Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The Slow Simmer


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.


J.C. Towler said...

Congrats on getting The Blue Hills finished. Always feels good to put that "The End" banner up, though probably there is more work to be done.

I don't know what to say about the excerpt publishing. It is my impression, based on reading interviews mostly, that agents/publishers don't spend a great deal of time trolling the internet looking for talent. The "discovered" writing star is probably as distant a reality as the "discovered" Hollywood star. Hard work, selling yourself, refining your skills and determination get you to the top. Networking helps, but it depends who you connect up with.

Good to see you posting again, Greta.


Greta Igl said...

John, Blue HIlls is FAR from finished. But it'll get there. Just as soon as I finish editing this other novel...

Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the excerpt posting. Interesting. An angle I'd never even thought of.

Stephen said...

Finally getting some time in tonight to check out a blog or two. First, congratulations on finishing your first draft of Blue Hills. Hopefully, I'll be right there with you in short order.

As far as self-promoting a book, you already know where I stand. For some, like Seth Harwood, it has worked. So, I can't knock it. Building an readership is probably one way to garner the attention of a publisher. However, after the experience of 30D30W, I wonder how many people would be willing to buy the book after they've already read it for free. As such, why would a publisher want to invest any time in a project like that? As for me, I'll most likely work the conventional route first. If that doesn't work (in 3 or 4 years), then I might try baiting the hook.

Stay warm. It's finally warming back up down here. A balmy 50+ today. People are already dancing in the streets. :)

Linda said...

Congrats on finishing BLUE HILLS - what an accomplishment!

Publishing excerpts... hmmmm... I post excerpts from PURE and BRIGHTER THAN BRIGHT on my blog, intermediate draft scenes that stand alone as small stories or scenelets. I have no intention of publishing the entire books on my blog, nor do I intend to post finished scenes. BUT... I do think/hope I am building a bit of a fan base. I also sometimes get useful feedback. Who knows? I agree with John -- editors and agents rarely troll blogs looking for talent. I also don't think posting excerpts hurts you if/when one obtains an agent or editor (in fact, most are happy if a writer has an internet presence).

Your minestrone sounds delish - thanks! Peace, Linda

Greta Igl said...

Stephen, thanks for summing up your thoughts here. You and I have had some interesting conversations about this lately. Nice that others will have the benefit of your thoughts.

Linda, appreciate your chiming in. What you say makes sense. It seems like the rules for publishing are changing faster than I can keep up! I'd recently heard of a writer who self-pubbed her book as a Kindle, then ended up selling it to a publisher and also selling the movie rights, so I know there's more than one way to get the job done. Writers have to be so savvy about getting their work out in the public eye. Nice of you to share your thoughts on it.