Wednesday, June 9, 2010
I love it when virtues collide and something good also happens to be good for me. Writing, for example, is one of those good things. When I don’t write, I feel anxious, depressed, often frustrated. Things bottle up with nowhere to go. But when I do write, my planets align in happy harmony. My life seems easier, my outlook more sunny. Over the years, I’ve discovered that even when the writing goes badly, it’s better than not writing at all.
Besides the writing, I’ve been investing time in improving our diets. Just like with writing, I’m amazed at how much general benevolence comes from this act of eating good, wholesome foods. After a painless transition, we’ve officially converted to a diet of lean meats, whole grains and fresh produce. Just the act of cooking virtuously seems to please my palate.
One of my favorites creations has been fresh peach oatmeal. I’ll share the recipe today. It’s microwavable and comes together in minutes. Best yet, it tastes heavenly, like a big bowl of summer sunshine.
Fresh Peach Oatmeal
1/2 cup old fashioned oats
1-1/4 cups water
pinch sea salt
1/4 tsp. cinnamon (I use Vietnamese)
1 ripe peach, cut into 1/2” cubes*
1 tsp. peach or apricot spreadable fruit preserves
Drizzle maple syrup
Place oatmeal in a 4 cup microwavable bowl or measuring cup. Add water and salt. Microwave, uncovered, until oatmeal reaches desired consistency. (It takes 3 minutes in my microwave.)
Stir in cinnamon, peach, and preserves. Transfer to a serving bowl. Drizzle with maple syrup.
Makes 1 very generous serving.
* This is also excellent with diced strawberries and strawberry spreadable fruit.
Tuesday, June 1, 2010
It's been a wonderful spring here, fecund and fruitful. Jamieson's Folly commences, slowly but surely. Preschool is done; I now have a mini-me to help dig in the garden. Our little corner of the world blooms with late spring splendor. The rhubarb begs to be picked. Seedlings have emerged from the sleeping soil in Andy's vegetable garden. Our raspberry bushes are crusted with tiny green berries.
Even the flower beds look particularly lush. Thanks to a gentle winter, all my perennials have returned. This is my purple and yellow season in the beds. It's been a long haul, getting these beds to this point. We started eight years ago with no real clue what we were doing. We've killed a lot of innocent plants on the way. But things have settled in and sent out roots and showers of seeds. Even my woodland bed looks happy for the very first time.
The process encourages me. What started out tentative has become something wonderful, a place to reflect, to be quiet, to be together. Our daughter has come to love gardening. Our happiest weekends are spent digging in our gardens, ferreting out weeds, pruning back shrubs, removing spent flowers. I'm hopeful the results here will be mirrored in my results with Jamieson's Folly, that what is worthwhile will thrive, that I'll know what to plant where and what to snip off.
Monday, April 12, 2010
Buddy John Towler dropped me a note, gently reminding me I'd been among the missing. I've been around, for the most part, but just not very productive. Here's an update, for anyone interested.
I admit it. I've been in a funk. Buddy Jane calls them doldrums. Whatever they are, I'm in that period where the tank has been depleted and I need to let it refill before turning on the tap and letting it flow again.
I have a new story out at Eclectic Flash right now, titled "After the Rain." Some of you are all too familiar with it, having helped me redesign it from the ground up. It's available in both print and online form here.
SLACKING OFF: YOU BETCHA
I used my not-writing time to take a vacation with my family last week. We enjoyed a fast-paced tour of St. Louis and Hannibal, Missouri. Highlights of St. Louis included: freaking out over getting into the ridiculously tiny tram cart to climb the Arch (nope, I couldn't do it); visiting Cahokia Mounds, a giant archeological site that once was home to a city of 20,000 Native Americans; solving a mystery at The Magic House, St. Louis's uber cool kids' museum; tromping and train riding at the St. Louis Zoo; and my personal favorite, oohing and aaahing over the spring bulbs and flowering trees IN FULL BLOOM at the Missouri Botanical Garden. I could have spent the whole week just basking in the scent and color.
As for Hannibal? Let's just say I'm drained from all that Twain. But the boat ride was pretty darn cool.
Well, that's the question of the hour. I suspect I'll be back into Jamieson's Folly soon. At buddy Stephen's suggestion, I'm reading James Scott Bell's Revision and Self-Editing. And I'm signed up for Jordan Rosenfeld's Revise for Publication class. So I'll need to write something or waste my tuition.
