Today's writing blog is a gripe about semantics.
"Resolution" is a great word. A perfectly fine word. A strong word, a word of function.
But in the past few days I've heard no less than a dozen people saying to throw the poor word out the window. Don't make "resolutions;" you will break them. In fact, at least three different newsletters or blogs (I won't name names, but they are ones I follow regularly) equated a resolution to a "wish," just a "wish."
Now, because www.dictionary.com actually uses a up-to-date entries for words, let me copy-paste a few of them for "resolution."
1. The state or quality of being resolute; firm determination.
2. A resolving to do something.
3. A course of action determined or decided on.
(from American Heritage)
1. a formal expression of opinion or intention made, usually after voting, by a formal organization, a legislature, a club, or other group. Compare concurrent resolution, joint resolution.
2. a resolve or determination: to make a firm resolution to do something.
3. the act of resolving or determining upon an action or course of action, method, procedure, etc.
4. the mental state or quality of being resolved or resolute; firmness of purpose.
5. the act or process of resolving or separating into constituent or elementary parts.
(from Random House)
In fact, here's some etymology for you, too:
1412, "a breaking into parts," from L. resolutionem (nom. resolutio) "process of reducing things into simpler forms," from pp. stem of resolvere "loosen" (see resolve). Originally sense of "solving" (as of mathematical problems) first recorded 1548, that of "holding firmly" (in resolute) 1533, and that of "decision or expression of a meeting" is from 1604.
Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2001 Douglas Harper
It doesn't sound like wishing to me. It sounds like making a well-developed plan!
In fact, there's an awful lot of quantifying involved, too, contradictory to what too many people are assuming about this word "resolution."
I agree with everyone who says to make solid, quantifiable goals, follow-up with yourself, be accountable: make a plan!
It's stupid to pin the lackthereof on a word - especially a word that actually means making a firm plan to change and breaking things into achievable goals.
It's like that "political correctness" that suggests if you redefine contracts with Native Americans or American Indians, it's not the same as stealin' land from Injuns. (And if you think it's still not happening, go talk to some 'Injuns.' Changing a few words - and their names - really helped them.)
Getting rid of the word "resolution," doesn't deal with fact that most people, themselves, don't intend to keep resolutions. The word is not the action, and changing the word isn't going to change the behavior. If you really mean to keep your resolution, you'd be planning ahead, starting from before Christmas. And you'd already have a plan forming for what you are going to do and what you can do - realistic understanding of oneself is key! - to make these goals happen.
I've been reorganizing my desk, my records, my profits and losses, for most of the month - some even since September! For health goals, we've got a Wii and my husband and I are making some exercise and eating plans.
Of course, on the business side, I've been putting together these goals and plans for my annual blog-write-up of it. :) This gives me an extra edge of accountability.
What concrete plans have you made so you can follow through with your resolutions?
Tuesday, December 29, 2009
Today's writing blog is a gripe about semantics.
Monday, December 28, 2009
Well, mostly sorry. I was up till… some crazy time cleaning and doing last-minute baking and prep. And then waiting until Husband-of-Awesome fell asleep so I could sneak his surprise present down - the last step of the "OMG - I can FINALLY surprise the Husband this year!" Grand Master Plan.
Um… I would post a picture, but forgot to take one, and then when I asked him "Go grab your sleeping bag so I can get a picture of you with it," he stated, "I'm not dressed." Just cuz I'm ok with him in boxers around the house…
Anyway - Thank you, Steve, for making the gift possible!
Also, I haven't figured out how to set Blogger or LiveJournal to do delayed posts. If you know, please let me know - preferably before New Year's. Otherwise, it'll be another missed post.
Another great big THANK YOU to the Shrewsbury Borders for having its Author Extravaganza! I totally failed in promoting the Day-After-Christmas Extravaganza… due to, well, Christmas and vacation.
Pre-emptive resolution: Damnit, remember to promote friggen events!
Also: Take more pictures!
Here's the usual stragglers who stay until the very end with aching feet, but not without our smiles:
Cheryl Cory (Must've Done Something Good), Dan Gordon (Haunted Baseball, Cape Encounters), me, Bret Herholz (Diary of the Black Widow, A Sinister Aura, and more!)
(Thanks, Cheryl, for the pix.)
This special in-between week brings a strange sense of both stasis and chaos to a lot of people. You want to get "all your ducks in a row" for the New Year, but there's "no time" to settle everything you want/ed to accomplish for this year. Both Copyblogger and Indie Biz Chicks have some great tips to help you organize your writing and business this week that I'm already moving on.
Fortunately, both my husband and I have this week off.
Unfortunately, both my husband and I have this week off.
Quite the paradox. We can do a lot of fun things together: day trips, movies, we're helping friends move on Wednesday, and of course, New Year's festivities on Thursday and Friday. However… that leaves me next to no time to get my work done.
Today put a good-sized dent in it, though. Scott kept himself occupied with tv, video games, and deciding we needed our own ham dinner since we had no leftovers from any other holiday gathering. (Confession: I'm fine without leftovers considering we had minimal hosting to do! He wants ham sandwiches, though.)
I spent most of today with - more - last minute (late minute?) baking, and getting almost half my desk organized/cleaned. Well, with the extra clutter and catch-all from the holidays, it's more than half better than it was! I also started a to-do list for the week, so I can get some stuff done between whatever fun things we find to do together. (Note to couples & potential couples: Marry someone you love to hang out with. J)
I have a pile of "stuff" to do/go through. Yay.
I also have to go through all my business records and make some even more definitive plans for 2010, as I know without even looking at receipts and crap that 2009 was a loss. I believe a good part of January will be further planning, submitting, and rebuilding.
Giving the desk a good, thorough clean (again) is a big help in planning for my blog post for next Manic Monday post - which will be my major New Year Resolution post. It's a huge one - but I've actually had people asking about it, so I guess it is helpful and/or entertaining. J
Oh - and pre-planning, pre-emptive resolution: Better Bedtimes.
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
I make money as a food writer, so my Writerly Wednesday is will be infused with the awesomeness of dinner tonight.
Y'all get a restaurant review. J
We went to Natalie's in Camden, Maine tonight.
The short version:
It's been a few years since I've been to a real gourmet restaurant, and my one big request for this vacation was to go out to a fancy restaurant. My treat.
If you watch Food TV or read food magazines, then you know it's almost a no-brainer to go with the chef's sampling dinner.
Bread course included the best sourdough we've ever had, along with a great multigrain bread. The bread had a nice chew and crumb and was served with a butter salted with Maine sea salt.
Our server was excellent, and it was clear that he was paying attention to us in our conversation and beyond. The first hint of this was when he offered us more bread – and then brought us a whole loaf of it that we used to sop up the amazing dressings and sauce from the following courses.
Our first course was a mushroom bisque with a porcini garnish. It was served in the equivalent of a double shot glass, but with a cool bow and bend to the sides. It was so rich that there didn't need to be more; it was all I could do not to lick out the soup that coated the sides.
The next course was raw oysters served with tarragon butter with mini-salads of microgreens. The oysters were perfect, meaty and the microgreens had a nice bite to them with a slight bit of balsamic dressing them up.
After the perfect oysters, we had marinated salmon with microgreens and poached quail eggs. I hate to be redundant, but: perfect. The salmon could be cut with the fork, it was so tender. It's texture melted on my mouth, and the quail eggs, microgreens, fresh pepper really complimented it.
Soft poached eggs followed the salmon. They were silky, smooth, and dressed with another garnish of porcini mushroom with a broth and Worcestershire sauce. As our server explained, soft poached eggs are a big trend in the gourmet world. No surprise. It was quite the luxurious texture to go with the richness of the broth, sauce, and porcini.
Tangerine sherbet cleansed our pallets before the main entrée. Scott's comment: "I think I will dream in tangerine." The clementines we had back in the hotel were weeping in shame compared to the sherbet.
Throughout the meal, our server chatted with us about various food and wine topics. We asked for a bottle of wine that would go with the meal. The chef recommended a 2007 California Chardonnay that was not heavily oaked. I love Chardonnay, and it was a perfect match for all the food. However, Scott is not a big fan of Chardonnay, and he had mentioned in passing to our waiter that he preferred red wine. With the dinner, the waiter brought over a steak knife for Scott and a fresh glass of Pinot Noir.
That meant different entrées. Which was quite the surprise because we figured we'd both have exactly the same thing – as we had for the other courses. Scott also had mentioned a few times when we were looking at the menu that he was looking forward to duck. Well, that's what he got. Me, I got monkfish cheeks with scallions and porcini mushrooms. We both found our dinners heavenly. I did taste his and it was phenomenal, melt-in-your-mouth-while-still-having-crunchy-skin excellence. As for my monkfish cheeks… I love fish, I never knew how much one could potentially love fish until that moment, though. It also had this soft, melt-in-your-mouth texture but also had a good chew on it. It was lightly crusted and seasoned, napped in rich broth, contrasting with the crunch of the scallions and chewiness of the mushrooms.
Ok, I have to repeat:
And then there was dessert.
Soufflé. Vanilla crème soufflé.
Just sayin', Julia Child would be proud.
