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Preview: The journey begins

The journey begins





Updated: 2015-12-31T10:22:09.613-08:00

 



September 11

2011-09-08T10:35:30.399-07:00

2001 was a lousy year for me. I’d worked the first half of the year as a personal assistant to an unreasonable (and unreasonably wealthy) woman, and quit in desperation in June, thinking I’d get a new job quickly. Instead I spent the summer temping, or trying to. Going from agency to agency to take their tests, interview, answer the same questions, and not getting jobs.In August I got to be a PA on a film, shot in SoHo. We had a production office in one of the Towers, on the 94th floor. I went to and from the home base on 23rd Street to the World Trade Center, each time showing ID, getting a little photo taken, and taking two sets of elevators to drop something off to Ingaborg, our production assistant. I never actually ran into Ingaborg, and I was always glad; everyone said she was cranky.Each time I went into the office in the tower, I took a little time to look out the window, at the Statue of Liberty and Governor’s Island and the ocean beyond. It was beautiful, awe-inspiring; it made me feel small. I’d lean on the square desk to chat with the receptionist; I’d grab some hard candy from the purple dish on the square side table; I’d sit in the brown leather square chair, scuff my shoes on the light brown industrial-strength carpet.The movie had wrapped by September 11, and I was asleep in bed when the attack happened. My roommate called and told me to turn on the TV; stupidly, I asked, “What channel?” After the first tower fell I called my mom and told her to do the same thing. When she asked, “What channel?” I said, “It doesn’t matter.” I told her what had happened, and said, “and one tower has fallen. There’s only one tower of the World Trade Center standing.” That’s when I felt some hysteria creep in, and said, “But I’ve been unemployed all summer, and I’m sitting here on my bed watching it on TV!” And for the first time in four months, I was glad to be unemployed.After the second tower fell I walked to the Red Cross Center on Amsterdam; there was a line at least a hundred deep to donate blood. I’m O-Negative; surely they would need my blood! But they had no capacity for all the people who’d shown up. They showed us into an auditorium for a briefing on volunteering, and we all signed up. I never got a phone call.After the briefing I started walking downtown, toward the smoke. It took a couple of days for the stench of burning metal and rubber and bodies—the fire that didn’t die until November—to make it to the Upper West Side, but I smelled it that day when I got to Franklin Street, which was the furthest point south civilians were allowed. I pictured, as I walked, the square desk, the chairs, the carpet of our production office. I pictured the candy dish, fixating on wondering if it was crushed or burned or just fell. I fixated on these little things in order not to picture the receptionist, whose name I never learned. Or Ingaborg.At Franklin Street there was a large crowd gathered, gaping at the crystal blue sky, nothing remaining but a puff of light brown smoke. The wind kicked up a few times and blew rough little particles in our faces. “That’s asbestos, folks,” the policeman said. “You’re gonna want to get out of here.” When I hear of the Zadroga bill, the huge number of health problems suffered by the first responders, I think back to that policeman and I’m glad he shooed us away. I hope he isn’t one of the ones suffering.By this time the subways were running again, and, exhausted from my five-mile walk downtown, I took it back home. The cars were silent, people staring blankly. I got above ground, and by now the signs were out: “pray for our nation,” “God bless America,” “Candlelight service tonight.” People were out walking, like it was a holiday, but through the streets too, mixing with the traffic. Everyone looked dazed. Some stores had a TV or radio set up out front, and people gathered in front of them. It was a community of strangers who suddenly needed each other.The Missing signs came out the next day, pictures of people w[...]



POSITANO!

