Friday, July 15, 2016

What I’ve Been Up To

It is halfway through 2016, I’m asking myself, “What have you done lately?” Well, one thing I haven’t done lately is write a blog post, so here goes:

How many hours have I spent torturing myself by reading articles about Donald Trump? Far too many. Years ago I attempted a story in which a man notices an ugly mole on his cheek, and over the course of the story the mole grows until it covers every inch of his body. The story lacked plot, character, and purpose, so I tossed it. That is how I feel about Trump. Why do I keep looking?

I’ve been spending a lot of time with my ninety-three-year-old mom, whose parents are perpetually on their way to visit her, and who recognizes her children only on her good days. We moved her to a new facility last week. She is very confused, but not confused enough to not know how confused she is. It’s hard.

I’ve been struggling with a novel, a ghost story. I work on it every day and manage to lengthen the manuscript by about a thousand words a week. I read about other writers who are able to produce four, five, even ten thousand words a day. I hate them.
Mushrooms, of course, take a lot of time. I was picking chanterelles on Wednesday. Saturday I’ll be looking for lobster mushrooms, black trumpets, and more chanterelles.

The dogs are fine, thank you for asking.

I have written two short stories for 2016! I don't do much short fiction, but I'm quite pleased with these two efforts.

“The Real Thing” is a chillingly amusing story about Fine Art, the myth of permanence, and the inevitability of entropy. It can be found in The Art of Wonder, published by the Minneapolis Institute of Art and the University of Minnesota Press. Here’s the blurb from the MIA website:

“In celebration of the Minneapolis Institute of Art’s 100th birthday, the museum asked some of the United States’s most talented writers, photographers, and illustrators to muse about art, creativity, and inspiration in this newly released publication. Contributors include the late New York Times journalist David Carr, renowned photographers Alec Soth and Ann Hamilton, National Book Award-winning author Pete Hautman, illustrator Eric Hanson, hip-hop artist and author Dessa, and graphic novelist Kevin Cannon. The Art of Wonder also features personal reflections from the curators of the Minneapolis Institute of Art on the objects of their affection and wonder.”

It’s an oversize hardcover and a bargain at twenty bucks. Order from the MIA store, or wherever you like to buy your books.

My second story, “Opposite Land,” is about lutefisk. While researching the story I ate lutefisk for the first (and last) time. If you’ve never had lutefisk, I heartily recommend it as an experience you will never forget.

The story will appear this September in Sky Blue Water, a collection of short stories for young readers by Minnesota writers including…well, I’ll just list them all: William Alexander; Swati Avasthi; Kelly Barnhill; Mary Casanova; John Coy; Kirstin Cronn-Mills; Anika Fajardo; Shannon Gibney; Pete Hautman; Lynne Jonell; Kevin Kling; Margi Preus; Marcie Rendon; Kurtis Scaletta; Julie Schumacher; Joyce Sidman; Phuoc Thi Minh Tran; Anne Ursu; Sarah Warren; Stephanie Watson; Kao Kalia Yang.

Edited by Jay D. Peterson and Collette A. Morgan; published by the University of Minnesota Press.

And before I forget, don’t forget that The Forgetting Machine, book two of the Flinkwater Chronicles, will be out in mid-September.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Speaking the Truth?

The truth?

Lies, I tell you! It's all lies!

Well, sort of. This whole Truth vs. Fiction thing is very confusing. I make up stories for a living, and I'll do whatever I have to—true or not—to keep it interesting. But it always feels true when I'm writing it.

And that's what this book is about.

Back in 2013 I began exchanging emails with expert YA librarian Joel Shoemaker for an interview with VOYA (Voice of Youth Advocates). The interview was published back in June, 2014, but my correspondence with Joel continued over the next two years, resulting in this book.

Needless to say, it's a huge ego trip for me. Joel not only read everything I’ve written, but he brought his incisive librarian eye. I learned a lot about my own work from reading the book, and a few things about my family as well. Joel not only read my books, he interviewed my mother, my siblings, and some of my editors. He also spent an afternoon at my home poking through the contents of my medicine cabinet (I mean that as a metaphor, which apparently I do a lot.)

The book provides synopses and analyses of all of my Young Adult novels, an overview of my personal history and family life, a chronology, and approximately one zillion footnotes. There are pictures, including a duck painting. It is 223 pages long, and every page sizzles. Seriously, I can’t remember the last time I read a book that touched me so personally. Imagine that.

At $65.00 a copy, Speaking the Truth to Teens will find a fairly small audience. If you're feeling flush you can get it through any of the online booksellers. You probably won't find it at your local bookstore, but I bet they'd be happy to order a copy. And it should be available through most library systems. 