We finished up with espresso and coffee – and homemade chocolate truffles sweetened the bill.
Ok, so it was a LOT of money… so much, I'm not even writing it here.
But it was worth every penny.
If you're in Camden, Maine – save your money so you can spend it at Natalie's. Really!
Monday, December 21, 2009
Some people would complain if it snowed on their vacation. Not me.
Snow is falling outside, Husband-of-Awesome is sprawled on the couch watching the Pat's game, and I'm having some quality time with Rosie. It's kind of funny, because he's paying as much attention to me as I am to him – though we keep talking to each other.
(The exception is during my moments of maximum expletive vocalization because I keep screwing up on my slightly smaller keyboard – or I can't remember my damned bank security questions. That seems to get his attention.)
Anyway, falling outside is lovely snow that we have to neither shovel nor move nor drive in. And a beautiful grey and white-capped ocean outside our balcony. The heat works great, and while I miss the crackling wood stove, it's very nice to not have to get up every 20-30 minutes to maintain it.
We have plenty of wine and alcohol, and I brought all my beta reader comments to Starbard, my sketchpad, pencils, and watercolors. Scott also picked me up Heat Wave – because I wanted it. I have many choices of what I will do in this welcome snow-in: all things I WANT to do – including editing Starbard.
Breakfast food and leftovers from yesterday's family Yule party sustain us for the night. It should be cleared up tomorrow – and we may attempt a winter hike or ocean walk. Just because. Or we may visit some distilleries or vineyards or galleries. Or we may stay in again.
It's up to us.
We don't HAVE to be accountable or organized.
We're on vacation.
Life is good.
Decided to work on Kyra, so I spent a good 9 hours or so going through the hefty pile of feedback I'd gotten over a year earlier. I took extra special care on the Husband-of-Awesome's comment because one of the things I've always appreciated about him is his honesty.
I'm okay if he says a pair of jeans isn't flattering on me. It means I don't look bad going out.
I'm even better when he tells me a scene isn't working. It would be something an editor or agent would definitely catch.
Also, his enthusiasm for the Starbard has been a great push. He wouldn't be excited if there wasn't anything to be excited about.
So, now, I have a good 6 inches of commented pages between him and others to work on… and he's perfectly comfy watching TV while I type away.
Oh, and an aside cool thing about this place is the nifty journals they keep in the room. I took a few breaks between versions of Starbard to look at the other entries and add some of my own.
Would it be bad form to leave a business card in the pages?
I was too excited to work on Starbard to take pix today, but I did yesterday before the snow fell.
Why bring this up?
Because the other really cool thing about this place is the ocean is outside my door.
Friday, December 18, 2009
"The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the World he didn't exist."
When someone says we're living in a post-feminist or post-racist world or post-any-other-civil-rights-issue, that's the Devil whispering in your ear - and many others' ears, too. What else needs to be done if we've already won? The issues no longer exist.
Just this week, I read the Copyblogger post "Why James Chartrand wears Women's Underpants," where the excellent blogger and writer from (still-appropriately-named?) Men with Pens, James Chartrand - herself - shared her story of trying to enter freelancing as a woman, but who didn't find success until she reinvented her online self as a man.
"This week" - more specifically, Monday, December 14, 2009. Yes, 2009. We're not talking pre-20th century like George Eliot or any of the Brontë sisters. This isn't pre-civil rights legislation like James Tiptree, Jr. (aka Alice Sheldon) or even Andre Norton had to go through. This is after J.K. Rowling chose to use initials over 10 years ago to submit her best-selling series. If she didn't use her initials then, would you know her stories and who she is now?
As a member of the Motherboard for Broad Universe, I'm constantly learning about what goes on in the publishing industry - specifically in speculative fiction, as that's what I write and that's what the organization promotes. In fact, we have some excellent statistics up at our site to show people that women do, indeed, have the deck stacked against them. Of course, Broad Universe wasn't the first. Before us was Sisters in Crime (created in 1986), who have done amazing work in the mystery genre. And, just before Broad Universe, Women Writing the West (1998) presented their first WILLA awards for women in the western genre.
I can't say "not a day goes by without," but I can say "not a month goes by without" at least 2 people - male or female (but not trans-gendered, as they are well aware of these issues) - ask me why women/feminists need their own publishing support networks, business networks, conventions (like Wiscon or Conbust), awards... In fact, annually, I get into 1-2 outright, if not hostile, arguments - sometimes even with friends - that it's "offensive" to them that I'm a feminist, or that I'm going to a women-only or woman-promoting meeting/convention. I'm asked, "Isn't that sexist?"
No. It's not.
It's making up for the lost pay and lost opportunities I still suffer right now, WE women still suffer right now. If James Chartrand's story isn't enough, I can personally direct you to no less than 3 other women who have turned in the same manuscript under their name and under a gender neutral name - no changes made - and had the gender neutral manuscript accepted with little-to-no changes. On top of that, look at the Business and Professional Women's Foundation and its studies of the continuing wage disparity.
Women-only support groups are not sexist because even with the work they do, they have not bridged the gap of wage, promotional support, and networking resources that exists in mainstream business and industry. For example, if you follow the link to the Broad Universe statistics, you'll see where things have been improving in since we started taking statistics. However, women authors are still far behind men in receiving recognition, promotional support from publishing houses, being invited as guests-of-honor at conventions, advance pay, award nominations, and even plain old book reviews!
Now, I'm only talking about the very narrow writing-publishing aspect of the gender-issue spectrum, but unequal rights abound all over. There are plenty of articles and books available on popular media and advertising, and how women are portrayed negatively and unfairly. As I mentioned earlier, the Business and Professional Women's Foundation has a lot of information about gender inequality in the workplace. Yes, women have it better before the civil rights movement, but that doesn't mean we are treated as an equal demographic to men. There are plenty statistics and studies available, by multiple sources, so you can cross-check for yourself.
So, next time your tempted to think that we're in a post-feminist (or post-inequality) era, remember the Devil's greatest trick. Whether you believe in an actual sentient evil in the world or prefer the metaphor, the danger exists either way. If you don't believe wrongness is there, it continues to sneak in and taint your life. People cannot choose to do the right thing if they don't think the wrong option exists.
Inequality is pernicious and active - don't be tricked into thinking otherwise.
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
Everyone likes games - even our fictional characters.
Several years back, I took a writing class at Bay Path Vocational School, where a local author - and I feel awful because I don't recall her name - gave a 12-week writing evening class. There were two exercises that she had us do in a group that I have used countless times since. The one people still send me emails for copies of is The Character Game or The Character Autopsy.
It's basically a "getting to know you" questionnaire you ask your characters. The best way to play this game - and it works especially well for anyone with roleplaying experience - is to have someone else ask you the questions, and you answer in your character's voice.
I've moderated online chats with just The Character Game for my DragonWriters writing group and with other writing friends/colleagues, which are particularly effective. Why? Because it's already easy to assume a different identity online - and, we often let ourselves get sidetracked from the questions and interact with each other, leading to further discovery about these strange people living in our heads.
It's especially entertaining when you've got characters from different genres - like my contemporary fantasy paladin caught in the Apocalypse and Aimee's chick lit, ex-pat book-club lady in an unsatisfying marriage.
Rather than talk about it further, I'll share the game with you. Play it with your characters. Play it with friends. Play it with your friends' characters.
You'll thank your characters for playing when you uncover more than you ever thought you wanted to know about them.
*The handout cites "UCLA MFA Screenwriting" with an instructor of Neil Landau from 2/2002 as this game's origination.
What is your full name?
How old are you?
What is your favorite item of clothing or personal item?
What is your favorite room in your house? Why?
You walk into a restaurant (or bar, if your world has them/allows you to drink)... what do you order to drink?
What do you consider to be your best physical feature/s?
And what is your worst physical feature/s - either looks or usefulness?
What is your worst vice or habit?
At the start of the story, what is your highest priority?
Who are you closest to in your family (meaning your blood relatives)?
Who do you call in an emergency?
Who in your circle of family & friends could most likely betray you? Why?
Have you ever committed a crime? What was it? And did you get caught?
You find a wallet containing $500 cash (or equivalent), and an i.d. What do you do?
Do you have any pet peeves?
What do you consider to be your biggest/greatest weakness?
What do you consider to be your greatest strength?
Were/are you a good student or learner?
Were/are you popular among your peers?
What is your credo/philosophy in life?
What is the biggest misconception about you?
What has been your biggest accomplishment thus far?
Have you had any key regrets in your life?
Have you ever been in love? If so, when and with whom?
What is your faith or religion, if you have any? How does it define you (if at all)?
Do you have a secret? Something you've never told anyone or perhaps only a select few?
What is your most vivid childhood memory?
What is your ultimate wish for you life - if you could have or do anything?
What do you hate most about yourself?
What is your innermost core fear? Why does that frighten you?
Put your character into the moment of his/her/its innermost fear and ask him/her/it these questions:
1. What do you need?
2. Who do you call?
3. Do you feel desperate & needy? Are you ashamed to feel that way or do you feel entitled to those feelings?
4. What must you do some day before you die?
Feel free to share some of your characters' answers in the comments!
