1930s Catsup and a Blog Challenge for Moi

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I’ve been spending a lot of time listening as opposed to pontificating lately, so my blog has fallen into the low post tides. When I asked what folks wanted to hear about the answers were (thankfully) not about writing(1) persay, but odds and ends. “The plight of the proletariat worker in today’s modern decadent capitalistic society” was one topic, and my friend Eryn joked about a “how to put your big girl pants on” post as well. I also had a request to share some Italian folk tales, which I’ll be pulling from my library. If you have ideas for a “Challenge Monica” post, share ’em in the comments below!(2)

On to catsup! Or is it ketchup? According to the Searchlight Recipe Book(3) published by The Household Magazine in Topeka, Kansas, it’s definitely catsup even though ketchup came first. And, what’s more, there’s multiple varieties of catsup as well, for at this point it roughly translates to sauce. Perhaps this is why there’s Apple, Cranberry, Raisin Cookies, and Ripe Cucumber recipes listed as options for catsup as well. First published in 1931, the Searchlight Recipe Book is, in point of fact, available on Amazon.com used. Proving once again, that if you can name an obscure book, they’ve probably got it.

Now, at this point in culinary history, catsup had been commercially produced for a number of years(4) but, many cookbooks ceased to list its ingredients because catsup was available to buy. This is partly why Searchlight fascinates me from a culinary perspective, because the recipes in this book are numerous indeed. From sugar sirup (Keeping with the original spelling) to oatmeal croquettes, ambrosia ice cream, and squirrel stew, this recipe book paints and interesting depiction of the ingredients available in the 1930s and 40s as well as the cultures involved. For example, there are recipes for Chow Mein(5) and Chop Suey, but the instructions for spaghetti are for cooking the pasta as opposed to making a dish.

Tomato Catsup

5 Quarts Tomato Pulp
2 Teaspoons Cinnamon
1 Teaspoon Paprika
1 Tablespoon Mixed Spices
1 Tablespoon Mustard
2 1/2 Cups Vinegar
3 Tablespoons Black Pepper
3 Tablespoons Salt
1 Large Onion, Chopped
3 Tablespoons, Cold Water

Prepare tomato pulp by washing and chopping tomatoes, cooking until soft, and rubbing through a sieve. Tie whole spices and onion in a thin bag. Mix mustard with cold water. Combine all ingredients. Cook slowly, stirring frequently, until thick.

For those of you who are mildly curious, here are the listed ingredients for Heinz Ketchup according to this website: Tomato Concentrate, Distilled Vinegar, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Corn Syrup(6), Salt, Spice, Onion Powder, Natural Flavoring.

(1) I feel generic writing advice tends to make a lot of new writers insecure, because if something doesn’t fit it they internalize that advice as if they’re doing something wrong. I’d much rather spend my time motivating folks to actually write, because so much is learned through experience and taking risks.

(2) Summarily, troll spray will be used liberally and without discretion should they drop by in the comments. I realize some of you might be championing troll rights, but this is not that space.

(3) I try to collect vintage or historical cookbooks when I can, and this one was a gift from a relative.

(4) Here’s a link to the history of catsup. “Ketchup comes from the Hokkien Chinese word, kê-tsiap, the name of a sauce derived from fermented fish.”

(5) Not sure if you’ve seen it, but the documentary The Search for General Tso addresses the availability of Chinese food in America specifically.

(6) High Fructose Corn Syrup and Corn Syrup are sugar in disguise. No wonder why folks abandoned the original recipe.

Progress Report #9: A Storm Has Passed

Last time in Project #8, I updated you with news about the Firefly RPG, including several awards the line won, and mentioned several balls in the air following a Twitter/FB sabbatical in September. As of today, I’m caught up on everything (e-mails, included), and am heavy on the pitch phase, but I’ve got some updates for you that follow after some words about the intersection between research and reality.

