Southwestern Turkey Burgers (a Keelty Labs original recipe)

June 26, 2012 Personal Comments (0) 237

You will need: One pound of ground turkey; one yellow onion; one green pepper; one large clove of garlic (or more, to taste); four potato hamburger rolls; one Haas avocado; one tomato; salt, pepper, and spices; panko or other breadcrumbs; Worcestershire and soy Sauces. One mischievous cat. One computer with Internet access.

Makes: four burgers; a lot of smoke; an enormous mess of your kitchen; hours go by in the blink of an eye.


  1. Remembering something you saw on an episode of Good Eats, place a cast iron skillet in a 500 degree oven to heat up while you chop vegetables.
  2. Dice onion, pepper, and garlic, saving two slices of onion to saute. Slice tomato into wheels.
  3. In a large bowl, combine ground turkey, two tablespoons each of Worcestershire and soy sauces, a quarter cup of panko. Add salt, pepper, cayenne, and other seasonings of choice. Mix. Realize it’s too loose, and add another half cup of panko. Mix and set aside.
  4. Remove skillet from 500 degree oven and move to a medium-high flame. Switch oven to broiler to toast potato rolls.
  5. Remember your vegetable oil is all in the fridge; remove it and add one tablespoon to the skillet. Watch in awe as it immediately turns to a cloud of foul-smelling smoke. What’s the smoke point of canola oil, again?
  6. Remove ruined oil from hot skillet. Reduce flame. When skillet seems cooler, add a fresh tablespoon of oil, which only smokes a little bit.
  7. Open kitchen window at the top to try and let out some of the cloud of smoke. Realize that a cloud of smoke is an extra bad idea when you have a chest contusion from hockey and coughing really hurts.
  8. Drop diced vegetables into skillet. Jolt away from stove as spitting oil lands on your bare chest (also, it’s summer and you’ve just come home from a run to your overheated apartment).
  9. Keep vegetables moving as you realize that the skillet is too hot and you’re probably going to burn the garlic. Wonder why you bother with so many hours of Food Network if you can’t even remember not to burn garlic.
  10. Once onions are translucent, remove them to a bowl and set aside to cool. Return skillet to medium flame.
  11. Realize you should have done steps 7 and 8 before step 3. Curse. Buy time by toasting rolls; realize the pan you have them on is too big to fit into your broiler. Improvise by turning it so it sticks halfway out, and resolve to chase away any cats that come too close.
  12. Sautee onion slices until brown; remove to a plate with tomato wheels.
  13. Slice avocado in half and remove pit. You know a really cool way to do this because you watch a lot of Alton Brown, so take pride in your avocado disassembly skills. Using the back side of a fork, mash avocado in its own skin, and then move to a bowl.
  14. Season avocado with salt, black pepper, and lime juice. Taste it and realize you made it WAY too salty. Reason that it’s probably okay, because you maybe didn’t salt the turkey enough – after all, you couldn’t taste raw turkey.
  15. Veggies cool? Not in the least! Press on!
  16. Drop cooked vegetable mixture into turkey mixture, and mix. Realize it’s way too loose again, and add more panko.
  17. Oh shit! The buns! Fetch them out and hope they aren’t burned. Looks like they’re okay.
  18. Divide ground turkey mixture into quarters, and shape those quarters into patties. Drop first patty into hot skillet. Smile with satisfaction at the sizzle it makes.
  19. Fry first burger for three minutes and then flip. Well, attempt to flip. Realize that it’s stuck to the pan, and really dig at it to get it loose. Fry other side for three minutes, and then remove to a rack or plate to rest for five minutes.
  20. While second burger is frying, remember that turkey is poultry, and these have to be well done. Cut open first burger and notice the interior is still pretty much pink.
  21. Press remaining patties much flatter, hoping they’ll cook faster. Go to computer with Internet access to check recommended time for pan-frying turkey burgers. It’s five minutes. Get caught up watching Hugh Laurie’s episode of Inside the Actor’s Studio on YouTube.
  22. Run back to check on that burger! It looks like it’s probably done. Flip it.
  23. Realize you haven’t seen one of your cats in a while, and the last time you noticed him he was under the open kitchen window.
  24. Run around the apartment calling your cat’s name and jingling his favorite toys while in the back of your mind wondering how you might go about finding a cat that’s on the roof behind your apartment.
  25. Panic when you can’t find him anywhere.
  26. Prepare to run into the street like an insane person, until said cat saunters out from under your computer desk with a look on his face that says, “Oh, were you calling me?”
  27. Remember turkey burger in pan. Turns out it’s pretty perfect. Remove to rest.
  28. Notice that the bits of debris left by the patties you’ve cooked are really starting to burn. Try to scrape them up, but they’re pretty well stuck. Then remember about “deglazing,” and throw some water in the pan. Wow, that’s cool! It makes a lot of sizzling just like on TV, and the stuff is easy to scrape up! Toss it in the sink, where you’ll get to it later. Maybe.
  29. While you’re frying that next patty, go ahead and assemble your first burger. After all, you’ve been waiting a while and you’re hungry. Spread a thick layer of avocado paste onto bun, then top with browned onions, cooked burger, and a tomato wheel. Turns out this thing actually tastes pretty good. On your first bite, be sure to drop a heaping tablespoon of avocado paste on your carpet, or shirt, or your garment of choice.
  30. Devour the rest of that burger so fast you barely taste it. Resolve to take the second one slower.
  31. Do pretty much the same thing with the second one.
  32. After you’ve finished your fourth patty, return the first one to the skillet so it can finish cooking.
  33. The two uneaten patties can go into the refrigerator for later housing. Cover them with the remaining avocado paste (if there is any).
  34. Throw all the dishes in the sink, and tell yourself you’ll wash them before bed. Write a blog entry and fall asleep.