Monday, December 14, 2009
I'm rarely happy with my Manic Monday blog posts.
The idea for them was similar to a "reminder" version of my annual New Year's Resolution/Business Plan post – on a weekly basis. Posting my weekly goals and events for the world (potentially, anyway) had a two-fold purpose. The first is that I'm always curious about how professional writers organize their lives, and I felt I might not be the only one with that interest. The second is accountability.
Organization may as well be a Holy Mystery to me. My mother ran three direct sales jobs from the kitchen table, her notes a cryptic collage collected on discarded detritus, like the backs of notebooks and sides of boxes that could no longer carry Avon orders for delivery. (We were into recycling BEFORE it got cool!). I look at her "desk" in awe, though it appears almost as chaotic as mine, because I know how good she is at what she does. When I interview professional, independent artists who are in business for themselves, I ask about organizing: their work, their day, their to-dos. No matter how much I learn, though, organization to prevent those many moments of chaos continues to be a driving Holy Grail quest – at least in my head, anyway.
Most of my editors and people who are looking at me from outside the cluttered "desk area" that's my den, compliment me on my organization and record keeping. They're impressed! I smile and nod. It's an ongoing battle, that mathematical curve that keeps getting closer to a line but will never touch it. That said, I hope someone might avoid some of my mistakes – or at least feel better about their organization - from hearing about mine.
On a more selfish level, I write a Manic Monday post to force accountability.
I have no regrets about leaving the corporate world and going into business for myself, but I'm the kind of person who needs an outside influence giving me deadlines. Posting my goals and timelines for myself creates a 3rd party I must answer to. It's no longer in my head – or scraps of paper only I see -, but it's Out There. So, I have to do it. (Well, "have to" moreso than otherwise. I believe this year alone I've written 3 "starting over/getting back on the metaphorical horse" confessions.)
It works though. J Proof: I'm writing this blog post 4 days before it's "due" to be published.
So, why am I generally unhappy with these posts?
It's hard work to balance my selfish needs with an entertaining/educational element!
And I still think I suck at organizing.
Friday, December 11, 2009
Food-trepreneurs, baking supply companies, even major brand names… (cuz, y'know y'all read my little blog)… Listen up! This one is for you!
We've got single serving cake and brownie mixes, bitty packages of crushed nuts, caramel chips, peanut butter chips, mint-chocolate chips, coconut chips… fruit pieces in multiple quantities. Single-cake size frosting measurements. Single-use baking pans. All sorts of neat stuff for convenience.
Why, oh why, oh why do we not have pre-crushed candy canes? UNWRAPPED, pre-broken peppermint candy. Seriously - I would pay extra for this convenience.
I make this peppermint-cookie brittle of which one of the ingredients is a box of crushed candy-canes. Sounds innocuous - but they are dangerous, aggravating little bastards! First, you've got open the box to get to them. Now, since I'm breaking them up, I don't care that getting into the box requires a certain degree of force that breaks or cracks at least half them, but as a kid, who wants a broken candy cane? (More on children's issues later!)
Now, once I've gotten through the box, I've got to bugger my way into the shrink-wrapped canes, themselves. I had issues doing this as a kid - and I haven't gotten any more dexterous, so making sure I get every sliver of that stupid, shiny, sticky, clingy, crap off the candy is a royal bitch.
The cat was highly entertained at my antics of hand-wagging, cussing, cleaning, and inspecting… and cussing more when I found more plastic on the pieces. I'm not gifting someone with asphyxiation cookies!
Parents! How has this gone unchecked? How do kids not choke on this plastic? It's hazardous stuff, people! You proactive parenting types - think of the danger to your children, for God's sake! Candy-cane wrapping is serious shit. We need an activist group or something!
Now, yes, I could use Starlight mints, which have the twisty plastic ends and aren't bloody shrink-wrapped, but they become powder in the food processor - none of those great chunks of peppermint candy from a couple of swirls on "chop" or a few good smacks against the counter when I'm particularly aggravated that I've underestimated my baking time again.
Chopped peppermint candy, folks - it's the next big thing! I want it in my supermarket. Now!
(And if you start marketing it based on this blog post, I better damn well get a cut - or at least a free lifetime supply!)
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
I was crying within 10 minutes of opening my email today.
They were happy tears.
Last night, before I went to bed, I buckled down and finally wrote a "Goodbye" note to the discussion list for the Editorial Freelancer's Association - because I wasn't sure how much longer I'd have access to the Yahoo! Group. The organization had already given me an extra 30 days to renew my membership, but with car issues and the loss of one of my major clients this year - I simply didn't have enough.
I expected a few responses wishing me well; I'd made several friends & met wonderful colleagues on the list. I did NOT expect two of my colleagues to offer to pay for my membership!
Having been brought up by two independent parents, it took me over an hour to compose a letter accepting the gift from these colleagues and thanking them. It would have been a crime to turn it down, though.
The EFA has been a wonderful resource for me since I joined in 2005. It was the first professional group I belonged to, and it has made quite the impact on my career as a freelancer; it showed me the importance of community.
Working with the written word doesn't - and shouldn't - have to be a solitary career. Humans naturally gravitated towards each other, constantly creating and building societies. It's who we are. Despite the flaws of society/community - and there always will be flaws; we're human - creating a village is not only beneficial to the individual, but necessary.
Whether it's a grammar problem or a life problem, the community offers support and collected wisdom. One person can't know everything, nor can he or she do everything, and while even a community can't cover everything - it does offer more experience, options, and views than any individual can on her/his own.
Since joining the EFA, I've become active in several other excellent professional organizations. I'll often cross post the wisdom between them: open calls for fiction or jobs, a tidbit on grammar usage, notes on the publishing industry. I often read cross posts from others in a similar vein. When members ask for help - and even if they don't - there are individuals in the community who will shine for those in need. (And yeah, we have our periodic flame-ups, too - but even those offer something to learn.) Being part of this experience also give me the chance to help another - be it with advice, information… or a direct intervention.
If you're serious about working with the written word, look into the different professional organizations out there. I list several on my website - and I'm happy to still proudly post that I'm a member of the Editorial Freelancer's Association. It will make you not just a better writer and a better businessperson, but it might also make you a better person.
Thank you, Claire & Laurie!
Monday, December 7, 2009
Aaaah, first Monday of December!
I just got back from spending the weekend with a few good friends, seeing a play with them, and attending their Christmas party - while I caught up on the rest of my baking (including my first time making biscotti - which, I may add - came out GREAT!)
So, I'll take a leaf from my entertainment editor and admit to discombobulation in this communication.
I'm already considering my New Year's Post on Resolutions/Business Plan… less than a month and that will be up. Money and conventions are important considerations… as is continuing regular fiction submissions.
Making money. Also very important.
My good friends Renée and Sean finally got an apartment storefront in Connecticut! I'm wonderfully happy for them, though I will miss seeing them as often. Or… we may just have to spend a little more on gas and visit for longer times. Whatever it takes. Besides, I'm all for helping out at the store, too.
Our New Year starts with helping them move in/set up.
To take a peek at some of the cool stuff that will be at their store, check here.
I also feel like I'm back to square one in organizing after NaNoWriMo.
No… not quite… I'm still < 100 emails in the inbox, my side desk is mostly cleared off… but the poor animals' litter boxes desperately need cleaning… as does the right side of my desk.
My kitchen table and counter is taken over with cookies - but most of those are getting mailed out. J (Ok, that has nothing to do with NaNoWriMo… it just happened to immediately follow, so it continued the backlog.)
Of course, it is also holiday season, so that makes it harder for everyone to organize.
Husband-of-Awesome has had to work the past two weekends so that they can get this government contract done before we leave for our last vacation of the year. I'd really like to get enough of a rough draft done on the current novel before vacation, too. So, it's a push for both of us.
My plan: get back on that more rigid schedule I had after Dragon*Con.
Most creative people I know love their freedom - but we work best under deadline and within limitations. With sending out cards and cookies - and writing deadlines, a rigid schedule - using the timer on my cell phone - is probably just what I need.
What is your favorite way to get everything done in the holiday season?
Friday, December 4, 2009
It's that time of year again. J My gift to friends and family are my baked goods.
I've gotten very good at developing cookie recipes; very few are true to the original recipe format. If you're getting cookies from me, you're getting cookies you can't get anywhere else. (And usually not any other time of the year as I don't have time for these 2-3 day baking binges otherwise.)
To give you an idea of what my cookie making entails, I will share the morphing of 2 of my most recent acquisitions to my cookie collection.
My friends Caroline & Jesse put macaroons in their Christmas Cookie collection starting a few years ago. I loved them; they were a candy-like consistency. She gave me their ridiculously easy recipe:
1 14-oz can condensed milk
14 ounces shredded coconut
Preheat oven to 400 F.
Mix the whopping 2 ingredients (probably close to a direct quote from Caroline as she relayed the recipe for me).
Put them on a Parchment Papered cookie sheet.
Bake for 10-12 minutes or until golden on top and edges.
The Parchment Paper was the key, though, because these cookies were, as I said, a sticky-candy consistency. Silpat or the equivalent sheets work - but not your regular ole greased or aluminum-foiled or wax-papered cookie sheet!
