale-telling. I've investigated some of this gentleman's claims about his own military record and found them to be hilariously exaggerated, so I have no trouble believing the man provided my grandfather with a military history that was much more exciting than accurate. The man in question is long dead, so I'm not going to identify him publicly.

It gets more interesting. One of the medals I was given is the 1914-15 Star. This medal was awarded to every British (or Empire) serviceman who served in an overseas theatre of war before the end of 1915.* The problem is, my grandfather's medal card has no mention of him being eligible for this medal. So why does he have it? There's an obvious answer to this question, which I will try to go into at a later time.

My thanks to the experts at the Royal Artillery Museum and the Great War Forum for their (sometimes puzzled) assistance in my ongoing researches.

*This is a simplification of the actual criteria, but sufficient for current purposes.

15 February, 2019

Dixie's Land 6.2

Previous    First

(Concluding chapter 6)

Even in the dusty lilac of twilight, Stewart had no difficulty leading “Colonel Hopkins” to the Currie factory north and west of the city—the same factory he’d toured this morning. He mouthed a silent, ironic thanks to Captain Menard, who had essentially done his research for him.

The colonel had gotten them out of the hotel without attracting any attention. I could learn from watching this man, Stewart said to himself. Hopkins also seemed to know exactly where they were riding. "Have you seen this place yourself, sir?" Stewart asked. "Or have you already read my note about my visit to the factory this morning?"

"That note was addressed to General Magruder," Hopkins said. "How could I possibly have seen it?" Stewart looked at him, wondering if the remark had been meant to be funny. It was hard to tell, because the man’s face was so rigidly set.

13 February, 2019

Dixie's Land Chapter Six

Previous    First


Stewart looked over his shoulder, then forward again at Captain Menard. Their shadow had disappeared, just as he'd disappeared every other time Stewart and Patton had met their Canadian escort.

There was nothing out-of-the-ordinary about the shadow’s performance today, but after yesterday’s incidents this unsubtle tailing had taken on a dark quality that made Stewart angry.

He should have been happier—today’s negotiating session had been canceled. No doubt the Canadian authorities had plenty to occupy themselves, assuming they were investigating the incidents.

"I hope you don't mind crossing the river," Menard called over his shoulder, pulling Stewart back to the present. "I've been asked to escort you gentlemen to a demonstration of a horse-artillery training exercise. We thought you might find that a bit more enjoyable than yet another tour of an armory."

"If it means a chance to gallop, I'm all for it!" Patton shouted. "I can't imagine what made your superiors think we'd be interested in looking at gun-making machinery."

10 February, 2019

Imbalanced Breakfast

 Alas, no Sucrophile this week, munchsters. Oh, the column's written and the illo is more or less ready. But your humble scribe has been hors de cereal the last few days, having had an unfortunate encounter with the influenza virus.

Sucrophile will return at a date and time to be determined.

08 February, 2019

Dixie's Land 5.4

Previous    First

[Concluding chapter 5]

Stewart stood in the hall long after the commissioners and the general had retired to their rooms. The flickering light of his candle cast weirdly mobile shadows on the walls, shadows that seemed to symbolize the forces gathering against the commission.

That the Federals were behind these attacks seemed beyond doubt. Much as he disliked and distrusted the English, Stewart could think of no reason why they might want to drive the Confederates away. Over the past few days he’d come to realize that the English and Canadians had much to gain from a treaty of recognition with the Confederacy. The industries of Louisiana and Missouri, for example, would find ready markets in the Confederacy for weapons and uniforms.

06 February, 2019

Dixie's Land 5.3

Previous    First

[Continuing chapter 5]

“Captain Stewart. How lovely of you to come see me!” Pauline Martin stepped back from the door she’d just opened, and with a sinuous gesture of her finger invited him inside.

Stewart felt a shiver move through him. The knowledge that General Magruder did not want him here only made the excitement he felt seem more vital.

Miss Martin wore a purple dress of some shiny material. Her shoulders were bare. When he touched her, the skin felt like silk, but with some powerful force pulsing through it. The heat seemed to course into, and then through, him.

She had just tilted back her head for him to kiss her when shouting from outside her dressing-room door caused Stewart to slip on a pool of blood that had suddenly appeared there. He fell to the ground, to see Sergeant Fitzgerald’s head staring at him. “Wake up, boy,” the sergeant said.

Now We Are Sixty-Four: III

The Drooples

A miserable Boomer
Had drooples
And wobbles
That got up inside of his head.
The ads on the TV
Said “Just listen to me!
I’ll help you get back in her bed.”
He worried his member
Might wilt ‘til September
Or even November
(the following year)

It wasn’t his vision
To see a physician
(Besides, the copay was insane).
A shrink was expensive,
The thought made him pensive
The fault couldn’t be in his brain.
But lack of tumescence
Was such an excrescence
This failure of essence
Just filled him with fear.