2011-03-30T03:51:40.230-07:00

Days one and two....Sirenland, Day One…Arrived in Rome yesterday at 8 a.m., which for me was sometime in the middle of the night. 3 a.m.? They hadn’t turned their clocks ahead yet (they did the very next day), so yes, 3 a.m. I’d slept about two hours total on the flight, and frankly was grateful for that much. So I went to the hotel and left my baggage and went out for some sightseeing. Rome is really easy to navigate, if you can follow the map. One street name changes abruptly into another, and one side street off an avenue has a different name than the one going off the other side. But I made it to the Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps, the Piazza Navona, the Pantheon, and St. Peter’s. I only sat down a couple of times because I knew that once I stopped I wouldn’t be able to start again. And I only had gelato once. It was a gorgeous day—just beautiful, probably high fifties/low sixties. It was Saturday, so the crowds were amazing. I didn’t even try to get into St. Peter’s because the line was so long, and you had to go through metal detectors first. Had it been my first stop, I probably would have, but by then I was wiped out. I made it until 3 pm and went to the metro (I’d crossed Rome by then) and got back to my hotel, intending to sleep 3 hours and then go out again. Well, the alarm went off—I do remember hearing it—but I didn’t get up until 9. And then I was starving. So I went to a trattoria about 3 blocks away, ate too much dinner (but it was so good!) and went back, took a Tylenol PM to make sure I got to sleep on local time, and then went to bed and slept again. Nice. Today, day two, I don’t feel jet lagged at all—a first for a European trip.This morning I went to Termini Station to get the train to Naples. I had ordered my ticket online, but the machine wouldn’t print one out, so I went to the ticket booth to get it printed. I showed the ticket to a woman at the counter and she stared and stared and stared. “This date,” she said. “Three-twenty-seven-eleven?” I freaked out a bit—was today not the 27th?—“We write the date different here in Italy. We write month first.” Okay. Right. I nodded, but she seemed mad. So she kept staring at the printout. “You pay in dollars?” she asked. I nod. That’s all I could do, because you know, it was online. She says, “You are in Italy. We use the euro.” I stared at her some more. In situations like this I find it best not to attempt a language I am less than fluent in, lest things get lost in translation on my end. She huffed out of her seat over to a supervisor, and I’m thinking, oh crap, did I waste $86 buying this online? She huffed back and handed me a ticket, which her supervisor helpfully printed out for her. The lady seemed quite mad at me, but she said, “Is okay.” And I got on.I met with a fellow attendee, Ellen, and her husband Fred. We didn’t know quite where to go, so we got onto the first car and wondered if we had assigned seating, if we should put our bags above our heads, or what. A woman came onto the train to show us the baggage area to put the bags, and we said okay. Then a conductor rushed over and tried to speak with Fred, who doesn’t speak a word of Italian. I heard him try Italian and then Spanish, so I rushed over and said, “Yo hablo espanol!” Because, you know, that’s a language I am fluent in. He gestured at the woman who’d left and said, “Que miren sus maletas. Ella se les va a quitar. Es gitana.” HUH WHA? “Ella nos va a robar?” I said. He nodded. He said that once the train got moving it was safe to leave the bags there, but before it left she was counting on us going to our seats where we couldn’t see them, and then she’d take them. Nice to know. Fred sat right next to the door and watched the bags until we left.And we got to Naples, where we were met by a driver and whisked to his Mercedes (we spent about 3 minutes total in Naples) and driven along some incredibly windy roads to Positano. Positano is incredible. It’s a bit like Sorrent[...]



posting....

2011-02-05T13:42:12.976-08:00

  Okay, time to check in again. Because something has happened.I got some pretty great news in December. I applied to a writers’ conference called Sirenland, held at a gorgeous hotel (Le Sireneuse) in Positano, Italy (Amalfi Coast!) once a year, thrown by the editors of the short story magazine One Story. Prestigious writers teach workshops, and they open it to only 20 writers: 10 fiction, 10 nonfiction. I found out about this in October, shortly before their deadline, and decided to apply. I didn’t tell a lot of people about it, because again, they only accept 10 fiction writers...what were the odds? So I applied and then tried to put it out of my head. I was mostly successful. Sometimes it popped up, reminding me, You haven’t heard...you don’t know the status of your application...ten fiction writers...330 “likes” on Facebook.... And then I put it out of my head again. I’m not superstitious, most of the time, but it never hurts to knock on wood and throw salt over your shoulder and avoid black cats and do what you can not to jinx something. I am not superstitious. I promise. I subscribe to One Story, and in one of their issues they included a postcard with a great view of Positano. I gently set it aside—where I could see it, but where it wouldn’t taunt me. (website: http://www.sirenland.net/)They said we’d hear by the end of December, so I decided not to think about it as soon as I went home for Christmas, the 18th. On the 21st I visited my grandpa in the nursing home (he has since returned to his own home, and he’s happy) and started singing along with the 93-year-old blind woman who was playing Christmas carols on the piano. My grandma said, “Would you put on a show here?” I said sure. Now, ordinarily, I’m pretty reticent about singing in front of people. (I’m insecure, living in New York where so many people have dedicated their lives to their voice lessons and singing, some making it and some not. I haven’t done that, have no intention of doing that, but I took about 10 years of voice lessons. But I don’t want to be compared to the professionals.) But...well, at a nursing home the residents are old and there’s not a lot to do. They’re not going to be sitting there judging me, if you know what I mean. And I knew it would make both Grandma and Grandpa very happy.So Grandma calls the nursing home recreation director over and introduces me and says, “Kathy would like to put on a show for us!” (“would like to” was a little too strong, but I didn’t correct her.) The woman got this look on her face, and said, “I’ll be right back!” She zipped away, then zipped back. “Could you do it tonight? We’re having our Christmas party and the lady doing our show canceled.”Again, if this had been in New York, it would have given me serious pause. For all you know, the residents of the nursing homes were professional singers themselves, and they could heckle you and shake their canes at your lack of breath control or incorrect vibrato technique. But I was in a small town in Utah. No guarantee of no professional singers in the audience, but I was more willing to take that chance. “Sure,” I said.So my mom and I went home and pulled out a ton of Christmas music, ran through it on the piano (she played) and I wrote up a bit of a program. That night we went to the nursing home party. I dressed in my green sweater with a festive-if-slightly-crumbly red and gold ribbon tied around my waist. Kathleen, the coordinator, stood at the microphone and introduced me, and I walked up there, confident. Sparkly. My mom took her place at the piano. And right before I began, as my mom played the intro to “Silent Night,” Kathleen went to the corner and shouted, “Dessert is served!”Walkers creaked, wheelchairs squeaked, and lots of people oohed over the desserts. They weren’t spectacular, but I imagine they were nicer than what they usually serve there in the nursing home, so I can’t be upset. It was interesting, thoug[...]