They were easy, but I wanted more of a cookie texture.
So, I put the condensed milk on Whip for about a minute to get some air into it.
Then I added the coconut AND 1/4 cup flour (or 2 ounces).
After three scrapes of the bowl after slowly bringing it up to a whip again, I got the batter to a texture more like Fluff®.
I scooped those onto my Silpat/silicon layered cookie sheets. (And, after 2 sheets, was gifted with a proper cookie scoop per Husband-of-Awesome who was sick of me cursing at the 2 spoons I was using for this sticky manipulation.)
I baked the slightly altered recipe and - voila! - just what I wanted. Lighter, fluffier macaroons.
Then, another idea hit.
(I mean, what isn't better with chocolate, really?)
I melted half a package of Ghiradelli dark chocolate chips with 2 tbsp of butter in a home-made double boiler (pyrex bowl over sauce pot of boiling water) and dunked half of each macaroon into the chocolate goodness.
The dark chocolate brought out a whole new dimension to the very sweet macaroons. They were 10x better, maybe 50x better - since I had to send H-of-A out for a slew more condensed milk, coconut & dark chocolate because we ran out of cookies before I could even assemble gifts people.
After the slight alteration and addition of chocolate, another idea struck.
(Ok, my muscles were hurting from baking all day… so rum… mmmm!)
It took a few tries with this to get the consistency right… I went through dried pinapple, how much rum, cubed, crushed, etc.
This is what I got:
1 14-oz can cubed pineapple run through food processor and strained until you've got about half a cup of pineapple smush.
1 pony shot (if you don't know what this is, you are a sorry barkeep! j/k about 1 oz. I eyeball it) coconut rum.
4-5 add'l ounces shredded coconut
2 ounces (1/4 cup) add'l flour (making total flour 1/2 cup or 4 ounces).
Prepare the same way. (your cookie output is 1.5x the previous recipe.)
Before baking, top each cookie with half a maraschino cherry.
&, if you've got leftover melted dark chocolate, use a wire whisk to drizzle it - so it doesn't go to waste, of course.
There you go, 2 new and ridiculously easy cookie recipes to try. But I won't share my version of kiffles!!! No way, no how!! ;) (But you can get the original from the DragonLance book Leaves from the Inn of the Last Home.)
Tuesday, December 1, 2009
When 11:59 November 30th rolled around… I hadn't even finished putting all my words and all of the joint-scenes onto one document - much less a document of 50k words.
So, Team Wooldridge-Tohara started making sure the one who had an extra 2 hours before her 11:59 could make it.
As a team - we won!
My little "novelfriend" button won't get the purple bar, but Chris made sure to send me a badge and certificate. Because - between the two of us and our all nighters, we've not only got our story, but we've got its soul.
If I were doing this alone, it would be an unquestionable fail, though. And that's an important lesson for me.
I can write fast: when the muse has taken me and I don't need to stop and think and research.
I don't actually write as fast as I think I do. Even at the write-ins, where I wouldn't even open a browser or Twitter, where I had no phone or animal distractions. I'm not that fast of a writer.
I can't spew onto the page. I was always taught is don't do a job that you know you're going to have to fix later - and I have a damn strong work ethic.
Yes, I have heard enough times to turn off the critic and write - that you can't use both sides of the brain at once. I don't mean to sound elitist or egotistical, but that's most people. I can. I've got about 20 short stories, 2 completed novels of my own, and now 1 and about 3/4 of a joint novel completed. I think and write. I've been writing since I could come home and wave vocabulary quizzes at my mom in chubby kindergarten fingers.
What did I want from NaNoWriMo?
Ideally, a completed first draft. But, a first draft to the standard I/we hold a first draft. It had to be strong enough not to create quicksand holes near the end and to support the heavy duty editing we would do.
What we both got was a detailed blueprint, a solid foundation, several walls going up, our utilities picked out - and even the curtains and paint chosen. If we wanted to include our planning "meetings" on messenger, we'd have 100k in notes.
But that's not a story. It is a draft.
And both of us are happy with what we've got to play with for some time.
On the website, there were videos on how to pump one's word count by doing everything you don't want to do if you're a serious writer. Extra adjectives, adverbs, include dream sequences, a lot of detailed worldbuilding…
Well, we've got the detailed worldbuilding. It goes in its own "bible." Where it belongs. For us to pull from when we need a specific plot-moving, character-enhancing, setting-making detail. It doesn't all belong in the story.
We also probably already have way too many adjectives, adverbs, and unnecessary flashbacks, dream sequences and expository lumps. If I know I'm going to go back and cut about 50% or more of that crap already, why throw more useless ones in to pump up word count?
We wanted a story, not a word count. And… if the two of us manage to have a finished first draft that's less than 100k words… well, it'll probably be a miracle. And, if our beta readers actually come back and tell us, "You need to expand more on that," we'll probably faint in pure happiness. "You mean-you mean-you don't mean we have to CUT?!"
"Winning" of NaNoWriMo is personal. The community is wonderful and supportive, we're not writing against each other, and sometimes its good to turn of the critic entirely and write. Some people need to be reminded of that more than others.
I was so excited about the story we were working on last night, that I couldn't sleep. My grin is from ear to ear thinking of the next scene we're writing together. Tomorrow. The second I turn of my tutoring clock!
I almost made it to 50k words on my part alone… but I made better with my partner: I've fallen in love with this story and the characters. (I love my partner too, but statements like that often require explanations of us both also loving our wonderful husbands who - yet again this year - demonstrated saintly patience and support! Thank you, guys!!)
And that's what counts.
See you next year!
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
I'm happy to share this Writerly Wednesday blog with my friend, colleague, and fellow feminist & Broad, Emilie P. Bush. Emilie was a big help with a lot of the Dragon*Con programming and a lot of fun to hang out with when we got to meet in person.
Emilie is a working mom with a 2 and 4 year old. She says, "I felt like I had to write a novel or I would die a horrible death. I didn't realize how unhappy [I was] focusing wholly on the needs of one husband and two small children until I started writing. After several months of insomnia and mad writing, I had reconnected with myself and had a darn fine book to show for it."
Emilie's book, Chenda and the Airship Brofman are available at Amazon.com here. You can also hear the Chenda and the Airship Brofman podcast here, and why not also make it a favorite on Facebook? Also, find out more about Emilie, her life, and her writing on her blog.
Tell us a little about Chenda and the Airship Brofman. What can readers expect from it?
Chenda and the Airship Brofman is a classic hero's epic, except it's a heroine's take. I've called it Feminist Steampunk once or twice. In a lot of ways, Chenda and I started the book in the same place (write what you know, right?) -- depressed. In her case, this 100% sheltered child who grew up in a convent, and then at the estate of the richest man in her country - Edison Frost -- is suddenly widowed. Edison leaves her a bag of stones and a cryptic note telling her she needs to undertake a journey across the sea to the Tugrulian Empire, where she is to find a holy Mystic who can reveal her destiny. Chenda does the only thing she can think of - she obeys. Along her journey, she meets an old sweetheart of Edison's and the crew of the airship Brofman. Her adventure takes her up in the air, across a desert, under the sea and into a world of gods - who all seem to have a wicked sense of humor. Chenda transforms from a shell of an orphaned girl into a powerful woman who, better than anyone else in the world, can take care of herself.
What was your favorite part in writing this story? Why?
The original opening line of the story. Sadly, I had to cut it. I learned very early on in my writing career, back when I was writing features for public radio, sometimes you have to give up the soundbite you like the best because it doesn't fit the story. Otherwise, I would have to say the interplay between Verdu and Fenimore - the two senior officers on the Brofman. They have a phenomenon between them that - when they are together - they start to move in tandem: one breathes in as the other breathes out, they blink together, move together. The tandem varies from quirky to creepy to troublesome as the two best friends have a falling out over Chenda. I enjoyed writing these two because they were so similar and yet so different. I also have a softspot in my heart for gay literature. Fen and Verdu are straight, but some of their interplay is homage to Gay Lit. Slightly taboo. Wholly fun.
What was the hardest part to write? Why?
The hardest part of writing for me has always been answering the basic questions "Am I saying what I mean?" and "Why should the character's care about each other?" At first, I had the problem of knowing where my characters are going. I knew, but I didn't want to give away too much, too soon. I know my character's hearts and heads, but am I putting enough of it down on paper to convey their motives and character to the reader? As to the second question, that's when I really relied on Beta Readers. I would write a chapter and send it off to my friend. When she finished, I started asking questions like, "Do you buy this plot point?" or "How can I tie these characters together so they will break their various norms?" Working this way, sending a chapter at a time to my friend, turned every chapter into a cliff hanger, so there is LOTS of excitement.
What would you say was the greatest lesson you learned in writing Chenda and the Airship Brofman? About writing, yourself, creation, life?
