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. (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.

Sunday, May 10, 2015


I haven’t posted recently for three reasons:

1. I’m neck deep in the fun part of writing a new novel, and I’d like to keep the momentum going.
2. I’ve been doing posts and interviews for other blogs.*
3. It’s morel season, and most of my free time is being spent in the woods.

So there.

*Here are links to some of those blog posts and interviews:
A thoughtful article about “Doubt and the Teenage religious Experience” by Ally Watkins at TLT.

Lots more to come!

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Eden West Q&A

Here's a short interview I did for Candlewick last month. I've been asked these and similar questions many times recently, and my answers keep changing—too often, in the direction of unintelligibility. I'm reasonably happy with this version.

Eden West dips into the themes of religion, spirituality, and beliefs, similar to some of the themes you explored in your National Book Award winner, Godless. What keeps you returning to these ideas?
I am interested in faith, and how it serves us, and how it can destroy us. I think faith and religion are hugely important elements of what it is to be human. They infuse our every thought, and they drive life-and-death decisions every single day. So why do so few young-adult books touch upon issues of faith and religion? Most YA novels never mention religion at all. What sort of church does Bella Swan go to? Does Katniss Everdeen believe in God? What about Bilbo Baggins, or Harry Potter? I’m not suggesting that YA books should all contain a religious component — in fact, most of my own books do not — but I do think there’s a lot of avoidance on the part of authors who don’t want to offend anyone or cost themselves sales. People can get very prickly about religion, so it’s a bit of a minefield. I guess I’m attracted to that.

How did you conceive of the Grace, their belief system, and the land of Nodd? Did you do any research to develop the personality and ideals of this cult?
I’ve long been fascinated by cults in particular and religions in general. The belief system of the Grace is made up of bits and pieces of several different groups. I began working on Eden West about fifteen years ago, and one of the first things I found was that there are real cults that are far, far stranger than the one I was creating. The Grace have a strange and frightening worldview, but it is nowhere near as strange or horrific as that of Jim Jones, whose 909 followers committed mass suicide in 1978. Or that of the thirty-nine Heaven’s Gate cultists who killed themselves in 1997. Truth is indeed stranger than fiction.

In the book, Jacob has a strong connection with Lynna, a girl from outside the fence. What can we learn about love from Jacob and Lynna?
Jacob and Lynna come from two different worlds, yet they find themselves thrown together by geography, by circumstance, and by chemistry. Their efforts to bridge the gap tell the story of how we all struggle to build bridges between our own strange selves and the stranger we desire. In “real life,” love brings together people of different faiths, different skin colors, different backgrounds. Such relationships come with built-in challenges. Sometimes these challenges make love stronger; sometimes they destroy it. That makes for a good story.

What kinds of questions do you hope teens will ask themselves after reading this book?
What is true? We all grow up believing certain things. Sometimes we believe them our entire lives. We are told things as children. Santa Claus will come on Christmas Eve. Genesis is literal fact. Reincarnation is real. The earth is a sphere. Yetis stalk the Himalayas. Guardian angels protect us. Aliens are watching us. Apples are good for you. Some of those things might be true — I don’t know. But I do know that questioning core beliefs is how we learn and grow, and that for me, at least, it is what makes living and thinking an everyday adventure. What is true today might not be tomorrow.

If you could describe Eden West in one sentence, what would you say?
After all this heavy talk about religion and faith, I should say that Eden West is a fast-reading and occasionally funny book about a pair of star-crossed (perhaps) lovers who find each other through a chain-link fence, and together discover what is truly important. 

Thursday, April 9, 2015

A Map of Nodd

We tend to think of world-building in terms of science fiction and fantasy, and it’s true that world-building is central to those genres. But all fiction requires world-building to some degree. True, if you are writing a contemporary story that takes place entirely within a known space—your local Starbucks say, or on the Spanish Steps in Rome—your world-building will be minimal. But most fiction, non-genre and otherwise, requires a bit of set creation. Some books, like Eden West, require a lot of it.

I was thinking about this as I gathered up the various bits of dead matter accumulated during the writing of Eden West: notes, research files, deleted chapters, character biographies, photos, articles, pencil sketches of characters and scenes, and maps. I felt a bit like a contractor cleaning up a job site, both wearily proud and a bit regretful at the waste. A lot of world-building work never appears in the final manuscript. That’s not unusual—most of the labor in world-building is foundation work. I-beams and cinder block are essential to the structure, but not that interesting to read about.

Eden West, set in present day Montana, takes place within Nodd, a fictitious twelve-square-mile compound, home to the apocalyptic cult known as the Grace. One early reviewer mentioned that she wished the book contained a map of Nodd. As is happens, I have such a map! Here it is, along with a detail map of the village.

Click to make bigger.

Monday, April 6, 2015

A Week of AWP and Dog Control

It’s AWP week in Minneapolis, and I was just going through my schedule of events. If you’re going, I’d love to see you at any or all of these.

Thursday, April 9
7:00 PM - 8:30 PM
Totally WIPped
Off-site Event: University of St. Thomas, 1000 LaSalle Avenue
Thornton Auditorium, Room 206
(William Alexander, Marina Budhos, Pete Hautman, Jewell Parker Rhodes, Laura Ruby, Anne Ursu, and series organizers Swati Avasthi and Heather Bouwman)

In honor of the Second Story Reading Series’ sixth season, the University of St. Thomas hosts eight Second Story authors, who will convene to quake with terror, take a deep breath, and read from their works in progress.
Terrence Murphy Hall, located at the University of St. Thomas’s Minneapolis campus, is about six blocks (10 minutes’ walk) from the convention center. The reading is free, you can buy books and get them signed, and there will be a reception with the chance to mingle. A great start to your AWP experience!

Friday, April 10, 2015
10:30 am to 11:45 am
YA and Middle Grade Speculative Fiction: What's at Stake?
Mpls. Convention Center
Room 211 A&B, Level 2
(Heather Bouwman, Pete Hautman, Laura Ruby, Justina Ireland, Anne Ursu)
The world of speculative fiction for kid and teen readers is diverse and deep. This moderated panel, composed of middle grade and young adult fantasy and science fiction authors, will discuss the special craft and genre concerns of MG and YA speculative fiction and the direction(s) in which they see the field headed.

Saturday, April 11, 2015
10:30 am to 11:45 am
And the Award Goes To: Who Benefits from an Awards Program?
Mpls. Convention Center
Room M100 H&I, Mezzanine Level
(Alayne Hopkins, Pete Hautman, Wang Ping, Chris Fischbach, John Reimringer) 
What impact does a state awards program have on the career of a writer? How can these programs serve as a platform for readers to discover local writers? These questions and more will be discussed by Minnesota Book Award winners, some whom have also served as judges for other book awards, and include a perspective from a literary press. Panelists will consider the role of subjectivity in the review process, the value of literary prizes, and the place of competition in the writing community.

Baudelaire, aka Bodie. Six pounds, sixty miles per hour.
Should be a fun and busy week. My list of panels and events to attend is getting huge. I may have to bring my "therapy dog."

BTW, we have discovered that Bodie is an escape artist, and VERY FAST. He led us on a merry (for him) chase through the neighborhood last night.