In all seriousness though, these things were pretty tasty – though you might want to adjust a few things from my recipe.

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Making sense of “Prometheus”

June 12, 2012 In The News, Pop Culture, Reviews Comments (3) 643


*Oh my God… It’s full of spoilers.*

From the moment I heard that Ridley Scott was returning to the Alien universe, I was excited. With each news item I read – it’s a prequel! It disregards every sequel! It won’t show a single face-hugger, xenomorph, or queen! – I grew more encouraged. Going in, I wanted very badly to love Prometheus. In the end, I will say that it looked fantastic, it was entertaining, but overall I was disappointed.

Alien is one of my very favorite movies, a masterpiece of claustrophobic atmosphere and artistic design that takes a simple concept and executes it well. Alien, however, benefits at least as much from the storytelling skill of Dan O’Bannon as it does from Ridley Scott’s directing. Prometheus may have Scott, but in place of O’Bannon it has Damon Lindelof, who is a master of making the vapid seem complex. Good science-fiction, even if it’s mostly meant to horrify or thrill, is meant to make you think. Bad science-fiction asks you not to think, because thinking will make it fall apart at the seams.

The 21st Century has brought us a generation of writers who have mastered “counterfeit depth.” They’ve studied works with complex backstories and world-building, learned what those look like, and plant clues and red herrings throughout their work that make it appear mysterious. Continue Reading

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Thoughts re: An L.A. Kings Stanley Cup

June 11, 2012 Hockey, In The News Comments (0) 319

  • I feel a little kinship with Jonathan Quick, a fellow goalie who grew up idolizing and studying Mike Richter. He’s done a little more with it than me. Makes him a lot of fun to watch, though.
  • For a kid who grew up watching the Rangers and Richter, beating Marty Brodeur for a Stanley Cup is about as close as you can get to a dream come true.
  • A few months ago the headlines about the Kings were entirely about their lack of scoring, and how Quick was the only thing they had going for them. He kept them in games they had no business winning, and they made the playoffs by the skin of their teeth.
  • I wonder what it feels like to be a Flyers fan right now. I know as a Philadelphian who hates the Flyers it feels damn good.
  • Two years ago after the Blackhawks beat the Flyers, I had several conversations (and saw lots of opinion articles) about how goaltending had become a commodity. I wonder if those people still believe that, after the last two Conn Smythe winners were goaltenders.
  • With all due credit to the Kings, who absolutely earned this, I’ve got to say that if NHL officiating in the playoffs bore any resemblance to officiating in the regular season, they wouldn’t have an 8 seed beating a 6 seed for the Cup. Right now, it’s like the two have completely different rulebooks. Makes it hard for a team to excel in both.
  • I wonder if Quick will accept congratulations from President Romney.