No one can create in a vacuum. EVERY life experience can translate into a story. In this book, I write about what it was like for me to step off an airplane in West Africa, the sadness of losing someone close forever, the blood stopping fear of being attacked, the joy of finding someone who vanished years ago. It's all in there and more, but it's such a better tale to tell, and much easier to let it out, when it happens to Chenda. I can change it, make events happen for her, and convey the pulpy emotions the way I felt them, but with perhaps better outcomes and more style. Also, I got to write all my friends into the story. (Again, write what you know.) When I thought of my dorky friends as characters, the book just flowed. My best friend is Henrietta Hoppingood. There are bits of my husband in both the Captain and Fenimore. Ryan and Laura are real people, and the Dia Orella Temple is a real place - it just happens to be a Hindu Mandir at the end of my street.
Why did you decide to publish independently? What advice can you offer from your experiences?
Truth be told, I would have rather had an agent and a publisher and the kit and kaboodle, but after 27 query letters to agents, I started to realize, from a publishing perspective, my book was a problem: at 107,000 words, it was too long for a first novel, it was feminist Sci - Fi in this new Steampunk sub-genre, it wasn't chick lit, and it wasn't romance, and I wasn't a celebrity telling all. It didn't fit. Beyond that, I started to realize that I couldn't get an agent unless I was published and I couldn't get published unless I had an agent.
The last piece of the decision came at Dragon*Con. I got talking with some smaller publishers, who thought they could get my book on some - few - shelves in two years (assuming I was willing to cut 10,000 words - as one publisher told me to do - even before he read it. Said it would be cheaper for him to print. YIKES!) Just looking around the Con, it didn't take a rocket surgeon to figure out that STEAM is way IN! Two years??? I'd rather strike with the iron hot, thank you very much.
I went to a talk [at Dragon*Con] about independent publishing. The panelists - successful self publishers all - had one thing in common; they new how to give their stuff away. They developed a following over several years and then were able to sell effectively both written content and logoed merchandise After hearing that most writers junk their first novel anyway (because even the ones who snag an agent have little success with Book #1), I decided to give it away. I started a blog and a website (CoalCitySteam.com will get you to both) and started to podcast the chapters. I plan on giving the whole book away a bit at a time. It's important to ask yourself "What is success?" In my case, it's telling my story, not selling my story. (However, that would be a nice.)
What are your next plans?
I will be going to several Sci-Fi Cons to sit on Steampunk panels and do some readings. Hopefully, I will be able to garner a few readers. Otherwise, I have a new book in the works, it's based on a short story I wrote about a girl in New York City who cheeses off a Greek God by accident and starts to see all manner of "imaginary" and mythic creatures. I'm eager to get back to it, as I also set it aside time to focus on getting Chenda up and out the door. I hope to have the first draft of that one done by Spring. At the moment, it's called Cryptid, and it is nothing like Chenda and the Airship Brofman. I'm not done with Chenda, however. She has a lot more to do, so look for the next installment of her story in a year or so. I'm calling it The Gospel According to Verdu.
What piece of advice do you wish you had when you started that you'd like to give people now?
The people who snark about authors who don't have agents and publishers are, not surprisingly, agents and publishers. The old model of publishing and distributing books is not particularly efficient - for writers or publishers. It won't work for every book. As long as you are willing to work inside the learning curve of self publishing, I would say GO FOR IT. Write what you feel. What's that song from Seasame Street? "Don't worry if it's not good enough for anyone else to hear... Just sing! Sing a Song!"
Write - Write your book!
What are you most thankful for now that Chenda and the Airship Brofman is available?
The help. My spelling sucks out loud, and I have two small children. I needed proof readers in the worst way and my husband to take the kids. I'm also very pleased that my dad, in his reply to my announcement that the book was on Amazon, signed his reply "Proud Father."
That made my day. Did he buy a copy of the book? Um, no. But we eat an elephant one bite at a time, don't we? I'm also glad to be happy. Writing makes me happy, do I don't care if Pops every BUYS a copy.
Here is a bit of trivia for you. I named the airship Brofman after Sir Martin Brofman - who said: The words you use to describe your reality, create reality. I came up with the words to make Chenda's world and then I put her into it. What I write is real to me-- it's a place I like to walk around in. It makes me happy. So why would I ever stop writing?
Thank you very much for the interview, Emilie!!
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
Last weekend, the Bay State Equine Rescue attended the Equine Affaire, as we always do. We often get a good portion of our supplies from generous dealers at the Equine Affaire. Anyone who has horses knows - but many people who don't have or work with horses don't realize - that caring for a horse is expensive. Grain, supplies, supplements, vitamins, medicine - all cost a lot of money. Since the rescue is run entirely on volunteers and donations, it means a lot to us when dealers give us their extras and leftovers.
This year, the Bay State Equine Rescue gives our thanks for donations from Equine Affaire to:
Finish Line Horse Products, Inc.
McCauley Brothers Inc.
Central Connecticut Cooperative Farmers Association
Blue Seal Feed
U.S. Animal of Vermont
TizWhiz Sales LTD
Life Data Labs, Inc.
Uckele Health & Nutrition, Inc.
Some of these companies also make vitamins, supplements, clothing, gifts, dog, cat, small animal… and many other non-horse products. Please help Bay State Equine Rescue thank these wonderful companies by checking them out for your holiday shopping needs!
Thank you from everyone at BSER - human and equine alike!
Monday, November 23, 2009
When you're behind, it's hard to face the challenge and say "thank you." When you just want to give up, it's hard to thank difficulty for making us stronger. When you have a thousand and one things to do, it's hard to remember that simple "thank you" to a friend or family member or colleague who thought of you.
It's Thanksgiving in the U.S. this week, so a lot of people will be giving thanks for each other, their food, and other things they think of in any family rituals.
It hardly makes up for all the times we forget to thank each other, to thank God, to thank the Earth, to thank Life - no matter what any of them bring.
So many, many people do I owe thanks to - and for so many reasons. If I start now, will I even come close in a list?
You. All. Thank you. You know who you are. Maybe you don't - but YOU are wonderful. YOU made me who I am today. Thank you. If you think you have done me well, you have. If you can't think of something, know there is. We may not even realize it - you what you did, I what I received. Thank you. If I've already thanked you - thank you again.
And I thank myself, too - for being a pretty damned hard bitch on myself and giving myself time when I need it.
Husband-of-Awesome… Yes, of course Thank You. Especially.
Take more than a few minutes before turkey to consider gratitude.
Who are you thankful for? What are you thankful for?
What have you done to inspire gratitude in another?
Friday, November 20, 2009
In the Novel Friends email newsletter, I intended to include both of my Jell-O Shot recipes, but the word count was just too long, so I only included my Sparkling Faeries. So, below is the recipe for my Flesh & Blood shots. Now, assembly-wise, I actually made the first layer of my F & B shots first (the peach + amaretto), then, while that was solidifying, I made my Sparkling Faeries, and while the first part of the SFs were semi-solidifying, I finished the F & Bs. Sooo… with that in mind, here's the recipe for Flesh & Blood Jell-O shots. (And if you want to know how to make the Sparkling Faeries, email me to get our newsletter and I'll send you a copy!)
When we threw our B.L.U.M.B.U.F.S (By Light Unseen Media, Broad Universe, Fae Sithein) party at Worldcon, the Jell-O* shots and our Black Death Punch were a big hit. While it's easy(ish) to throw a mixed drink together in a cooler with ice, Jell-O shots create a more difficult problem as they need a temperature of at about 40 degrees Fahrenheit (or lower) to solidify. Not every hotel comes equipped with a mini-fridge - and ours was no exception. With little ingenuity that may make Alton Brown proud, solid gelatinous boozey goodness can be achieved!
*I really did use Jell-O brand gelatin. I suppose any gelatin brand will do, but I did not test any other brand.
In honor of my favorite Food Network celebrity, here's how I did it… presented AB cookbook style:
Flesh & Blood Jell-O Shots
2' by 3' (at least) that seals shut
100 1-ounce mini medicine cups
1-2 half sheet baking pans (more if you are making more shots)
1 electric kettle
1 wire wisk
1 glass bowl
2 4-cup liquid measuring cups
1 package of wild cherry or cherry or mixed berry Jell-O (again, preference availability depending)
1 package of peach or orange Jell-O (see above note pref./availability)
1 bottle vodka (or vanilla vodka if available. Smirnoff-level quality, $8-$12/bottle.)
1 bottle amaretto (I did splurge for Disaronno, but since it's mixing generic works)
See if your sheet pans fit all the way to the bottom of the cooler.
Cover the bottom of the cooler with a layer of ice. Put in one sheet pan and add a layer of ice to that. Close and seal the cooler.
They don't fit all the way to the bottom?
No problem. Add only about a half layer of ice to the bottom of the cooler. Cover your single sheet pan with ice and drop it in as far as you can and still remove it. In my case, my cooler (a Coleman) had a ridge around the top where I could fit the one pan. This pan is the most important, though, as cold sinks. It did make for some juggling between the shots and the mixing cup - but it was easy to figure out. Also, once the cooler had the ice in it for over an hour, it was entirely cold, and I could start placing my medicine cup shots on the ice-laden top level, too.
Close and seal the cooler.