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Mushroom Soup Revisited

It's hen of the woods season here in Minnesota, so I'm reposting my (slightly tweaked) mushroom soup recipe. I made this last night, and it was awesome.

Hen of the woods, aka Grifola frondosa, is a large, multi-capped mushroom that grows at the base of oaks. The biggest one I ever found was over thirty pounds. Usually they are smaller, about the size of a chicken, or maybe a turkey. The entire mushroom is edible, unless you are one of the unfortunate few in whom it produces gastrointestinal drama. I've served hen to hundreds of people, and so far only one of them has had a bad reaction (Sorry, Kim!) A cultivated version of the mushroom is available commercially—it's called maitake. I often see it at Whole Foods, at my local co-ops, and on restaurant menus. It's expensive.

The soup recipe works with many varieties of mushrooms, so you don't really need a hen, but that's what I used for my soup.

Hen of the Woods Soup
2 pounds fresh hen-of-the-woods (maitake)
¼ cup finely minced shallot (or onion)
1-2 tablespoons fat (I used duck fat, but canola oil will work fine.)
2 tablespoons butter or oil
1 quart homemade chicken stock (you could use plain water)
1 teaspoon fresh thyme (or ¼ teaspoon dried thyme)
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 cups milk 

Cut up and clean the mushroom. Take your time—there might be a lot of debris hiding in the crevices. Divide it into two piles. Pile One should include all the raggedy bits. Pile Two should consist of the nicer bits—small whole “caps,” prettily diced pieces, etc. In other words, things you want to see in your spoon when you eat the soup.
In a medium size pot, sauté the shallots and mushrooms (Pile One only) in the duck fat or oil. Use lots of heat. Don’t be afraid to let the mushrooms get brown. Brown is good!
Add the thyme, pepper, and stock. Simmer for twenty minutes.
Pour into a blender and pulverize. Give it a good ninety seconds or more. You want to get it to the point where it will pour through a strainer. Return the mixture to the pot. (Don’t bother with the straining—you pulverized it sufficiently, yes?)
Heat a large sauté pan. Add butter or oil. Throw in Pile Two (the nicer mushroom pieces) and let them cook for a few minutes without stirring—you want them a little crispy on the bottom. Flip the mushrooms and cook a few minutes longer. Turn off heat and add a ladle or two of the blended mixture. Stir it around to deglaze the sauté pan, then pour it all back into the pot with the blended mixture. Simmer for twenty minutes or so.
Add milk or cream, if using. (For a thicker soup, you can make a very light béchamel —maybe one tablespoon flour and one tablespoon butter to two cups milk. Or you could swing out and use straight cream.) 
Salt to taste, then cook on low heat just long enough to bring it up to serving temperature.
Serve, with garnish.
The garnish is mostly to tell your guests that you have been paying attention, and to interrupt the unrelenting brownness of the soup. A little chopped parsley is sufficient. Maybe some crumbled bacon. If you want to get fancy, a dollop of crème fraîche is sure to impress.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Science, Sciency-Fiction, and the Young Reader

Way back in the dark ages when we hid under our desks to drill for a possible nuclear attack, when a nine volt transistor radio was cutting edge audio technology, and when we were certain we would all have flying cars by the time we were old enough to drive, I discovered a tattered, well-read book in my father’s bookshelf: Tom Swift and His Electric Rifle.

The brownish, two-color cover was hopelessly dated. The book had been written fifty years earlier, and that edition—according to the inscription, a Christmas present given to my father in 1931—was identical to the 1910 edition. I almost put it back, but the crude cover art depicted a car, a boat, an airplane, and a motorcycle, and it held the promise of an “electric rifle,” so I opened it and began to read.

Tom Swift was a teenager, an inventor, and an adventurer. With his own hands he had built all the amazing machines promised by the book cover, and more. To a nine-year-old boy circa 1961, the mish-mash of unlikely technology and insane risk-taking was irresistible. I had learned to read some three years earlier, but for the first time I sank deeply and irretrievably into the world of printed fiction.

Naturally, I became a science-fiction fan. Around that same time I read Danny Dunn and the Anti-Gravity Paint, The Enormous Egg, A Wrinkle in Time, and Journey to the Center of the Earth. The “science” in those books is impossible to defend—they are “sciency” at best—but they all open doors to scientific possibilities. Even The Enormous Egg, in which a chicken lays an exceptionally large chicken egg that hatches a triceratops, leads us to the semi-plausible Jurassic Park, and ongoing efforts to clone a wooly mammoth. And consider this: Tom Swift’s electric rifle could be adjusted for range, intensity and lethality. It could penetrate walls without leaving a hole. It could stop a rampaging elephant. In 1910, this was pure fantasy. Even today we have no such weapon. We do, however, have the TASER which, fittingly, is an acronym for Thomas A. Swift’s Electric Rifle.

