Knife sharpening class


Knife sharpening class

So… I discovered about Japanese Knife Company online, and also that they ran knife sharpening classes. Which was kind of handy, as colleagues gave me a set of Kai Seki Magoruku knives about six years ago, and that I’ve not been a pro at keeping them maintained… The shop is in the 12e, so not exactly next door to me, but it was a great excuse for a (lengthy) expedition for a two-hour class that was well worth the time (though it was actually a lot more time than that–many thanks are due to the H who did the snakelet wrangling).

The shop itself is kind of a Mecca for Japanese knife lovers–they sell everything from entry-level (around 100 euros) to, er, much much more expensive. They also sharpen knives: in fact, while I was there several people (mostly professionals, that I could see) dropped their knives off and came in to buy supplies, and they sharpen both Japanese and Western knives. In fact, if I was in the market for a knife sharpener they’d probably be among my first choices.

What follows are my notes, which are kind of fragmentary because I wasn’t actually taking notes, rather trying to follow along :) No guarantees whatsoever, this is what I understood and I’m not a pro (and it’s also knife sharpening 101–you can find a better class of advice here at Serious Eats).

The class started with an intro course on the various kinds of steel: stainless steel is what most Western knives are made of, and is resistant to corrosion, flexible and middling solid–mostly it doesn’t hold an edge well, which means you have to sharpen aggressively and often. Carbon steel is not as flexible but holds an edge better: the drawback is that the more carbon you put in a blade, the more fragile it becomes. Also, it’s more susceptible to corroding, which means that you usually add some other metal like chromium or tungsten so that your blade doesn’t rust at the mere sight of water. Some bright souls came up with the idea of laminated steel, which is sandwiching a hard steel blade (for the edge) between two layers of softer steel: a combination of a good edge, an easy to sharpen blade (because of the soft steel), and something that won’t actually chip *too* often on you. From there on, you climb into more worked steels: Damascus Japanese blades are made with several of these layers (anywhere from 30 up) and are a. more expensive b. more durable.
(then it gets more technical, and I confess I got a little lost, especially as most other participants were enthusiasts about steel–I felt very much like a hobbyist who’d wandered in by error at some points :) Also, it will not surprise you that I was the only woman on that course, which mostly became a problem because the counter was very high and I had to stand on a stool to make sure I got the right height for sharpening)

Sharpening stones have different grits: the lower the grit the coarser the stone. 120 is what you use for a stainless steel, and the more carbon there is your blade the higher you need. There’s generally two (or more) passes necessary: you go from a coarse grit to a finer grit, so for instance the knife we sharpened was stainless steel and we had a 120/1000 stone; a 3000 stone will have close to zero effect on a blade that’s low on carbon, but a 6000/8000 stone might well be all you need to keep a Damascus knife sharp .The coarser the stone, the more metal it shaves off from your blade, which of course is bad for the longevity of high-carbon blades. The whetstones are waterstones, which means you have to moisten them with water (how depends on manufacturer’s instructions, the ones we had had to be completely immersed), and then keep wetting them to make sure your knife doesn’t bite into them (the coarser your stone, the more often you have to sprinkle water on top of it). You also have to semi-hemi regularly flatten them (he did this with a diamond stone in the shop, but advised us to use a ceramic tile and lots of water at home as it was cheaper–it won’t work on 120 stones, but anything from 1000 upwards can be maintained flat with this method).

The key to having a sharp knife is having a constant angle along the length of the blade–it’s not always the same angle (some knives are 70°/30° for instance), and it doesn’t necessarily have to be the original angle the knife was given (though if you deviate too much from it you’re basically reshaping a knife, which isn’t recommended). Japanese knives are usually and roughly a 15° bevel, but you can have 16/17/18 as long as you keep that angle. Western knives are more U-shaped: the angle is closer to 22.5°.