Flesh & Blood Instructions:
Start with the orange or peach. As the package instructs, boil water for the package. Pour the Jell-O into the bottom of a clean 4-cup measuring cup. Add the boiling water and mix until all the powder is dissolved. For the remaining amount of liquid per the instructions, split it equally between water and your amaretto liquor. Mix thoroughly. Set up 25-50 of your 1-ounce medicine cups (on a baking sheet or two, to contain the mess), and fill them 1/3-1/2 full of the Jell-O mixture. If your cooler holds your baking sheet, place parchment over the top and lower gently into the cooler, below the ice-laden sheet, otherwise place them gently amidst the ice on the bottom. While your bottom layer is cooling, prepare the red (wild cherry/cherry/mixed berry) layer in the same manner, with your "cold" liquid being half vodka and half water. When the bottom layer is semi-solid, pour on the top/red layer until medicine cup is a little over 3/4 full. Return them to the cooler and let them set for at least an hour. If done correctly, these look like a layer of blood over a layer of pale flesh - and the amaretto is a great accent to any of the fruit flavors mentioned!
Bust them out for the party and toast your favorite SF&F&Horror authors, editors, agents, & fans!
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
First, no matter how tired you are, don't cop out with filler.
You never know when someone will link to you or when they'll read your blog. Case & Point: I was exhausted last Sunday and just threw a few things up after the Equine Affaire. Now, I get Google alerts whenever someone mentions my name or my business. I was linked to that following day based on a prior blog (by a blogger/agent who I have a LOT of respect for and whose clients & writing I love)… but, now I'm rather mortified that someone followed that link and saw the crappy cop-out on Sunday. That was NOT my best face as a writer.
What do you do?
There are a few options, actually.
Keep some spare, pre-written articles around. Ones you're happy with. I… am unfortunately out of them, so I need to remedy this. But, now I'm much more driven to remedy that situation.
(Once I'm done with NaNoWriMo, that is.)
Another option is to have guest blogs. There are lots of great reasons to do this. In no particular order: it frees you from a day of blogging (though, it probably adds another one if you're doing a fair trade - but it's later, so all's good), it brings a new audience to your blog, it brings a new audience to your guest blogger… and it's just fun.
Besides nixing the filler posts (as I'm now aware) - or perhaps a means of doing so - is to consider your content.
Strangely enough, when I talk to a lot of writers and artists, the biggest fear is "What will I write about?" Now, not all artists write - and writers, well, we write, but we all have a creative streak. On the other hand, we often see this creative streak as just part of our life. It defines us, it's who we are, how do we explain it? And why would anyone be interested in that anyway?
Well, it just so happens people are interested in what many of us think of our mundane lives. It's a grand mystery how we can turn glass into art and jewelry (Renée & Sean, this is for you!), or how we can just string words together and turn it into a saga, a better version of their life, a worse (but cathartic) version of their life. Or a unicorn. Or vampire. Artists are magic, and if we can get even a little of that to show people - it's fun and interesting.
Also, people want to know what we don't know. Many artists & writers just LOVE learning new things. A new way to fuse glass? A new kind of poem? Even (for me) how to network, market, and promote? That's why I tend to slant my Writerly Wednesdays to the business side of writing. It's more "magic" to me, sometimes, than putting the words on paper - because it's NOT second nature to me. I was just at the Worcester Chapter of the Downtown Women's Club; it's a whole different world than my desk and chat boxes. (For those who aren't writers and are reading this because I gave you my card… that's a compliment!) I met so many brilliant women who are passionate about what they do - things I cannot do myself but find utterly intriguing: organizing closets, de-stressing busy people, financial advice, holistic advising, boutique owners… and much more. (Strangely, few if any have blogs/websites - or at least ones listed on their business cards where I can easily see them. Business people take note at the missed linkage opportunity!)
Writers, artists? What do you read? What do you want to read? Feel free to let me know what you'd want to see here… or, why not fill in what you want to read yourself?
Trust me, you're not the only one interested!
Monday, November 16, 2009
It's now almost 3:30 and I just finished the outline rewrite for Chris's and my shared novel…
And I'm entirely exhausted after a weekend of heavy-duty cleaning and collecting donations for the Bay State Equine Rescue at the Equine Affaire.
So, short blog post:
If you're going to do a novel for NaNoWriMo… make sure you have double checked any and all research so you're not rewriting your outline on day 15. (How many days are in November???)
Even in this economy - some people are still awesomely generous for horses in need. As soon as Karin sends me a list of all the wonderful sponsors, I will post them on my blog - but it really was amazing to see how many companies really answered the call for our horses.
If you were at the Equine Affaire, and you donated to Bay State Equine Rescue - or any rescue - THANK YOU!!!!!
Friday, November 13, 2009
Special thanks to Aimee Weinstein for providing this Foodie Friday content about Japanese Tempura! Check out her website, aimeeweinstein.blogspot.com.
Since moving to Japan for the first time in 2003, I have been on a quest to taste as much Japanese food as possible. Of course there are things I don’t eat but they are few and far between, and so far, I have at least managed to try a little bit of even the most unappetizing-looking foods. Even though I have the attitude of “open your mouth and pray” when it comes to Japanese food, often I am surprised that something that doesn’t look appetizing to a foreigner tastes positively scrumptious. I used to eat tempura in the United States when I lived there so I thought it would be a familiar food when arriving in Japan. What I discovered, however, is that there are real differences between tempura inside Japan and outside.
The Japanese art of Tempura originates from a Portuguese process brought to Japan in the sixteen century by missionaries and then popularized by Shogun Ieyasu, the first of the long span of Tokugawa Shogunate. The missionaries used the method to fry their vegetables and fish which the Japanese people often ate raw. Today tempura is all over Japan in restaurants that range from snack shops to five-star establishments. Tempura, though, is more than just a fried shrimp.
The batter, which is mostly flour and egg, also contains a certain amount of cold water. Often in the best restaurants the batter is kept in a bowl over a bowl of ice to maintain the temperature. Colder batter does not clump and it does not allow the gluten to rise and separate so that the tempura when it’s fried, stays light and fluffy, not bogged down with the weight of the breading or batter. This is especially true in Japan where the best tempura is hand fried not machine-done. The Japanese have a strong belief in “slow” food – individual attention to each morsel.
In addition, the focus of tempura in Japan is light light light. In order to keep the breading subtle there are a few secrets: slice the vegetables and fish very thin. Dip it quickly into the batter and then put it directly into the hot oil, which must be kept at a constant temperature. If the chef uses a thick pan, like a wok, the oil maintains its heat throughout the surface area. If the fish or vegetable is thin enough the frying time is very fast, just long enough to allow the batter to set and cook. The inside item does not have to be cooked all the way through. Proper Japanese chefs use a mesh spoon to clear extra batter out of the oil lest it burn and put a bad taste into the oil, thereby infecting the taste of subsequent items.
In many places the tempura is served with a sauce called tsuyu. It’s a combination of dashi (bonito soup stock), mirin, sake and soy sauce. However, in the finest restaurants in Japan, patrons dip their small and light pieces into ground daikon (radish) or even in simple salt as directed by the chef. The shellfish tastes best with the salt, while fish and vegetables are best with the daikon.
No one will forget their first taste of tempura at a restaurant in Japan; it is not thick, but simply flavorful. No one feels bad after the meal as if he has eaten something heavy. I have learned that eating in Japan is an art as well as a function. Tempura is definitely something to experience as well as eat.
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
Thanks for giving me this blog space, Trisha!
Well, first of all, let's get the shameless shill out of the way. May 23-May 30, 2010, I'm going to be teaching a three-day writing workshop aboard Royal Caribbean's Freedom of the Seas—the world's largest luxury liner—in the Caribbean. As you can see from the dates, there will be plenty of 'free days' to just kick back and soak up the sun and the luxury of ship-board life, and visit four exotic ports of call, including St. Thomas and St. Maarten. Or work on your writing. Or both! The cost of the cruise includes the three-day workshop, evening writers' salons for sharing your work, dinners and cocktail parties with me, fabulous food and drink (except alcohol and soda), and all sorts of wonderful shipboard entertainments. The first fifty people who send in a deposit are also entered into a raffle to win an advanced reading copy (ARC) of my new Nightrunner book, THE WHITE ROAD. I toured a similar ship a few weeks ago and believe me, "luxury" is operative word in luxury liner. The chambermaids even make your towels into animals every day. How cool is that?
As for the workshop, we'll be doing intensive work on various elements of novel/story building, including characterization, dialogue, and plotting, as well as insider information on how to market your work, including how to write a winning query letter. With the dinners and salons, there'll be plenty of time to talk shop, too. These will be interactive work shops, with lots of Q&A and writing prompt assignments. While much of the focus will be on genre writing, these building blocks of good writing apply to all forms. Whether you're someone who's just trying to get started putting pen to paper or fingers to keys, or someone with a book in progress, there will be lots of valuable information and experience. I'll also be talking a bit about my own work and journey as a writer, and maybe even giving a sneak peek of WHITE ROAD.