Perhaps putting some good instruction in will bring me out of these darned doldrums.
Saturday, February 20, 2010
The weak economy has brought about a few undeniable realities for authors. Budget cutbacks in publishing mean authors have to promote themselves. Platforms, web presences, self-funded book tours, and blog tours are de rigeur. Bottom line: even if you’re with a big house, you have to get out there and hawk your own wares.
Interestingly, these cutbacks have led to a renaissance in self-publishing. Whereas self-publishing used to carry an undesirable stigma, the current economy finds writers choosing to self-publish for financial profit. I’ve heard writers say that since they’re going to have to do the promotional legwork, they might as well self-publish and keep all the profit. I’ve also heard of writers choosing to self-publish to attract the attention of a big publishing house. And I’ve heard inspiring self-publishing success stories.
Clearly, publishing is changing.
I recently had chance to discuss self-publishing with a college pal, Margie Wirth. Margie is a librarian and yoga instructor living in NYC who just released her first self-published children’s book.
BF: The Carrot Monster was inspired by Margie’s real-life canine companion, Bettyford, a veggie-loving Westie/Poodle mix. In the book, Bettyford’s fictional counterpart grows a garden and lives a gluten-free lifestyle. The book was a collaboration with Margie’s sister, Julie Sherfinski, who created the illustrations. Margie and Julie chose to publish with Lulu.
Margie was gracious enough to answer my questions about her writing and the self-publishing process. I thought I’d share her answers with you.
GI: Describe your process in creating BF: The Carrot Monster. How long did the project take from inception to final copy?
MW: I thought of it. Then I wrote down the scenes that I wanted. I sent the scenes idea to my sister. For example, I said rooftop garden. She just did everything from there. I allowed her to use her artistic, creative mind. It took Julie about six months to draw and color 15 drawings. She did it all free hand.
GI: Why did you choose to self-publish? What benefits have you found in it? Any drawbacks?
MW: It is sort of expensive. You put up the money and there are no guarantees of success or ever earning back what you spent. The profit per book is quite low. I guess we could have peddled the idea to publishing houses, but I thought self-publishing would be the easiest route. If it does become a hit, then maybe some big house will offer us a deal.
GI: Why did you decide to publish with Lulu?
MW: My husband had a friend go through Lulu with good results.
GI: Was Lulu easy to work with?
MW: Yes, my contact was very good.
GI: How long was the turnaround time from your initial contact with Lulu to having books in your hands?
MW: Pretty fast, depends on how many edits you have. I believe you are allowed three free edits once submitting the work. I had some typos in first draft that we did not catch right away.
GI: What were your impressions of the finished product?
MW: I like it. but they [Lulu] really do not do much at all. They did the layout for the cover, but that is it. Everything we submitted was “as is” in the book. They just did the production using saddle stitch binding. They really do not do a lot.
GI: What support does Lulu offer to help you market your book?
MW: Not a lot. It will be on Amazon and Baker and Taylor. You select the package.
GI: What kinds of things are you doing on your own to market the book?
MW: Veggies and gardening with kids is very popular today thanks in part to Michelle Obama. We are sending one to the White House, to Oprah, Katie Couric, Elisabeth Hasselback (In the book, the dog is gluten free; I am gluten-free and so is Elisabeth Hasselback.) I am sending one to the Betty Ford Foundation. I am giving one to Mt. Mary [College], to a librarian I know at Milwaukee Public Library and probably a few [to other public and school libraries].
GI: What was the most satisfying part of the process for you?
MW: I would say either holding the first copy or, better yet, actually making some sales.
GI: What have you learned from the process? What would you do differently next time?
MW: I am not sure yet if I would do anything differently. I will have a better answer in six months.
GI: Speaking of next time, do you plan to write more books in the future?
MW: That all depends on the success of the first book.
GI: Last but not least, how does Bettyford like being a celebrity?
MW: She has always believed that she is a former first lady.
Anyone interested in purchasing a copy of BF: The Carrot Monster can order online from Lulu at:
Tuesday, February 16, 2010
Today, I'm posting an update from Jane Banning. Many of you will know her as "Carmen" from my recent post on plagiarism. Jane has done a tremendous job of battling her plagiarist. I thought we'd all benefit from seeing what she's done. Her story is full of valuable lessons to us all.
