Wine Q & A

The only response I had last week on my ideas for various Q & A topics was Nicki‘s question about chocolate wine, so I’m just going to do a brief run-down on tastes in wine today, then leave it open for questions.

The taste of wine encompasses different things, including:

  • mouthfeel (how heavy or light the wine is, whether it clings to your tongue or just flows through; carbonation could be considered part of this)
  • acidity (exactly what it sounds like; generally, the more acidic a wine, the stronger the flavor of the food it should be paired with
  • flavors (what do you think the wine tastes like?)

I’m going to concentrate on that last one. The flavors of wine are why you never (or rarely, anyway) hear someone sip and say, “That tastes just like Welch’s grape juice!” Different grapes generally have different undertones common to them. The darker grapes often have berry or other fruit flavors, such as plum. White wines might be described as tasting like apple or grass (Sauvignon blanc is often described as grassy.). “Floral” is used to describe wines that remind people (oddly enough) of flowers (Viognier, for example). Cigars, chocolate, mushrooms, slate — anything the wine tastes like to you can be used to describe it. There are no wrong answers!

(Note that, unlike in beers, these items are not generally present in the wine itself, except in certain spiced wines. Coffee porters are brewed with coffee; some brewers add cocoa to their chocolate porters. Winemakers do not add either to their vats.)

Mind you, there are some descriptions that leave me leery of trying a certain wine myself, particularly pipi du chat — another term used to describe some sauvignon blancs’ mix of asparagus, grass, and other herbs. It can be all in how you sell it. If you want a bit more explanation of what causes this and why these terms are used, a good beginner’s guide was posted on the San Francisco Chronicle‘s Website back in 2005 (“Here, kitty kitty“).

Your turn: what’s the strangest thing you’ve tasted in a wine? What flavor would you like to find?

happiness is a choice

Last week, I watched a TED talk by Dan Gilbert on why we’re happy. He talked about natural happiness versus synthetic happiness — how our brains decide that we’re happy with what we’ve got — and more, how we’re happier with irreversible choices.

They did an experiment with college students, letting them take photographs, teaching them how to use the dark room, and making prints of their two best pictures. After all of this, the students were told that they only got to keep one. The students who didn’t get the chance to change their minds were more satisfied with their choice.

This intrigues me because I always have more story ideas than I have time to write, and when I decide which one to work on, there has almost always been a tacit acknowledgment that I can change my mind if it doesn’t work out. According to Gilbert’s study, that’s the wrong approach.

According to his work, the best approach if I am to remain satisfied is to pick a project, work on it to completion, and then choose again. I don’t think that necessarily means I can’t slip small projects in, as long as I continue work on the first choice, but rather if I’m trying to decide between a fantasy novel, two science-fiction novels, and a cozy mystery as my next major project, I don’t get halfway through (or one-third — 30,000 words seems to be a big hurdle) and say, “I need to think this through. I’m going back to this other idea I set aside.” More importantly, I don’t second-guess myself, saying maybe I should have chosen X, Y, or Z instead. I choose, I work, I’m happy.

That’s the theory. We’ll have to see how it goes in practice. The current project is getting the urban fantasy edited and out the door, and everything but paying work and family time is taking the backseat to that. So maybe I’m on the right track.

What about you? What makes you happy? Or have you watched a different TED talk that influenced the way you think about your life?

chip off the old block party

This past weekend, there was a neighborhood block party.

When the invitation for the block party first showed up, I was of two minds about it. I like our neighbors, don’t get me wrong. Always enjoy talking to them, say “hi” in passing, that sort of thing. On the other paw, I’m not big on socialization. Or more to the point, I’m reluctant to socialize, even though I almost always enjoy it.

So when my husband said it would be fun to go, I agreed, and it was pure mischance that the form to RSVP with disappeared until the last possible minute. I swear. I put it on the refrigerator door. I didn’t know that my daughter would play with the magnet and not notice that the paper hit the floor and slid under the fridge, right?

The instigation for the block party was the number of new people in the neighborhood — four new families this summer, and even those of us who’ve been here half a dozen years are relative newcomers. This was fabulous — I wanted to meet at least one of the families, as I knew they have a daughter close in age to our girl’s age, and whenever I’ve stopped by, they haven’t been home.

At the party, the girls were highly non-impressed with each other at first.

They began bonding over potato chips, as they stood at the side-dish table and helped themselves from the serving bowl. Then my daughter wondered why she was sharing, grabbed the bowl, and went to sit down elsewhere.

Later, they met up again by the drinks table, where they were fishing ice chips out of the tub being used to cool bottles. They were so cute the father of the other girl went over to get their picture — and snapped one just as the girls each grabbed a bottle of wine from the tub. It’s a terribly cute photo, and we all agreed that we’re in so much trouble when they get older.

All in all, I’m glad we went. Now I’ve got names to put to those faces when I say hello. And I didn’t even take any notes on characters to use in future stories.

Q & A begins

To keep my load light on Fridays, the plan is for me to pick a topic that I know something about, write a couple of paragraphs (maybe on the subject or perhaps on why I’m qualified to talk about it), and then leave the floor open for questions, either about something I’ve said or about a deeper or different aspect of the subject. (Obviously, this is going to work better when I have regular readers!)