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Sketch: Journeybird

June 7, 2012 Artwork, Writing Comments (0) 386

In the world of Volve [my first, as yet unpublished book], journeybirds are the messengers of choice. Rather than carrying written notes, they are capable of remembering and repeating what they hear. Noble houses keep captive flocks and watch carefully for wild birds, which have been known to overhear and disseminate sensitive conversations.

Journeybirds can travel great distances in a short time, but their limited intelligence means the messages they carry are sometimes garbled – and their love of shiny trinkets makes them susceptible to bribery.

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Ray Bradbury, 1920 – 2012

June 6, 2012 In The News, Pop Culture, Writing Comments (0) 371

I am not one of those people who jumps aboard the news of every celebrity death. Everybody’s got to go sometime, and I get annoyed the way everybody’s suddenly a huge fan for about a week after any celeb death. Ray Bradbury, on the other hand, is a person whose work had a real impact on me, and I’d like to take a minute to remember the relationship we shared – he as author, and me as reader.

Among the first short stories I remember reading was “The Veldt.” I must have been around ten or eleven, and it was included in an anthology I picked up somewhere. Maybe for school. I never forgot the vivid image of the lions devouring Mom and Dad. As a reader, it’s something you only witness from a distance. In fact, that’s the way much of the story is related – from a distance, with much of the meat of the story told through subtext. It introduced a real sense of danger, of foreboding.

When I picked up “The Illustrated Man” in my late twenties, and encountered that story for a second time, it was like finding a beloved childhood toy in an attic box. Re-reading it, I recognized the DNA of my own writing, or at least what I envision my writing to be.

Bradbury wrote science fiction, but his work was not about space ships and laser guns. He wrote about people, about human nature and society, about the way we are capable of great nobility and great monstrosity. Like most great authors of speculative fiction, he created fictional worlds in order to make statements about the real world. He is one of the great shapers of speculative fiction, and the traditions he created will carry on long after you and I are gone.

Bradbury’s official site at Harper Collins, in its published obituary, recounts this story:

Throughout his life, Bradbury liked to recount the story of meeting a carnival magician, Mr. Electrico, in 1932. At the end of his performance Electrico reached out to the twelve-year-old Bradbury, touched the boy with his sword, and commanded, Live forever! Bradbury later said, I decided that was the greatest idea I had ever heard. I started writing every day. I never stopped.

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Straight and white are the default settings.

June 6, 2012 Gay and Lesbian, Writing Comments (2) 455

The Philadelphia Writers Group workshopped the first two chapters of my book this weekend. Without giving too much away: The narrator, a gay man, is a reporter sent to interview a famous and very attractive hero. He’s more than a little smitten, which the hero notices and uses to his advantage. What surprised me during the review is how many people called my attention to the fact that the narrator was coming across as attracted to the hero.

To be fair, nowhere in the chapters submitted is there anything that clearly states the narrator is gay. The story is told first-person, and his sexuality is revealed through his physical attraction to the hero, and to another character in the scene. It’s not hit-you-over-the-head, but I didn’t think it was terribly subtle, either. I was more than a little surprised that no one seemed to figure he was gay. Instead, they mostly assumed the physical attraction was either (a) a non-sexual admiration, or (b) accidentally coming across attraction.

In no way do I intend this as a slight on my fellow writers. A few of us had drinks after the workshop, and we talked about how straight readers just tend to assume all characters are straight, unless it’s clearly stated otherwise. Even when confronted with what is clearly a physical attraction to another character of the same sex, their reaction was to assume a mistake on my part, rather than interpret the character as gay or bisexual. They also remarked that they also assumed all the characters were white – which both harkens back to the ugly controversy that erupted in response to the Hunger Games film adaptation, and also brings up a science fiction trope that I’ve tried hard to avert in this book.