But what could a Boomer
With drooples
And wobbles
Do to provide him a cure?
The mail-order potions
The capsules and lotions
Were all of them equally sure
And yet at the junction
Of pill and dysfunction
The patented unction
Provided no quo for the credit-card quid.

And so he decided
His woes coincided
With things being done to all guys
By women of #meToo
And liberals who blew
All Y chromosomes to the skies
He needed a figure
Of bluster and vigor
To make him feel bigger―

And that’s why he voted the way that he did.

04 February, 2019

Dixie's Land 5.2

Previous    First

[Continuing chapter five]

Back in his room, Stewart eyed the laudanum flask as he undressed. He and Miss Martin had walked for several hours and his leg hadn’t hurt at all. If it wasn’t for the engraving on the flask, and all that it represented, he would have been happy to throw the thing away.

Aside from the uncomfortable moment in front of the houses inhabited by free blacks, he had very much enjoyed himself tonight. The pleasure had more than justified the risk he’d taken. And in the dark, smoky tavern where she’d fed him something called a cock-tail, she had more than made it clear that, however she might feel about what married white men did with colored women, Miss Martin was not averse to the idea of certain unmarried men and women meeting again.

So why had he shied away from her? As soon as he’d fully understood what she was saying to him, Stewart had felt edgy, a bit as if he’d drunk too much coffee. He’d left her as soon as it had been seemly to do so. Now he wondered just how much he might be willing to risk for this woman. That, he decided, was only the most recent of the perplexing questions he’d come to face since arriving in New Orleans.
* * * *

Dixie's Land Chapter Five

Previous    First


Stewart knew that he shouldn’t be doing this. Somehow, that just made his meeting with Miss Martin all the more attractive.

Her arm entwined with his, they walked along a flower-scented street in the direction of the old quarter. From time to time her hip brushed against him as the rhythms of their gaits brought them into synchronization. He was grateful that he was at least past the worst of the physical shock engendered by their first hip-to-hip contact. He’d been embarrassingly aware of what her presence was doing to him. At least now he could walk without difficulty.

03 February, 2019

Cookie Crisp
Overall Rating: 64
The initial promise of its appearance is not borne out by either flavour or texture. A classic case of a product marketed by its look alone.

Hillary Clinton’s cookies* have nothing on these. This is a brilliant idea, brilliantly executed. The simple shape and look of chocolate-chip cookies is accurately reproduced in miniature, resulting in bite-sized morsels the Keebler Elves might envy. The detail is admirable, right down to the tiny chocolate-coloured dots representing the chips.

Texture and Taste, Dry
The chocolate-coloured dots turn out to be exactly that: chocolate coloured. There isn’t a molecule of cocoa in this cereal, and the artificial nature of the flavouring shows up dramatically when you set your teeth into it. And while the cereal provides the decent resistance to the bit and the crumbly mouthfeel its name implies, the flavour is a tremendous disappointment. There’s a metallic tang to it, and no chocolatey goodness at all. From the box this stuff tastes more of the laboratory than the kitchen. What flavour there is goes stale quickly, too. You won’t want to nibble on more than a handful, or you’ll feel queasy.

Texture and Taste, With Milk
The same problems bedevil this product with milk as when dry. The crunch holds up well in milk, but the flavour is a big disappointment. The hints of metal are softened by the milk, but that just emphasizes how little flavour there really is. This cereal is sweet enough that it satisfies nicely on the sucro-scale, but there has to be more to a bowl of cereal than just sucrose, or we could all eat All-Bran with four spoons of sugar on it. Besides, the artificial colours turn the milk purple.

Since we’ve been comparing cereals with celebrities, let’s call this one the Madonna of the sweet-set. It looks enticing and promises something exciting and slightly risque. (Cookies for breakfast? How unusual!) Like Madonna, though, this stuff is long on promise and short on substance. When you get below the surface, you find that surface is all there is. [October 1992]

*Hey, it was election campaign season in 1992. This apparently mattered back then.

01 February, 2019

Dixie's Land 4.4

Previous    First

[Concluding chapter four]

"He was going to Natchez," Stewart told Patton as they rode up Canal to the hotel.  Patton's uniform was, if anything, more a mess than Stewart's.  Stewart felt a small pride at the way in which his younger friend had pitched in, without question or waiting for orders.

"Makes sense," Patton said.  "Natchez is a Mississippi port, and probably the closest to Jefferson, wherever that is."

"You're missing the point," Stewart said.  "The Comet wasn't supposed to stop at Natchez.  We don't trade with the Canadians, remember?  If Mr. Barber"—the late Mr. Barber now, sadly—"wanted passage to Natchez, he should have found it on a Southern-owned boat."