Here, then, are some of the topics I can talk about:

  • basic molecular biology, DNA prep, expressing proteins in bacteria & yeast
  • cooking terms, from mise en place to ganache to braise
  • wines — sweet, dry, fruity, chocolate, grassy, what the terms mean, why they’re used
  • semi-arid landscape/high desert (a.k.a. Nevada) flora & fauna, weather
  • basic gardening plant types — corms vs. bulbs vs. rhizomes, perennials, and so forth
  • copyediting
  • indexing
  • reader’s choice

Those are some of my ideas. If you have other ones, I’d love to hear them. And if you have any questions for me, leave them in the comments (with the caveat that if they’re too personal, I probably won’t answer, but you knew that, right?).


I’m going to try to make Thursday a review day here on my blog. Not necessarily a formal review, just a “here’s something I read (or watched) and what I thought about it.” I will not be duplicating reviews that I’m putting up on Goodreads, or that I’ve written about elsewhere.


Last night, my husband was streaming a movie on Netflix, and I asked what he was watching. (I’d been putting the kids to bed, so I missed the beginning.) “It’s supposed to be a horror movie — The Screwfly Solution.” Me: “Like the Octavia Butler story?”

Yes, it was a reasonably faithful filming of Ms. Butler’s story. I hadn’t thought of it as horror, although clearly there was a threat to humanity and a lack of hope — both hallmarks of horror. I saw it as science-fiction, partly because that’s what I associate her work with, partly because there is a problem, and they’re trying to use science to create a solution. I love how fluid genre labels are — “It’s what I point to when I say this” indeed.

I found the story, when I read it, thought-provoking and enjoyable, despite a down-beat ending. When we watched the movie last night (which is short, by the way — only about an hour), I decided that it works better in the written form because you get the benefit of an internal view, thoughts and feelings. When we reached the end, my husband said, “That’s it?” In the story, there was no question that that was the end, or that the source was clear. In the movie, I don’t think it was as clear-cut.

I think I’m going to have to find the story again, so he can read it and see if he thinks the written form does a better job of resolution.

Have you seen films made from short stories? How do you think they worked?

reading time

I come from a family of readers. My parents’ living room had a bookcase my dad had made to cover one wall. It must have been twenty feet long and ten to twelve feet high (cathedral ceiling), and even so, there were shelves where the books were two deep, plus other bookcases scattered around the house. I married into another family of readers, and books flow back and forth, borrowed, returned, recommended.

With this family background in mind, it should come as no surprise that our kids love books. I would have been surprised by any other result, in fact.

Our son at three could recite Green Eggs and Ham from memory. Our daughter at nine months would sit up and carefully turn pages in books, babbling with varying tones as if reading them. For a lot of the summer, bedtime was mostly an advisory number, with the understanding that if our son got into bed by then, he could stay up reading pretty much as long as he wanted. Now that school’s back in session, he generally only gets to stay up late reading on Saturday nights, and even then, not indefinitely.

So it should not surprise me that our daughter wants to go to bed with a book and have me leave the light on. She doesn’t have school (although she does get up early for daycare); thus, my feeling is that if it keeps her in bed and quiet until she falls asleep, I’m all for it!

Yes, my attitude is almost certainly influenced by the fact that my parents never let me stay up to read, whether I had anything to do the next day or not. I’d sneak out of my room and read by the light filtering down the hall. I got caught, of course, but it was worth it, just to get a little farther in the book. So much time wasted on early bedtimes when I could have been reading!

Now, of course, I rarely have the energy to stay up late reading, so I have to sneak it in at random intervals, and I just can’t read as much as I used to. How about you — do you stay up to read? Or do you make time elsewhen in your schedule?

Series characterization

With some series, it almost doesn’t matter where you pick up. Oh, sure, there’s a larger story arc across the series, but each book or story is written such that it can stand alone. Everything you need to understand what’s going on in the story is present in that story.

Jim Butcher does a good job of this with the Dresden Files. Yes, there’s a larger arc in Harry’s life through the series, but each book describes his home, tells about his basement laboratory and his “assistant” Bob, and gives a brief description of any relevant character and how and why Harry knows them. (Okay, I was a little confused when Michael Carpenter first showed up, but generally speaking, especially with recurring characters, they’re handled well.)

Some people don’t do this as well. In another series (that will remain nameless), I picked up the fifth book because it was the only one my library had. In the first chapter, the main character said about someone else that she didn’t understand why the other character was behaving in a given fashion, that the action made no sense to her, and that she went along with it. I put the book down and never read anything else by this author because I figured either the main character was too stupid to live and shouldn’t have gotten to the fifth book OR the author was assuming that readers, based on previous experience with the main and secondary characters, would agree that was a sensible method to behave. I didn’t have that experience.

Anything we write may be the first story (or blog post) that a reader finds of ours. If it doesn’t make sense or provide us with the tools to make it make sense, it fails for that reader.

This was recently brought home to me in a rejection of a short story. The editor said that it felt like part of a larger whole, a series where the reader might not know all that was going on with the characters. I had conceived the MCs as series characters (although, failing so far to sell this story, I haven’t written any more) and wrote a story where only a partial character arc was shown, without explaining any of the emotions or history behind it for the two main characters.

That might work for a chapter in a book, but it doesn’t for a short story.

Now I know what I’ve got to change with edits. Maybe that will translate into an acceptance the next time the story goes out. First, however, I have to do the work.