For more information, see: http://www.sff.net/people/Lynn.Flewelling
For news, updates, and just cool places to hang out:
My Live Journal: http://otterdance.livejournal.com/
My Face Book: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Lynn-Flewelling/145593970532?ref=ts
There, that's out of the way. What I'd like to blog about today is "Staying in Love With Your Characters." This is something I know more than a little bit about. For those of you unfamiliar with my work, my best known work is my ongoing Nightrunner series, which features medieval rogues Seregil and Alec, who lead double lives as "young nobles of little account" in the grand city of Rhíminee, and as master spies for a shadowy organization called the Watchers, work that takes them into some very dangerous and exotic situations. The books are fantasy/mystery crossovers, with plenty of magic and spooky stuff, and some sex and humor, too.
The first Nightrunner book, LUCK IN THE SHADOWS, was published by Bantam Spectra in 1996, but Alec and Seregil emerged from the Great Cosmic Compost Heap of my imagination in 1983 or 84. In the intervening years I basically taught myself to write, wrote many, many, many drafts, learned how to market a book and tried to sell an unsellable manuscript, went back to the drawing board, and finally came up with two marketable books, LUCK and the sequel, STALKING DARKNESS, got an agent, and made my first sale in 1995. (Come take my workshop; I'll make sure it doesn't take you that long!)
Of the six novels I've written since then, three of them have been Nightrunner books, the most recent being SHADOWS RETURN (Bantam Spectra, 2008)—which I wrote after taking a nine-year hiatus to write my Tamír Triad—and the forthcoming WHITE ROAD (Bantam Spectra, May 2010). Even with a break in the middle, that's a very long time to live with the same characters, to keep them fresh and vital and love them. How do you stay in love with your characters? My answer: change. Whether you're writing a stand alone book, or a multi book series, the characters have to be different on page 427 than they were on page 1.
Otherwise they become static cartoon characters, always described in the same words, always reacting in the same way, and encountering the same situations. For example, Alec is sixteen when we first meet him, and twenty one in WHITE ROAD; in LUCK he's the innocent, callow youth at the beginning of his hero's journey, and becomes the experienced, worldly Seregil's spy-in-training, as well as his companion and gradually, step by step, friend, lover and equal over the course of the next four books. Seregil, for his part, is haunted by an unhappy and guilty past. While this has molded him and colors his actions, interacting with Alec constitutes a major change for him, with long range effects. Change.
So, you have two main characters acting upon and changing each other. Good. But they also move in and are acted upon by the larger world, for good and ill. They suffer. They grow. They learn. They carry scars on skin and soul. It's not like you can just hit the "reset" button at the beginning of every book: "OK, Alec has blond hair, dark blue eyes, he's 16 (even though the last book took a year of story time), he has a fear of heights, and he's recently orphaned." And? What happened to him in Book 2, Book 3, Book 4? Time, victories, defeats, new friends, lost friends, traumas, first love, keeping love going, and on and on. In the hands of a good writer, all of these things leave their mark.
This presents some challenges. Coming up with new situations? Yes. Deciding how they will react to new situations? Yes. But you have to keep track of all those changes and scars, too! "On which ear did the dragonling bite Alec ?" "How old was Seregil when he met so-and-so?" "Why is Alec still carrying a dagger he lost two books ago!?" I'd like to tell you that I keep neat and copious notes but a couple of computer crashes have wiped out important files and now I have to use the previously published books as my references. Memory is a faulty thing to rely on, at least for me. I must admit, I made a real goof in SHADOWS RETURN; I mentioned the death of Alec's father and mentally defaulted to how he died in an earlier draft, not in the final, in-print book. And it got by my editor and copy editor, too. But not my faithful readers! Yeah, I got letters. At the moment I'm writing a sixth Nightrunner book, and believe me, I'm taking more notes.
So change is necessary, and really, change is fun! If you've ever raised a pet, a child, a houseplant, or a garden, you know the joy of watching those small, steady changes. As a writer, you get to orchestrate them. But it takes care. Some writers have a very long range vision, they can plan out a whole series of books and everything that happens in them. I am not one of them. I have a general idea of each book, the arc I want it to cover and the changes I want to happen, but much of it happens at the keyboard. For me, the changes must be a continuous, logical flow: if A + B = C, then D. It's like playing music by ear, and the guiding precept is: "Does this change make sense?" I've learned through hard and ongoing experience that if I try to force events or characters in an illogical direction for the sake of some plot point, I invariably end up stuck solid, unable to proceed until I figure it out and stop trying to push the story in that direction. My characters keep me honest.
Characters that grow and change makes for more interesting reading, but also more interesting writing. Keep that love flowing!
Monday, November 9, 2009
I'm at 9198 words right now, which is more than 4000 words behind. *raspberry!*
I give myself permission to be behind right now, or I'll never make it to bed at a reasonable hour this week. I WILL catch up before the end of the month.
Bad-Ass Faeries 2: Just Plain Bad is now live on Amazon! Wheee!!
We get an extra vacation! Good friend, Aimee Weinstein, hooked me & Husband-of-Awesome up with one of her timeshare weeks that she can't make… we're going to be nestled up in Rockport, Maine over Yule (yet, strangely, about the same distance away from our cousin's Yule Party as we are in MA - doesn't matter re: our attendance, though.)
Aimee will also be guest-blogging here on Friday about food (as it's Foodie Friday) and Tokyo life! I love her writing and sense of food, so I'm looking forward to what she posts. :)
Also guest-blogging this week, for Writerly Wednesday, is the fabulous Lynn Flewelling. She is fantasy author extraordinaire of the NightRunner Series and the Tamir Trilogy. Aaaannndd… she has the wicked cool distinction of teaching a writing course on a cruise! Cannot wait for this post, either. :D
Christy & I have managed to sustain our friendship despite the new world of our novel and the tests it brings.
Some Broad Universe News:
We're going to be at Arisia for sure, Boskone mostly for sure, most likely Conbust, WisCon for sure, Readercon for sure… and Dragon*Con for sure. :) Look for Rapid Fire Readings, Book Tables, and the occasional Party!
The Broad Pod is shaping up… I'm trying to figure out tech for a number of things. We have our schedule mostly done. I need to nudge a few people who said they wanted to host…
Besides the two most-excellent guest blogs, I've got a relatively slow week (so I can catch up on NaNoWriMo???). Two restaurant reviews, rest of my team evaluations (hopefully done tomorrow so I'm not TERRIBLY late), and possibly sneaking out to some Write-Ins to aid my faltering word count. Oh - and 2 crits for my correspondence critique group. So, lets see what we can get accomplished! :)
Friday, November 6, 2009
My favorite season in the year is Fall. Fall is why I deal with crappy summers and crappier winters and allergy-inducing (albeit pretty) Springs. Fall is why I will probably never willingly leave New England.
Fall is when I am Empress of the Kitchen!!
My darling may rule the BBQ pit and smoker, but I "PONE" the oven!! If it can be baked, broiled, or roasted, it is mine!
Aaah, Fall cooking! It is also the reason why I can deal with plus sizes!! Oh well! Mm-mmn-mmn!!
Aaah, Fall! Gorgeous leaves, great weather, apple picking, apple pie, apple crisp, apple bread, baked apples, pumpkins, roasted pumpkin seeds, stuffed pumpkin, pumpkin pie, pumpkin bread, pumpkin soup, apple-roasted chicken, sage-stuffing chicken, dutch-oven chicken with cranberries and apples, cranberry-sage stuffed pork chops, roasted pork loin with cranberries and apples, sweet potatoes, sweet potato casserole, savory roasted root vegetables, sweet-potato soup. Aaaah… the list goes on.
Why am I writing about Fall cooking? Cuz I just made one of my favorite dinners that I'd forgotten all about in the past 7 or 8 months that I shoulda made sooner if I actually had the time. Stuffed pumpkin!!
Damn… it is good!!
I couldn't even eat chocolate if you offered it to me! Seriously! I still have some truffles left and they are UNTOUCHED!
Just because I feel like it and want to share the joy, I will post how I make this decadent dinner!
First, wait for a crappy cool day or a day when you don't have a lot planned for a few hours. I took my time because I had some today. Overall prep and cook time is 2-3 hours.
Now, this can feed 2-4 people based on how hungry you are. Also, keep in mind, I measure like Rachel Ray, by sight, feel, and taste.
A 4-5 lb pumpkin.
About ½ lb of sweet Italian sausage (or sage sausage or ground pork with sage)
Fresh sage, about two handfuls.
Fresh thyme, about two handfuls
Half a read onion
A handful of fresh cranberries (frozen work okay, too.)
A handful of shredded or pre-diced carrots
1-3 stalks celery (I don't much like celery, so I only use one stalk.)
Half a cup of fine breadcrumbs
One stick of butter, cut into pats
One large egg
One clove garlic, smashed with the side of a knife
Some crumbled goat cheese
2-3 tablespoons flour
(the last few are a palmful or so of each, but they are seasoning and used a few times.)
One bottle of wine, preferably an oak-aged California Chardonnay.
A splash of milk
A splash of apple cider
There are several parts to make: the pumpkin, the stuffing, the roasted seeds, and the pan sauce.
First things first, get that top off the pumpkin and gut the sucker! Save as many seeds as you can and roast them with a fine mist of EVOO (extra virgin olive oil) and some fine-textured sea salt.