It’s just a bit fascinating that readers assume all characters are “like them,” even when they’re being fed frequent information that indicates otherwise. Sexuality is something I tend to play with a bit in my writing, and this book is no exception – there are very few characters who can fairly be described as anything but bisexual. After some thought, I’m happy overall with the response I got – if a reader finishes chapter two thinking “this character is coming across kinda gay,” that will only be cleared up in chapter three when he talks a bit about his life.

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So, Chris, why not self-publish??

June 6, 2012 Personal, Writing Comments (0) 279

Anyone reading my last post must be asking that question. Had I chosen to self-publish, my book might already be on Amazon, CreateSpace, XLibris, etc. You could be reading it on your Kindle or iPad right now. Print-on-demand companies could be taking my book to press, and shipping them later this week to eager readers. I could be marketing it online, setting up book tours, and answering questions from readers.

Self-publishing is an increasingly viable route to a successful writing career. There are a handful of authors who became millionaires by self-publishing, and the author currently dominating best-seller lists was discovered by way of her self-published work. I have several friends who have self-published their novels, and one of them has been fairly successful in his sales.

So why don’t I go that route?

Well, first of all, I don’t regard the immediacy as a good thing. As you may have noticed, I’m planning several months of editing before I even go to agents – and that’s after almost a year of rewrites and editing. At any point in that time, I could have called the book finished and made it available for sale and download. No one would have stopped me. I might have even made some money. But it wouldn’t have been the best work I could do. I wouldn’t be proud of it. The majority of my readers would have been baffled and angry, and I wouldn’t be building a base of fans and customers. The availability of self-publishing is, in my view, more of a danger than a benefit.

Ultimately, for me it comes down to business and quality.

Even a very successful self-published book typically only sells a few thousand copies. Those authors who have made millions on self-publishing have mostly done it by churning out dozens of books at a breakneck pace, and moving a relatively small volume of each book. The problem with that (aside from the fact that I’m not naturally prolific) is that the quality of the books suffers.

As much as the traditional publishing timeline is arduous, it is also something of a quality filter. If I have heard and responded to criticism from test readers, if I’ve been accepted by an agent, if I’ve sold my book to a publisher, I can trust that my book is the best it can be. I have to believe in my book if I am going to advocate for it to agents, publishers, and readers – and if I’m doing that for the course of a year or two, through multiple stages of editing, I will believe.

Aside from all that, of course, is the question of sales. Traditional publishing remains the only path to a presence in physical stores, which are still the way the vast majority of books are sold. It’s the only path to any significant marketing push, and the only path that has anyone except me working to advance my writing career. Mind you, I’m willing to do whatever I can, but there is a limit to my capabilities – particularly when I’m also working a day job.

Self publishing is looking more attractive every year, and I understand why may authors choose that route. My view is that traditional publishing remains the best approach for someone like me, who hopes to make writing a career.

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I’ve read about a dozen reviews of the Game of Thrones finale…

June 5, 2012 In The News, Pop Culture Comments (0) 416

…and not a single reviewer seems to notice the potential relevance of Dany’s visions in the House of the Undying. Lots of people are unhappy with what was removed from the House of the Undying sequence. Few seem to notice what may have been added.

Sure, you could argue that her walk through the Red Keep’s Great Hall, with its broken roof and the gently falling [ahem] snow is symbolic only of Winter’s descent and the fall of Westeros. You could even argue there’s no special significance to the [ahem] snow on the Iron Throne.

But then she passes through a door and emerges at the Wall – and finds her lover and her baby in a tent covered in [ahem] snow.

So I see three options: (a) I’m just reading too much into this, which I doubt; (b) GRRM has divulged secrets to Benioff and Weiss that he hasn’t divulged to fans; or (c) Benioff and Weiss are subscribers to popular fan theories, and maybe readers of the The Citadel. I’m favoring option b, and thinking the show just lent a whole lot of weight to some theories about the books.