This year, I wrote a lot of alternative history and that required loads of research, ranging from the Inquisition to Western colonization and Mussolini-era’s Italy. The key refrain, over and over, that kept coming up was the difference in motivations and values between oppressor and the oppressed, colonists and natives, religious and less devout. This translates, of course, into the way that history is written, but also in the way that it’s perceived. There’s a lot of knowledge that has been obscured for many reasons, in part because the past is not always reexamined to incorporate a different perspective, especially if that alternate view represents a people (or in this case, several peoples) that were hurt, murdered, victimized.

Why go this deeply into the past? Roleplaying games, in particular, provide players with the unique opportunity to examine the past in the context of a game. In my experience, gamers are excellent, fantastic readers who will devour anything you put in front of them, and take that a step further by reading more on the subject. By addressing these topics within the confinement of the space provided, I know that other players and designers, such as myself, will dive into the past and learn more about it. And, while a lot of players might not make a correlation between past and present, especially since this research is put through the lens of alternate history, the material and the game can be both challenging and compelling because it makes villains, heroes, and the people caught in between all that more real.

In addition to roleplaying games, I find historical research is a fantastic way to dig deeper into worldbuilding. Though problematic tropes can be avoided, I feel that the only way to do that is to read multiple perspectives. For example, you might have seen the heated discussions about the Washington Redskins. The word “redskin”, however, has deep historical, cultural, significance that you can read about here. Reading how the past has led to the present, gives writers a deeper sense of the semantic and literal significance of words, and I feel this is why it’s so important. Writing stories and designing games can be entertaining, sure, but I feel the future of media isn’t to repeat the past for the sake of repeating it, especially since we have faster access to more materials to do deeper research than ever before.


Speaking of gaming, I have some fantastic updates for you. As of today, all of my current gaming commitments are complete, but there are more in my future.

  • World of Darkness: Dark Eras – Wrote the Hunter: the Vigil supplement for this book for 1690s Colonial America. My role in this project is now done, and it’s off in the ether of post-editing and development.
  • Vampire the Masquerade: Ghouls – My role on this, too, is now complete, and is in post-editing and development.
  • Conan RPG – I finished my contribution to the corebook, and stepped down as the project manager. Jason Durall has taken my place.
  • Codex Infernus – The Kickstarter was successful, and my role is now done.
  • World of Darkness: Dark Eras II – Contributed to the Geist: the Sin-Eaters supplement for the 1580s-90s Roanoke Colony. The chapter has since been sent off to editing. Of all the things I wrote this past year, this was the most challenging for me.


I have been talking about how challenging comics is. So I’m going to continue mentioning what I’m doing to make this a reality.

  • Starry Alpha – Last time, I was working on outlines for an established property. Unfortunately, the line has been canceled so this fell through.
  • Pinefresh Theta – Pitch, full script, and sample sketches sent off to an anthology. I was rejected in favor of a different author, who wrote a similar story.
  • Sparkle Mega – Full pitch is still in the works for a short-term series. The pitch window hasn’t re-opened yet, so this got put on hold.
  • Red Sigma – In addition to pitching, I am going the small press publishing route for a collection. Still in planning stage.


Phew! So many updates here… I got through half of NaNoWriMo (e.g. 25K) before I had to stop in favor of zombie projects and proofing that ate up a lot of time. The writing sprints greatly impacted my creativity, and the story got out of control so I had to rein it back in. There’s other stuff not listed here, too, but as 2016 progresses it’ll make more sense.

  • Upside Down: Inverted Tropes in Storytelling – Core of the anthology is done, and we’re working through open submissions.
  • Red Byte – Revisions put on hold.
  • Pratchett on Acid – 25K into the new novel, and it is…creative? Inventive? Heh, heh

  • Non-Fiction

    No new movement, here, but I wanted to remind you what I’m working on and what’s coming out.