We then moved on to practice, basic gestures etc., which is where, uh. I discovered that basically I can’t keep a constant angle when moving a knife over a whetstone. Remember the bit about the angle being key? Yeah. Turns out I’m not very good at it. “abysmal” would be a better description of what I can do, in fact. They finally took pity on me and gave me a guide, which isn’t 100% recommended but–for me–made all the difference between having a disastrous blade and something that was semi-hemi-correct.

End result is also that our knives were in a rather disastrous state due to neglect: the blades were chipped in multiple places and basically I’m going to have to redo them from scratch. It also turns out they’re this kind of weird limbo thing where the steel isn’t very much enriched in carbon, making them closer to a Western knife–but shaped like Japanese knives. Go figure. Anyway, I walked out of there with a coarse stone, the guide (which they were kind enough to leave to me), and instructions on how to get them up to reasonable shape.

I. Hum. Also got a laminated-steel nakiri because it was so pretty. Sorry not sorry.

(and would I recommend the class? Definitely if you want to get the basics on knife sharpening on water stones, and not only for Japanese knives. It’s very hands-on, they’re super nice even to a total novice like me, and I hope I can put some of that into practice… Though you might curse me afterwards, as their knives are so pretty. So so pretty. They have several locations in London as well, though their sharpening classes are an order of magnitude more expensive than what I paid for this one).

En français dans le texte: French rights to House of Shattered Wings sold to Fleuve Editions


En français dans le texte: French rights to House of Shattered Wings sold to Fleuve Editions

So… I’ve been sitting on this for a while and was told there was actually no problem in announcing it! Pleased to announce that The House of Shattered Wings will be published in French by Fleuve Editions, with a translation by Emmanuel Chastellière.

More info when I have it.

(and I’ll go back to feeling unaccountably nervous about it. There’s something very different to selling a book in your home country, eep)

Coming soon… Obsidian and Blood ebooks


Coming soon… Obsidian and Blood ebooks

Just a quick update because people have asked: as you may know, the Obsidian and Blood rights have reverted to me. Have been busy with lots of things, but the plan is to release them as ebook soon-ish (it doesn’t all go through me so precise timeline to be confirmed later ^-^)

They’re going to have super new covers designed by Jonathon Dalton and Melanie Ujimori (with art direction by Rhiannon Rasmussen-Silverstein). To whet your appetite, here are a few of the glyphs Jonathon designed for the cover of Servant of the Underworld…

We Are Not Fictional: on Default Assumptions and Worldbuilding


I’ll preface this with a “erm, not going to make a habit of posting only rants to this blog” (if you don’t want a rant, I’m over at Over the Effing Rainbow, talking about definitions of Science Fiction and French libraries. Or you can check out Sunil Patel’s review of The House of Shattered Wings, here). But still…

I’ve blogged before on the uses of history and other sources as inspiration–it’s a very handy way to learn some things that are radically different from the ones that you’re used to.


But I’m getting a bit weary of the assumption that a “cool” feature of a society in a book must necessarily be fictional– must necessarily be a feat of invention and worldbuilding by the author, rather than something that exists here, now; something that is  the daily reality of millions of people. To take just one example: pronouns that codify a complex hierarchy at the same time as gender (or are hierarchical and gender-neutral) aren’t a cool alien feature of a language I (or some other author) have made up. They exist today (in Vietnamese, in this particular case, and in some form or another in French, Spanish, etc.). Similarly, people who exist outside the gender binary aren’t aliens, or living in far away societies (generally meant to be the “weird” Third World rather than our “civilised” climes). They’re here, now. They aren’t invisible.

I… I don’t know if I have a solution to this, to be honest. It’s a thin line between genuinely not knowing and perpetuating erasure–and I can’t say that I’m not guilty of doing this, too.

It’s just… erasure is exhausting. It’s exhausting to see, again and again, assumptions that the entire world must follow Western Anglophone norms; that every language must behave like English [1], that every food stuff must be US/UK; that every single culture has the same gender demarcations and boundaries as the Western Anglophone world–that, if you don’t follow these norms, you’re weird. That you’re other, alien, forever not welcome, your society used as inspiration to showcase the odd and fictional things people get around to on other planets, in other imagined pasts (with the attendant niggling feeling that you’ll be fine as long as you remain cool and fictional, as opposed to here, close, in your face, every day).