(There are several schools on how to roast pumpkin seeds. In all cases, wash them thoroughly to get off as much gunk as you can. You can roast them under the broiler at about 400 degrees (F) for 15-20 minutes or you can slow roast them at 200 for a few hours. I've done both and they come out the same. It depends on how much time you want to take and how high of an electric bill you can deal with.)
While your seeds are roasting make sure you have all the spindly guts out of the pumpkin by scraping it around with a tablespoon.
Use most of the salt, ground sage, and garlic powder to rub on the inside of the pumpkin.
Finely chop your onion and celery and throw those carrots and cranberries for a quick chopping whirl in your food processor. Keep the cranberries and carrots about as coarse as the onion and celery; be careful not to liquefy!!
Chop up about ¾ of your fresh sage and take the leaves off of about 20 or so sprigs of the fresh thyme.
Mix the ground pork or sausage with the onion, celery, carrots, cranberries, breadcrumbs, fresh sage & thyme, and the one egg until its thoroughly blended, about the consistency of meatloaf.
The rub should have leeched out a good amount of water from the pumpkin at this time. Dump it and pat it dry. (Otherwise it gets too wet.)
For the pumpkin, the oven should be set on 350-375 degrees F, depending on your oven.
Stuff the stuffing into the pumpkin; it's okay if it's a little overfull. Toss a pat of butter on the top and put the lid on. Throw it on a foil-lined cookie sheet and bake for 1 ½ - 2 hours until the inside temperature reads 160. Turn off the oven, leaving the pumpkin in there, and focus on the pan sauce.
At medium heat, melt about ¾ stick of butter in a sauciere pan (the one that looks like a hybrid of a sauce and fry pan; if you haven't one, either a sauce or a small frying pan will work) with the rest of the fresh sage, fresh thyme, peppercorns, whole cloves, the garlic clove, and about a tablespoon of the ground sage. Once it's melted and begins to reduce, add about half a cup of your wine, cover it, and let it simmer for 3-5 minutes on med-low heat.
Once it's simmered, take off the cover and let it reduce to about half the amount. Then, using a slotted spoon or a mesh strainer, take out all your herbs. When all you have left is the reduced liquid, add your flour and whisk it together to make a roux. Cook the roux until it is a dark blonde color and then add milk and cider until it is the consistency you like – I go for a gravy consistency, but you may like it thinner. Whisk it until it is all incorporated and take it off the heat.
Take out your stuffed pumpkin; it should be fork-tender on the outside. Cut it with a large knife into your 2-4 servings, ladle your sauce over it, sprinkle on the goat cheese and some roasted pumpkin seeds, and serve with a glass of that Chardonnay.
An quicker and slightly lower fat alternative is this:
Par-roast the gutted pumpkin empty and cook the sausage and vegetables in a skillet. (Split the fresh herbs about evenly between them.) Drain the fat from the sausage and pat dry the cooled pumpkin. (The par-roasting of the pumpkin will usually matches up in perfect time with sautéing the sausage, draining it, and sautéing the vegetables. The cooling times also line up pretty well, too.) Make your stuffing with the cooked (but cooled!) meat and vegetables, breadcrumbs, herbs, and egg. Roast it in the oven for about half an hour.
For the pan sauce, I'm still playing with that, but, from experience, if you cut back the butter and up the milk/cider, you should get a similar consistency, though it will be less rich.
You can also get low-fat goat-cheese, if you're really worried about it all.
Now, get back to that Chardonnay and enjoy!
Wednesday, November 4, 2009
If you get a critique that doesn't feel like a gut punch, it's probably useless.
No, it's useless.
If you want to make your writing better, you WANT it to look like your critiquer made your paper bleed. (I use green pen or font color… Vulcan blood.)
It's okay to disagree, be pissed off, hurt, upset, feel like a failure. Give those feelings their respect, and move on. Sit on a critique for at least a day, if not longer. If you're in a live group, thank your critiquers and ask questions only for things you don't understand. Take lots of notes. If you're part of an online group or correspondence critique group, send a "thank you" note (or comment), and say you'll look through things later.
Do NOT defend your work.
Do NOT argue.
Do NOT send of a flaming email or letter or comment about how stupid a critiquer is or how s/he didn't get your writing and has issues… etc. etc. etc.
When you've cooled down (if you're a newer writer, this may take more than 1 day; I usually am good after a day or a good night's sleep), look at the comments. If you have had an excellent critiquer, s/he will have asked questions or phrased comments open-endedly, focusing on how/why this piece/part/sentence/word didn't work for her/him. If you have a not-so-experienced critiquer, search for the how/why in regards to these comments. This "how/why" does this work/not work is key to your work. Grammar and line edits are all fine and well, but if there is a core issue that 2-3 or more or all your readers aren't getting => THAT is what you are looking for. If several people don't "get" something, there's a good chance an editor, an agent, another reader won't "get" it. And that is your fault - the writer's fault. You have not communicated something clearly.
Readers who don't give you comments or just say something is good or make an excuse of your writing not "being their thing" are useless. If someone loves it, great. Your ego gets shined… but it doesn't help your writing. If someone bows out of comments because "I don't read science fiction" or "I don't like horror," that's a cop out. It might save your some ego bruising, but it doesn't help you.
I sent out a piece to my correspondence writing group that I knew was edgy, somewhat provocative, and not an easy read.
I had some interesting responses.
One woman absolutely hated the piece and berated everything; there was NOTHING going for this story according to her comments. From most of the other comments I'd received, her reaction was singular in "not getting" the story. However, she made several good observations about some crappy word choices, order, and sentence structure that others had missed - and that I agreed with. It was one of the most painful critiques, and certainly not the most useful, but I garnered something out of it. Furthermore, I know enough about this particular reader - and the others who didn't like or didn't "get" it - to have a better picture of what sort of reading demographic this piece won't work at, so I'm not wasting my or an editor's time submitting it there.
On the other hand, I had a comment where the critiquer found the story "horrific," and something she wouldn't read, so she couldn't comment on it.
Which of these women did I learn from? Who made my story better and helped me in my search for the right market?
The one who I really did have to wait several days for recovery from.
No matter how painful your responses are, no matter how much red (or green or purple or pencil) decorates your beloved writing, no matter if MS Comments sports a higher word count than the original document - THANK the person who is giving you the critique.
Think of how much effort they put in - to help you!
Thank them. And listen.
They might just be right on a few things.
Monday, November 2, 2009
I just realized I never posted my pumpkin recipe on Friday. Oops! I really don't mean to tease anyone who's waiting for it. This Friday - promise!
NaNoWriMo kicked off today. I don't know Chris's word count, but mine was a paltry 1500 or so, and that wouldn't have even gotten done if it wasn't for the Worcester Chapter meeting from 1-3PM over at Clark University today. Yay Worcester Chapter for providing discipline! That 1500 words was one whole scene, though… so not too shabby.
Today also had my the poor Husband of Awesome having to fix the brake sensor on my car again… and the water heater breaking. FTW, Murphy?! I barely got my review in on time. The one that shoulda been done on Friday, but the restaurant kicked my butt and sent me to bed for a few hours. More on that later…
2009 Halloween was AWESOME! I loved my costume:
We spent the holiday at a good friend's house with other friends. J We watched scary movies and handed out candy and ate good food - like BRAINS!!! Yay us!
Friday was just a little insane.
It started with the chiropractor… then onto the transformation into the costume:
Yes, that is hair dye. Yes, it is obscene blonde. I don't care what the package says, it ought to be called "Obscene Blonde." More obscene: my brows didn't take. Whatever… it's a big difference, and I like it. The good thing about $10 hair dye is you don't feel awful if it looks funny; it's not a lot to change it back. Or change it to something different.
The green face is foreshadowing. Shortly after I made myself oh-so-pretty, I took my mom out to review a restaurant. The restaurant and I weren't in agreement on the quality of food… and even less so on price. I'll leave it at that. You can see the review next Thursday in Worcester Magazine.
I did recover enough on Friday (It would have taken outright food poisoning to keep me from going!) to make it to the Northampton special event at the Academy of Music by Genetic Imperfection (aka the Come Again Players) of Repo! The Genetic Opera. Especially awesome: Terrence Zdunich was there and it was a fundraiser for Cystic Fibrosis - a disease that took a way a good friend of mine last year right about this time.
The event was awesome. See for yourself:
Thursday was a coffee cupping at one of my favorite delis, where I didn't exactly admit to my alternate food-critic personality. No matter, I was writing an article under my own name, so I still got to pick the owner's brain… while eating fabulous pastries from the Pink House and drinking delicious coffee.
Oh… and this deli carries Jamón Serrano!!!! Totally made my night!
Wednesday night I went to Gulu Gulu café with my friend Dan. We had an open mic. It was fun, I read some poetry, but it wasn't quite worth the $ I lost by not working that night… and how bad I felt because the tutoring queue was busy and no one could sub for me.
Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaannndddd… Bad-Ass Faeries 1 & 2 are officially released!!! J Please patronize your favorite writers & editors and buy these nifty, pretty, and new copies!
I'm getting that soreness in the throat that says if I don't go to bed shortly and sleep in more, I will get sick. Goodnight!