    • Worldbuilding Book – I’m working with my agent to hone my pitches for interested publishers. Pretty excited about this!
    • For Exposure: The Life and Times of a Small Press Publisher – A book of essays written by Jason Sizemore, the publisher for Apex Book Company as part of the company’s 10 year celebration. I have written a satirical essay which is titled “The Case of the Mysterious Splatter.” It has footnotes. Many, many footnotes. It’s now available.
    • The Gorramn Shiniest Dictionary in the ‘Verse – This language guide for the Firefly TV show will be out this Spring from Titan Books. You can pre-order it now. Awesome!

    Thus endeth the latest update!

    On History Redux for a Squee

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    Well, I’m happy that this 365 Days worth of Squee is off to a great start. I’m in the middle of unpacking my library, stumbling on the books I’ve been pulling together for my alternate history novel, when I realized something.

    I am very lucky.

    I say this again: I am very lucky. I have had some *great* educators over the years, from an American history professor I had to the T.A. who was studying Viking archaeology. In college, what did I know? Not much. I didn’t really fully understand cultural appropriation, Western imperialism, or how history books I’d read were so one-sided–I was too inexperienced to I think. Suspected? Yes. Years later, *now* I understand some things about these pretty heady topics, because I’ve intentionally put the time in to find various perspectives for a lot of reasons, both personally and professionally.

    The truth is, I love history because there’s so many powerful and emotional stories there–some that make me cry, laugh, get angry, scratch my head, throw my fist in the air, and drop my jaw with amazement. I could be wrong, but I’m of the mind that empathy can be learned by understanding the atrocities of the past and listening to the voices who dared to speak of them so we don’t repeat these events in the future. I see that history is a lot more complex and real than what it often gets distilled into, and I reflexively want to find out more from both sides–even if it makes me uncomfortable–so I have more stories to read and, by way of research, more stories to tell.

    This has been a transformative squee, brought to you by thinking about what inspires me.


      Mood: I’m… Getting… Better!
      Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: Working on my second cup.
      Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: STILL yping like mad!
      In My Ears: Fish tank.
      Game Last Played: Age of Reckoning: Kingdoms of Amalur
      Book Last Read: The Crimson Affair by Lilith Saintcrow
      Movie Last Viewed: Good Morning, Vietnam
      Latest Artistic Project: My cat ate my Halloween decorations
      Latest Fiction/Comic Release: Last Man Zombie Standing. See also: need to write more flipping comics and exercise my art skillz again. Feh.
      Latest Game Release: Hunter the Vigil: Mortal Remains
      What I’m Working On: Primarily tie-in games work, original comics, and novels.

    150 Years Later. The Long Walk.

    American history is rife with varying perspectives, and there is a lot that often gets missed. To make way for certain points-of-view, whether they’re political or not, it’s rare when you get to hear both sides of any story–especially when there are problematic points in our history that have been obscured by time and eclipsed by wars.

    The Long Walk is one such event. This 400-mile march, which took place in 1864, forced approximately 10,000 Navajo and Mescalero Apache from their lands to a place called “Bosque Redondo.” Thousands died. The impact of this event, which was led by the U.S. Army, is still being felt today.

    U.S. history is not squeaky clean (as no history is) and lesser-known tragedies rarely get a blip until the survivors(1) speak up, like the internment of Japanese-American children during WWII. Indeed, though January marked the 150th anniversary of the Long Walk, it wasn’t talked about very much.(2)

    For many personal reasons, reading about this dark event has impacted me greatly, not as a Navajo or Mescalero Apache, but as a writer(3) and student of humanity. This story I’m linking to, this one in particular, is extremely powerful. If you know who the musician Clearance Clearwater is, then you will appreciate this article even more. Legacy of Forced March Still Haunts Navajo Nation.

    If you’re not clear on what the Long Walk was, there are several links in the aforementioned article that go into detail, like this one to The Bosque Redondo Memorial. For a more educational take, the Arizona Memory Project–GO LIBRARIES–has a lesson plan about it, too.