If you're interested in reading Jane's rightfully published work, you can find it across the internet. A Google search should help you find it. Jane also has several pieces published in the 30 Days, 30 Writes chapbook. Use the link at right to navigate to a pdf copy.
Now to Jane's update:
Since the last post, several things have happened.
-The person has agreed to try to find all the sites where the poem was sent and posted. This is a very good thing. He isn’t blocking me on it. To help this along, I have set a Google alert for his name and the title, so I get notified any time either appears. Then I make sure to follow up with the editor, forwarding the original email I sent to this person, which has my poem. Thank goodness for the brilliance of the ‘sent’ box. Thank goodness I keep all my correspondence about my writing.
-Every editor, all six of them, have agreed to take the poem down. Many of them have expressed disappointment, shame, or disbelief. A couple of them have added multiple exclamation marks to their replies.
-For my part, I’m much more cautious about sending work out. Several people have commented that while critique is always helpful, I should trust my instincts and my abilities. I’m listening.
-I do not believe that this episode is a form of flattery. I do believe it is – not ill will against me personally – but the result of cavalier indifference, inattention, laziness, and carelessness. I suppose I could go all out with a lawsuit or injunction. I could turn from trust to bitterness. But I’m not made that way. If this poem does need a lawsuit, I’ll get it one. In the meantime, I’m moving forward, writing, and keeping on.
Thank you to everyone who commented on the post; your support means more than you can know.
Monday, February 15, 2010
I'm honored to announce that writing pal, Linda Simoni-Wastila, has graced me with the Honest Scrap award. Linda's a talented writer and gentle soul whom it's been my privelege to learn with and from these past few years. To claim my prize, I need to reveal ten things about myself. Here's a few random things that you may not know.
1. I’ve been writing since I was 6 years old, when I wrote my first short story.
2. I have no patience for people who constantly complain, but do nothing to change their circumstances.
3. I love to learn new things whenever I can.
4. I’m desperately math impaired.
5. I have a pot of Italian wedding soup on the stove RIGHT NOW.
6. I believe hard work is the key to success.
7. I have been blessed with the best husband and daughter a woman could hope for.
8. I adore oatmeal raisin cookies.
9. I’m tripping around the house as I try to get used to my new glasses with progressive lenses.
10. We have three cats who rule the roost. No pedigreed purebreds. I like mutts.
Now for the fun part: I get to pass this award on. Here are three great writers who really deserve to be recognized for their honesty, hard work and integrity.
JC TOWLER: You ALWAYS tells it like it is.
STEPHEN BOOK: Your honesty has helped me grow by leaps and bounds.
JANE BANNING: You approach everything from a place of honesty. Honest images, honest opinions, honest dealings.
One last note: speaking of honesty, check back tomorrow for a follow-up to my blog post on Carmen's work being stolen. Carmen, aka Jane, will be stop by tomorrow to share the latest on her battle with a plagiarist.
Monday, February 8, 2010
Last week, writing pal Carmen (not her real name) was surveying updates from her Facebook pals when she discovered a posting by a fellow writer she’d grown chummy with.
Let’s call him “Dirty Conniving Creep.”
Carmen was stunned to see that DCC had just published a poem that bore a startling similarity--key phrases and all--to a work she’d emailed to him for feedback not so long ago.
Horrified, Carmen followed DCC’s link and discovered that, yes indeed, DCC had plagiarized her work.
The next few days were a nightmare for Carmen. When she contacted DCC, he gave her the cockamamie excuse that, when surveying the elaborate web of his computer files, he couldn’t keep track of what was his work and what had been written by others. Not only that, but he could no longer recall all the publications to which he’d submitted Carmen’s poem.
Carmen got down to business. An internet search revealed DCC had published her poem in multiple publications. She emailed the editors to explain the situation. She included a trail of the emails she’d originally exchanged with DCC, proving her work had been pilfered.
The editors responded immediately, horrified and angry. They pulled the plagiarized work from their publications. Carmen felt better, but not healed. She was offended and hurt on many levels. As her friend, I was offended on her behalf. She still feels gun shy about sharing her work with other writers.
In honor of Carmen and all she’s been through, I decided to share with you the top 5 reasons I despise plagiarism. They are:
1) Plagiarism steals more than just a writer’s words.