A post! an actual post! Go Yankees...

2010-10-15T12:00:46.366-07:00

Hi all,Well, a burst of creativity has hit me. It didn't hit me when I wrote that last post, but maybe early September. I was trying hard--in my head, at least--to finish my book by the end of the summer. And yet every time I pulled it up on the computer, I just couldn't...write...anything. It was very sad. And then by some crazy miracle, at the *end* of the summer, just to make sure I couldn't actually complete it in the summer, the creativity set in. I've been writing furiously since then and...the end is in sight. Another couple of small hurdles, I think, but...wow. Yay. (and for the question weighing heavily on EVERYONE'S mind: close third. Had to be.) And it's one of the reasons I haven't blogged: I really am abusing my wrists and some nights they scream, all my exercises notwithstanding.So what to talk about? Chilean miners? Facebook movie? Screenwriting? None of the above? I just read another blogger's post that said you shouldn't blog about (a) your writing or (b) yourself. No one wants to read it. Well, hmm. I don't live a crazy life of adventure, and the few developments with one of my screenplays (and there are some!) are best kept private for now. I don't want to jinx anything. So what can I post about? The Yankees?I got limited season tickets for this year, and I got to go to 11 regular games (plus a few additional that I bought) and that side note: why does my "autosave" keep failing?Anyway. My season tickets were a fantastic investment. A great time. I have the drill down, which gate to enter, how to exit quickly and with a minimum of crowd-fighting, where to buy the hot dogs. Yes, reader, I eat them. I know it's appalling. So the regular season is over, but I also got first dibs on buying ALDS and ALCS tickets! And in half an hour, I can purchase (still-not-definite) World Series tickets! I have a timer set on my computer so that my limited attention span and short-term-memory will both be reined in. So I went to the first-home-game ALDS (good thing, since they only played one--a sweep!) and on Monday will go to first-home-game ALCS. I am nervous about Texas, I admit. They have Cliff Lee, and Cliff Lee seems to be the Yankees' daddy. (Pedro Martinez weeps)Anyway. Let me spice this up a little bit with an amusing story (or so I thought, as did my friend Peggy) from the ALDS game.I got tickets for the third tier. Exciting, as I've never sat that low before. (I'm poor!) But it turned out that we were in the *last* row of the third tier. Well, the seats were still fine. Off the third base line, which was a completely different perspective from my season seat. But after a little mental adjust, all was well. We also found ourselves right in a wind gust. The stadium is ventilated with large openings in the outer wall and one happened to be right behind and above us. I think my leather jacket and scarf would have been fine without the wind, but with the wind it was really chilly. Every time the wind actually came in, it was downright cold. Jeans are not great protection against wind, by the way. But the excitement carried us through. The wind, however, plays a part in this story.We sat in front of two (separate) pairs of friends: two guys and two women. The women kicked the story off because they'd gotten garlic fries, which should really be renamed HOLY CRAP THEY'RE GARLICKY fries. They had a few each and quickly realized they couldn't handle any more. So, kickstarting a multi-row camaraderie, they offered them around. I had a few, had the aforementioned HOLY CRAP reaction; Peggy had a few, to the same; the guys had a few. Guy #1 then went to buy a soda and some peanuts, and since we'd broken the ice, he started offering us peanuts. Raw peanuts aren't my favorite, so I only took a couple. Peggy took a couple more. We ate peacefully (got nachos, too, which were disgusting...and yet we ate them. Happily we did not get sick.), enjoyed the game. Five innings pass, during which the Yankees play very well. Victory is in the air.Then ther[...]



okay....