I love sciency fiction, and I never loved it more than when I was a child. Finally, after something like thirty published books, I am returning to my roots by writing some “sciency fiction” novels for younger readers, beginning with The Flinkwater Factor (to be followed next year by Flinkwater 2: The Forgetting Machine.)

Dedication for The Flinkwater Factor

I will be launching TheFlinkwater Factor on Tuesday, September 1, at 6:30 p.m., at the Red BalloonBookshop in St. Paul. This is the only scheduled public event for Flinkwater. I’ll probably read a short chapter. There will be snacks. I will sign books. Please come if you can, and bring kids if you have them. The Flinkwater Factor is intended for readers ages 9-12, but there is plenty there for the inner child in all of us.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

The Reinvention of Pete Hautman

It's been a while. Sorry, I've been writing other stuff. Meanwhile, there has been a big change here at Hautman H.Q., and I feel you should know about it.

Don’t worry, nobody here died or lost a limb or got divorced—nothing like that. The dogs are fine, no writer’s block, no noticeable psychosis, no religious awakening, no medical crises, no changes to my sexual identity.

No, the big change has to do with my Muse—either Melpomene or Thalia, depending on the weather—and she is telling me that I’ve said enough to Young Adult readers for now, and that younger readers, known as “middle-graders,” want to hear from me.

An aside: When I began writing YA books back in 1996, a “young adult” was usually defined as a person twelve to sixteen years old. In other words, mostly middle schoolers, with a smattering of high schoolers. The novels I was writing—Mr. Was, Godless, Invisible, and so forth—were mostly read by grades seven through nine, with a few outliers on either end.

Things have changed, as things will. Today, thanks to writers such as John Green and Rainbow Rowell, YA lit has become an upper school staple, and is more likely to bear the label “Ages 14-up,” while middle-grade remains wedded to the age 8-12 demographic. Twelve-up books are still slotted into the YA category, but awkwardly so.

There is a big difference between an eight-year-old reader and a fourteen-year-old reader, but marketing and reality are not always in synch. I’m sure that soon we will be saddled with a new category for ages 12-14. Probably it will be called something like “Emerging Adolescent,” or “Early Chrysalis.”

Anyway, that’s got nothing to do with what Melpomene or Thalia are telling me. They want me to write for younger readers because they say I haven’t matured sufficiently to write for teens. I’m sure they’re right. I’m still puzzled and hurt by my failed efforts to become a successful sixteen-year-old, but I think I handled age eleven pretty well.

Beginning with The Flinkwater Factor, my next four (and possibly five) novels will be middle-grade books. Two of them, The Flinkwater Factor (September 1) and The Forgetting Machine (Fall, 2016) are funny near future SF, or “sciency fiction” as I like to call it. The next two books will be completely different. One has to do with birth order and pizza, the other is a sort of ghost story.

I have not turned my back on YA. I have a couple of those in the works as well, but it’s gonna be a while. For now, writing middle-grade is just too much fun.

The Flinkwater Factor will be available September 1. The book launch will be at The Red Balloon Bookshop in St. Paul, Minnesota. Please stop by if you are in the area!

Friday, May 22, 2015

True Confession: I read anything but YA

This Is Teen is once again promoting “I Read YA” week, and as a YA author I salute and support their effort. YA is a vital and important part of our literary landscape.

I do read YA. But not much. I’ve read maybe half a dozen YA novels over the past year, mostly books written by friends of mine. The bulk of my fiction reading lately has been adult or middle-grade novels.

You would think that as a YA writer, YA it would be my reading of choice, but the truth is that I kind of avoid it these days. I blame it on the year 2007, and the National Book Awards.

In 2007, I was a judge for the NBA Young People’s Literature award. During one five month period I read more than two hundred books for young readers. About two thirds of them were YA novels. A lot of them were pretty good. Several of them were amazingly good. I read books that year that changed the way I saw the world. Some of them might even have made me a better person.

And because my job was to judge, I had to read a bunch of them two and sometimes three times, and I had to think about them, and discuss them at length with the other judges—four very smart and insightful and earnest writers who made me feel simultaneously inadequate and proud.

At the end of that marathon I was left with an abiding respect for our nation’s YA authors...and a fierce desire to read anything but YA.

I still write for Young Adults. I still love and respect YA literature and those who write and read it. I still tell people they should read YA. But I kind of burned out on it back in 2007, so I’ve been reading other stuff.

A couple weeks ago the Children’s Book Review asked me to write a post about the “Best New Young Adult Books.” I had nuthin. I am as ignorant as Ruth Graham when it comes to what’s currently happening in the YA sphere. So I wrote a post about some of the best YA and middle-grade books of 2007 that didn’t make to the NBA final slate. I bet there are some books there you never heard of.

Whew. I feel so much better now.