Carmen’s poem was a lovely piece about a mother’s loss when her child grows up. DCC not only stole the words she’d used to express that, he stole the beautiful, universal and tender emotion Carmen felt for her grown son and called it his own. Since DCC is a parasite, I doubt he’d begin to understand such a noble feeling. He isn’t decent enough to claim it.
2) Plagiarism makes editors suspicious of innocent writers.
I’d bet money that the numerous editors Carmen contacted are embarrassed by publishing this fraud. No one likes being embarrassed. I’m sure they’ll be skeptical of work coming over their transom for a long time to come. That hurts hard working, honest writers like you and me.
3) Plagiarism robs authors of the right to publish their own work.
Now that Carmen’s work has been published, she can no longer viably publish it under her own byline. ‘Nuff said.
4) Plagiarism makes writers suspicious of one another.
As writers, we often operate in a fog of creative innocence. We never imagine something like this will happen. But Carmen is nervous now. So am I. I’ll be more cautious now about sharing my unpublished work. This saddens me. I always enjoyed putting my work out there for feedback. But I’m grateful for the trustworthy peers I’ve already found.
5) Plagiarism is the worst kind of grubby, back-stabbing behavior a writer can exhibit.
As far as I’m concerned, anyone stealing someone else’s work has no right to call themselves a writer. Writers create. Plagiarists steal. That’s not the same thing at all.
Thursday, January 21, 2010
Last night, I sat down to read the latest novel in a mystery series I admire. I was excited. The release had been several months overdue. So I curled up in bed with my copy filled with lofty expectations, ready to be swept away and entertained once again.
I was promptly disappointed.
The first several pages limped through a longish stretch of brackish backstory about a secondary character, told (and I repeat TOLD) from the point of view of the detective. It wasn’t even compelling backstory. A few pages in, the story finally began to move forward.
Which, in my opinion, is where the narrative should have started in the first place.
It wasn’t the first time I’d been disappointed in a book lately. I asked myself: what’s with all the mediocre writing coming from well-established talents lately?
WB Stephen sent me an email on this just yesterday. He’d ordered a recent book written by a former-lawyer-turned-blockbuster-author. Stephen was appalled—and rightly so—because the first paragraph of said book used the verb WAS exclusively, something like a half-dozen times in almost as many sentences. And boy, do I agree. We’re talking about a principle from Writing 101 here. Good writing relies on vigorous verbs, not wimpy, uninspired forms of “to be.”
Which reminded me of a conversation I recently had with another friend. She’s an avid reader and library staffer annoyed with the wave of lousy books coming from her favorite A-listers. Most of her comments were proofreading related—misspelled words, missed punctuation, etc…. But even small mistakes stand out as glaring errors in published books.
Clearly, something’s going on here, something that makes good writers look inept. But I’m not sure the problem lies solely with the writers. Rather, I think this harkens back to recent slashes in editorial staff at the publishing houses. Our favorite writers don’t suddenly suck. They still write great stories. It’s just that I don’t think there are enough editors left to properly edit them.
Personally, I’m going to take this as an opportunity. This is my chance to see such writers’ work somewhat au naturel, rather like seeing celebrities without makeup. This new age of stories comes to us in a different pristine state—a state with many of the flaws still intact. In the past, when I read those beautiful books, I felt intimidated by writing that jumped off the page, effortless. Now I see I can adopt a different mindset. In some ways, these adolescent books are just as pimply and gauche as mine are. Which means there’s hope that success isn’t as far off as I feared.
Wednesday, January 6, 2010
I’ve been in simmer mode lately. Lots of input and things to think about. Also, some good, creative output. This week, I finished draft one of The Blue Hills, my NaNoWriMo project for 2009. During November, I managed to complete my 50K words, making me an official winner, but my story arc wasn’t quite complete. As of Monday, the arc was closed and I wrote those magical words, THE END.
Ahhhh, the feeling is so bittersweet.
Now that Blue Hills ripens on my hard drive, my attention turns to other matters. While I was tied up in drafting, a few issues came my way. In no particular order, they include:
1) I’ve noticed a trend amongst authors to publish excerpts of their novels or even self-publish their novels as Kindle books, in an effort to land a contract and net readers. This intrigues me, since it seems to fly in the face of conventional wisdom that any kind of publishing, even on a writer’s personal blog, constitutes publication. Now, since the folks I know who are doing this are smart women who do their homework, I can only assume that some powerful force in the industry wobbles in a state of flux. And it’s very likely I’ve been too nose-to-the-grindstone to notice it. If you know something I don’t about this, please post it in the comments. I’d love to learn something new today.