And I know genre isn’t like that–that, at its best, it shows us wonderful and new things, the best of what could be, of what could have been. But sometimes I really wish people would look things up.

Sometimes… sometimes it gets to the point when I want to punch something, or at the very least crumple some paper really hard (I have a lot of paper right now, as I’m trying to sort out a plot chronology for The House of Binding Thorns ^-^).

Be right back. I’ll be playing Neko Atsume for a bit.

[1] Pro-tip: if you’re going to make up a language, it’s helpful if you can speak other languages. If you don’t, then research some? (and it’s helpful if you don’t limit yourself to Germanic or Romance languages, because outside of the language family you’ll find radically different features–like my hierarchical pronouns)

Two brief things, including Lovecraft/WFA


I’m struggling a bit with posting at the moment (aka “will this darn book fall into place plz %%%%”), hence the radio silence…

In the meantime,  a few brief things:

-I rant a bit on translations, non-Western non-Anglophone works here (thanks to Charles Tan for collecting the tweets).

-And a few brief thoughts on the Lovecraft/WFA trophy thing (expanded from here). I fully recognise the significance of Lovecraft to the genre, the vividness and enduring success of the mythos he has created. I have no issue whatsoever with people reading and enjoying him. I have strong issues with people saying “oh, but he wasn’t really racist, he was a man of his time”. I also take issue with people who think he should be read and enjoyed and you’re not making a proper effort if you don’t.

See… The only book of his I tried to read was The Shadow over Innsmouth. I was a kid at the time, not very well-versed in messages, and a lot of problematic stuff in fiction sailed right by me. But the entire novel is so clearly based on a deep, abiding horror of mixed-race people as eldritch abominations that I threw the book across the room–and trust me, that isn’t a thing that happened very often.

And the thing is… with Lovecraft, it’s not only the racism. I read and enjoy plenty of books where the author had some problematic attitudes. The reason I can’t read Lovecraft–it’s because his fear of the Other, his disgust at “unholy blood mixing” and non-white people–all of this is what fuels his work. The sense of existential dread, the terror that drives one mad–to me, it’s so very clearly and so deeply rooted in his racism that it makes trying to enjoy him, insofar as I’m concerned… well, a bit like fighting through treacle (and being regularly struck across the face as I do so), and I have a lot of other things to do with my time.

Regarding the WFA bust in particular: it’s not that I think Lovecraft should be forever cast beyond the pale of acceptable. I mean, come on, genre has had plenty of people who were, er, not shining examples of mankind, and I personally feel like the binary of “this person was a genius and can do no wrong/this person is a racist and can therefore do nothing of worth” doesn’t really make for constructive discussion. (but see above for the “we should give everything a fair chance” fallacy. I’m personally not particularly inclined to give reading time or space to a man who thought I was an abomination, and I will side-eye you quite a bit if you insist I should). It’s more that… these are the World Fantasy Awards. They’re not the H.P. Lovecraft Awards, so there’s no particular reason for him to be associated with them: doing so just creates extra awkwardness. And finally, for me, Lovecraft is primarily associated with horror: the fantasy genre has moved on from that definition and is now much broader than that, and quite beyond the issue of racism/etc. it’s always felt a bit weird to me that a horror writer should be the face of the award. Changing the trophy recognises that.

I don’t know what they’re going to do with the bust. I’d be very much in favour of something abstract like unicorns or dragons or whatnot, because the trouble with exemplary figures is that they seldom stand the test of time, and I don’t want us to have the same kind of conversations we’re having now in twenty years’ time about the new “face” of the World Fantasy Awards. Or maybe a rotating design of best fantasists, or something. The French Imaginales Awards used to have a Plastic Puss-in-Boots trophy, which is kind of kitsch and cool (don’t know if it’s still the case because I haven’t gone in a number of years). Just saying :)

(comments closed, sorry, because I just have no time and very little in the way of energy).