    (1) When I was visiting Las Vegas a few years back, a moment of serendipity somehow brought this up in casual conversation. To hear a story about this, from someone who had family who was there? It was powerful. Very, very powerful.
    (2) I had known it was an anniversary year due to prior research for my work, but wasn’t clear on the month. Quite embarrassed about that, actually.
    (3) Out of respect, I’m not linking to any of those posts or that story.

    Perspectives Past and Present

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    I’m diving into alternate history storytelling for a magical world I took four years to build. Some of this has roots in world history and the way society evolved (or didn’t) in certain contexts. I’m taking the approach that to truly represent the scope of the story, I cannot just write one type of character from a particular ethnic background. What happens in this series is epic, but the story itself begins small. To tell the story and build the world, I ask questions. I think. I need the mental space to do that, but this is where everything begins: when I wonder.

    History fascinates me in a way I cannot describe properly. It’s partly due to the ghosts of the past and the nostalgia that comes from that, but also caused by the fact that human beings have dealt with less — and still survived. I suppose what interests me the most, is the ability to piece together a particular person’s story, and empathize with that individual. For example, slavery appalls me. But how did folks survive? What would I have done if I was in their situation? To me, this is what keeps the historical record alive, not just by learning what happened, but by trying to identify with the people on some level.

    What saddens me, is that the human side of the equation often gets lost. New is better. Our ancestors were dumb, right? Only, that’s not true. How we view history depends upon who’s telling what happened. It’s not a zero sum game. Just because we have technology, it doesn’t automatically mean that human beings are more evolved and somehow better than we were in the past. Just because it costs more to take sick leave, for example, doesn’t mean that’s morally wrong, it just means that human beings get sick and have to take off of work. But on paper, it looks bad or seems impressive. Often, dissing the past is a technique folks use to sell the living something. Even nostalgia-based advertising is about what’s new, for collecting vinyl records is a new experience to those who didn’t grow up with them. Popular isn’t necessarily better, either. How long did people believe the Earth was flat? That Earth was the center of the universe? Do you know which Western mathematician proved the Earth was round? How many years did it take for that knowledge to take hold worldwide?

    When we have something new like an advance in medicine or technology, we change internally and externally. For example, we can now track how our brains change with internet usage. But are we really better off? Are we superior to those who came before us because we have something shinier, better, newer? Because life is more convenient?

    If, all of a sudden, an EMP blast went off and our technology was wiped out… Would we know what to do? Can you identify poisonous versus edible plants? Kill, clean, and cook your own food? Those who lived in the past could and where their knowledge was focused as part of their daily life, ours is now lacking. Flip that around, and a pioneer wouldn’t be able to drive a car, but we could teach them how with time and patience.

    Take also into consideration what an archaeologist of the future might find from our culture. What traces will we leave behind? If all our art, for example, is digital… Will that survive? Or are we headed for another Dark Age because the physical record of our culture is moving more towards data?

    Fiction allows me to explore the human aspects of historical events by asking questions; magic provides me with a sense of wonder and, I hope, my readers, too. Storytelling in an alternate historical timeline gives me the chance to explore the past. I am not seeking to be right. Instead, what I hope to find, is a connection.

      Mood: Thunder, Thunder, Thundercats!
      Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: I’m on my second count.
      Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: A nice, albeit mistified, walk.
      In My Ears: Climbing Up “Iknimaya – The Path to Heaven” from Avatar (Don’t judge.)
      Game Last Played: Last Night On Earth
      Book Last Read: The Shadowmarch Series by Tad Williams (Re-Read)
      Movie Last Viewed: The Last Stand
      Latest Artistic Project: *Still* *still* *still* need to take pictures…
      Latest Release: “The Button” We Are Dust anthology and for gaming, a fun Scion: Extras (Supplemental Yet Can Be Somewhat Useful On Occasion Scions)


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