2) Not for the first time, I find myself wondering just how important networking is. As many of you know, I was fortunate enough to build some terrific writing friendships via writing forums. I’m a big fan of forums. I think they’re great places to meet talented, emerging writers and also perfect places to toughen your editing pencil and your tender writerly hide. But in the past months, I’ve found the only way to move forward on my novel is to put my head down and ignore other distractions, which means jettisoning a lot of the more social aspects of writing.
Clearly, there’s a benefit to networking. By giving, you receive so much in return. I know lots of generous folks who spend a TON of time critiquing others’ work, surfing blogs, reading others’ published stories, tweeting, facebooking, and otherwise investing themselves in building relationships, all of which builds good writing juju and an encouraging support network full of warm fuzzies. But I’ve also seen writers take the networking too far and implode by hyperactively hyping their own work. Pretty obviously, there needs to be a balance.My main concern, as always, lies in the cost to benefit ratio. I still haven’t figured out the right formula. Critiquing, etc… all takes time, time that isn’t spent writing. And you can’t succeed as a writer if you don’t write. I’ll bastardize Descartes here: I’m a writer; therefore, I write.
There are others, but I’ll stop right there. Now that the flurry of drafting is finally complete, I find I’m enjoying the slow, winter simmer. It’s fun thinking about something besides what new miseries Monica will heap on Carrie. But I won’t be on simmer for long. Jamieson’s Folly beckons. I began mapping scene intentions for my next two chapters yesterday. I learned how to up the ante while working on Hills. I can’t wait to torture Nick, my Folly protag, with all I’ve learned.
And, as you would expect, I’m thinking about all this at the stove. It’s ridiculously cold here, which means soup and lots of it. I made a big batch of minestrone this week. I’ll share the recipe for your enjoyment. Don’t be put off by the long list of ingredients and the amount of chopping. It’s worth every minute spent at the cutting board.
2 lbs. cabbage, preferably savoy or napa
3 Tbsp. olive oil
1 lb. lean Italian sausage, crumbled (bulk or “links” with casing removed)
1 very large yellow onion (1 – lb.), chopped
3 – 14 oz. cans diced tomatoes, undrained
2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cracked or ground black pepper
2 tsp. sugar
1 Tbsp. crumbled dried basil (or 2 – 3 Tbsp. minced fresh basil)
1 lb. carrots, peeled and sliced
8 lg. ribs of celery, sliced
2 ½ quarts chicken broth
½ cup Arborio rice or ¾ cup small pasta shapes (orzo is nice)
1 – 20 oz. can cannelini beans (great northern), rinsed and drained
1 – 20 oz. can kidney beans, rinsed and drained
Freshly grated parmesan or romano cheese for serving
Discard any bruised outer leaves from cabbage. Wash cabbage and blot dry with paper toweling. Quarter cabbage and remove center core. Shred each quarter on the large holes of a grater of in a food processor fitted with a shredding disc. Set aside.
In an 8 – qt. stock pot, heat olive oil over medium hear until haze forms. Add crumbled sausage, reduce heat to medium-low and sauté just until sausage loses its pinkness, about 3 minutes. Add onion and sauté until soft, but not browned, about 5 minutes. Add tomatoes, salt, pepper, sugar and basil. Cook sauce uncovered, stirring frequently, for 15 minutes.
Add cabbage and cook, stirring frequently, until limp, about 5 minutes. Add carrots and celery. Continue to cook, stirring frequently, for an additional 5 minutes. Pour in chicken broth and bring to a boil over high heat. As soon as soup reaches a boil, reduce heat to low. Cover pot and simmer, stirring frequently, until all vegetables are cooked, about 35 - 45 minutes.
Stir in rice or pasta, cover pot and cook undisturbed over low heat for 10 minutes. Stir in both cans of beans; cook covered for an additional five minutes. Remove pot from heat and let soup rest at least 2 hours before serving so all flavors meld together.
If sausage is not lean, skim off any fat that has accumulated on the surface. When ready to serve, reheat over low heat. Ladle into individual serving bowls and serve with freshly grated parmesan or romano cheese.
Soup is better the next (and subsequent) day(s). Soup freezes very well—just be sure not to overcook pasta or it will dissolve when frozen. Makes 7 quarts.