Quick update on the fundraiser for Rochita


ETA: WE’RE BACK UP!!!! Thank you everyone for your patience.

Dear Funds for Rochita Backers,

Thank you so much for your donations, rewards, and other generosities thus far. This money goes a long way in helping Rochita sort out her affairs. On her behalf and the behalf of the campaign team, we are very grateful.

However, we now need to ask for your patience. We are aware that GoFundMe recently took down the campaign sometime during October 28 and we are doing all we can to gather the reason and to get the campaign up and running again. Please do not worry, as we still have access to the funds and have records of the donors. We will keep the updates coming as we learn more.

Again, thank you all very much for the outpouring of love and support for our dear friend and valued member of the SFF writing community.

(crossposting this very quickly from Vida Cruz’s Facebook. I currently don’t know why the campaign was pulled but we are looking into it).

Tail end of the European mini-tour


(well, sort of! Italy and the UK, and now France and the Netherlands!)

I’ve updated the programme for my attendance at Utopiales in Nantes this weekend and Eschacon in Amsterdam Nov 5-7. Come say hi if you’re around, I’ll be quite happy to chat and sign stuff.

As Zen says , Eschacon is now associated with a great deal of sadness, as writer Rochita Loenen-Ruiz has lost her husband and the father of her children last week.

The fundraiser we set up to help her through this time of need is still ongoing–we have got a lot of cool rewards and are aiming for stretch goals (which include things by Rhiannon Rasmussen-Silverstein & Melanie Ujimori, and unpublished short stories by Ursula Vernon and Elizabeth Bear). Please check us out and help.

Fundraiser for Rochita Loenen-Ruiz (Xuya stories!)


Writer & friend Rochita Loenen-Ruiz is currently going through a tough patch–I can’t go into specifics because it’s not my story to tell, but right now she and her family could really use some financial help.

We’ve set up a fundraiser here:

And, hum, I know people have been asking about hard-to-obtain Xuya stories? If you donate to this, you’ll have access to an exclusive ebook which features three Xuya stories which aren’t online: namely, “Fleeing Tezcatlipoca”, “Two Sisters in Exile”, and “Memorials”.

(Apologies for the generic cover, I put that together in ~1h yesterday evening. I can guarantee you that the text content is prettier!)

And also to printable colouring sheets by Likhain. And you’ll be entered into a draw for more prizes including signed books, ebooks, and magazine subscriptions.

UK trip!

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UK trip!

So… will be briefly in the UK (London/Manchester) this weekend, for the Gollancz Festival.

My full schedule (and the face-to-face schedule of all events) is here: note that both Manchester on Friday and London on Saturday have sold out, but there are still spots for the Sunday event. Though sadly I can’t do the mass signing on Sunday, as I have to get home.

There’s also an online event if you can’t make it to any of these: the schedule is below (and yeah, some of us will be waving trying to look smart in the bus Friday afternoon :) )


Cover art goodness


Cover art goodness

Two lovely covers today:
-Above, Athena Andreadis’s To Shape the Dark, an anthology focused on women scientists (and a follow-up to The Other Half of the Sky, which included my Nebula Award winning story “The Waiting Stars”). Contains my Xuya story “Crossing the Midday Gate” (epidemics! Cranky old women scientists! Ethical dilemmas and disastrous choices!), and work by Vandana Singh, Gwyneth Jones, and countless other luminaries. Check out the TOC here!
-And Yanni Kuznia’s A Fantasy Medley 3, which includes my Dominion of the Fallen novelette”The Death of Aiguillon” (the illustration includes my main character, Huyen, and… hum, let’s just say that if you liked the Dragon Kingdom in The House of Shattered Wings, there’s some related coolness in this story). Pre-order info here.