By the way, if you don’t know what I’m talking about, do yourself a favor and read all the books before you go Googling it. Trust me.

Other thoughts:

  • The Others (sorry, “White Walkers“) were f-ing awesome. The way those ice-blue eyes rolled over to fall on Sam… chilling [see what I did there?]. I wasn’t enthralled with the Battle of the Fist of the First Men in the novel. Now I can’t wait.
  • As much as I understand the need to eliminate them from a narrative perspective, the total deletion of Vargo Hoat and the Bloody Mummers hurts me a little bit.
  • It’s becoming bloody difficult to restrain myself explaining things to family and friends who have only watched the show and not read any of the books.

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When will my new book be in bookstores?

June 5, 2012 Personal, Writing Comments (0) 305

First off, I’ve been down this road once before. Between 2005 and 2009 I shopped my first novel to no fewer than seventy agents and publishers. I got a few partial requests, and even one request for a full manuscript, but no one was buying. So I’m by no means under the impression this is a sure thing. That said, I do think this book is better than my first. I’ve learned a lot in the last few years, and I’m crossing my fingers that this book will sell.

In a best-case-scenario, reader comments are overwhelmingly positive, my editing brain fires on all cylinders, and I have a polished, ready-to-market draft in October. I start shopping it out, and within a month (okay, let’s say two months – this is best-case-scenario, not Fantasy Dreamworld) I find an agent who agrees to represent the book. From there we need to find a publisher, agree on a contract, go through the publisher’s editorial process, design a cover, shop the book to book store buyers, print and ship. I’m probably forgetting a couple of steps there.

In all likelihood, the earliest any bookstore would stock the novel I “finished” on June 1 is mid- to late-2013. More likely, if the book sells at all, it would make its way to bookstores sometime in 2014.

That’s assuming, of course, that bookstores still exist. It’s possible the only shelf you’ll ever see my book on is the one on your iPad.

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June 4, 2012 Personal, Writing Comments (1) 381

I finished writing my second novel on June 1. Mind you, “finished” is a very relative term. In this case, it means I completed my first full draft. I first thought I’d done this months ago, but when I read through that draft I realized there were a number of major problems, and no reader would be able to make heads or tails of the book. I spent months re-writing, editing, and polishing, to end up with something I still consider a first draft. At least it’s complete.

I wrote the first words of this novel in March of 2008. It was August 2009 when I returned to it as a full-time project. At the time, my goal was to finish the draft in one year or less. It wound up taking me almost three.

The Macro Edit 

The next step is what Rachel Gardner refers to as the “macro” or “developmental” edit. I am putting the book out to 5-15 test readers, each of whom I’m asking to complete a read-through in two months and get back to me with comments. What I’m after is big-picture stuff: are there plot holes? Information that’s causing confusion? Characters who aren’t developed? Chapters that drag, or chapters that go way too fast?

I want the stuff you hear the audience talking about on their way out of the movie theater. Once I have those comments, I’ll go back to significant revisions, and perhaps rewrites, to address any problems people had. My hope is to have another finished draft within 2 months of hearing comment, but it’s hard to predict that before hearing reader response.

In the meantime, I’m going to focus for a while on short fiction. While I’m waiting for reader comments, I have two to four short stories I’m going to try to write and two that are complete, which I will be shopping around. I already know what my next novel will be, but I am taking a different tact than I have in the past, and plan to write detailed character profiles and bios before I start into the novel itself. I’ll work on those now, but I’m going to wait to sink my teeth into that book for a while.

What about a publisher?

Once the macro edit is complete, there are still several stages of editing before I start shopping to agents or publishers. I anticipate sending query letters in October or November, which doesn’t thrill me because it’s a busy season for agents. If I can’t get my queries out before December, I’ll likely wait until February. I don’t want to be lost in the annual deluge of unedited first-drafts sent by NaNoWriMo participants, or passed over during the busy holiday season.

Incidentally, these are the valuable lessons one learns by reading tons of agent blogs and Twitter feeds.

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