2010-06-17T18:49:35.288-07:00

As part of my goal to finish this book by the end of the summer (still technically a possibility, but right now not looking too likely) I have been saving my writing energies for the book, rather than a blog. How do those daily bloggers DO IT? Some of them don't write anything else and therefore can pour all their energies into their blog, but some are prolific novelists, screenwriters, TV writers...it boggles the mind. I seem not to be too capable of multi-tasking. Which is interesting, because I have "multi-tasking" on my resume. (Everybody does! It's required!)Okay, the thing that stimulated this post. I have noted with interest the proliferation of readers of the Stieg Larsson books: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo etc. I first read about these books about a year ago, with rave reviews. I have seen many, many people on the subway reading this book. (When multiple subway readers have the same book, you know it's a phenomenon. See: Harry Potter, Twilight.) It's now in magazines, newspapers, was made into a foreign language film and is being made into an English-language film (possibly with Brad Pitt. One word: miscasting.)I picked up a copy of the first book about a year ago, right before heading on a trip. I had a B&N gift card, and wanted something really good. (I used to be a huge book buyer, but space and money constraints have made me more cautious of late. No more buying books... that aren't *really good*.)Reader, I couldn't finish it.I am not squeamish. I grew up in a doctor's household, and gross medical tales at the dinner table were the norm. Our family now has 2 dermatologists and a periodontist, so the gross tales have multiplied. And I love them. I don't mind gory TV, pictures of open, ulcerated, weeping sores...rashes and gashes...broken bones...surgery. The only kind of surgeries I can't watch on TV are surgeries I've actually had--I saw Little Shop of Horrors shortly after having my 12-year molars removed and couldn't do the Steve Martin dentist scene (my periodontist brother now dresses up as that dentist for Halloween); I saw Minority Report shortly after one of my many Lasiks and couldn't watch the eye surgery stuff. But gore doesn't bother me. (Little g- gore. Actually, Al Gore doesn't really bother me, either.)Here's what bothered me: unmitigated sexual violence. It turns out that the original title of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo was Men Who Hate Women. I think the original title explains it perfectly. There are lots, lots, lots of men who hate women in this book, and all of them take it out on the women in the book. Lisbeth Salander is a powerful woman...after she is raped (conventionally and anally, sorry to be graphic) and tortured by a man in power over her. Really, Reader, after reading this scene, I pictured an author completely turned on by what he was writing, writing it for no purpose than to get himself off. It's titillating, it's graphic, it's violent, it's mysoginistic. Woo hoo! Wow, how deep and graphic and horrible can I go? How badly can I shock? How can I best turn myself on?And then Lisbeth gets back at the rapist! Woo hoo! She Tazes the tormentor and gives him a giant body tattoo, something like "I am a misogynistic rapist pig." (I don't have the book with me, so this may be slightly wrong.) Now I picture the author saying, But Lisbeth won't take it! She's raped and gets back at him and is utterly unfazed! True, she recovers for a few days in her bed alone, but then she takes control and gets the pig (and for the rest of the book doesn't suffer any emotional repercussions). But...now Lisbeth is a true woman. She's a victim.It just doesn't sit right with me. Why do we need such graphic sexual violence? Why is it the norm in his book? Disclosure: as I haven't read the whole book, I am not *sure* how it ends. But as I do occasionally like to read the endings of books when I've only gotten midway through (a good reason not to like e-books, as far as I'm concerned), I b[...]



VOICE

2010-05-17T11:31:04.973-07:00

Wow. I wrote a whole post (about 1800 words) and posted it, then went back to reread some old posts and realized I had written a post that was STRIKINGLY SIMILAR -- like WAY TOO SIMILAR TO POST a few weeks ago. Sigh. Back to the drawing board.

Yes, I went (deeply!) into Omniscient Third and Close Third and the pendulum and Anna Karenina again. How did I not remember even a tiny glimpse of that? Wow.

But I wanted to write that mostly because I've had a productive few days on the book and it's because I've decided where I want the pendulum to swing. It's closer to Close Third but there is a little narration involved. I don't want to explain more than that. I am a crazy overthinker and sometimes I think myself right out of whatever I'm doing. I am hopeful that I can shut down that part of my brain enough to keep going and finish a first draft. I am continually hovering around 60,000 words right now--I have been revising a great deal but I seem to delete as much as I put in--and am hoping to get to 100,000 (the final goal, at least for the first draft; taking my cue from the agents' and editors' blogs I frequent) by the end of the summer.

Ooh, I just put it out there! End of summer! Can I do it? Yikes.



more baking

2010-05-04T10:17:30.329-07:00

Yes, Mondays are a hard day to blog. Sigh. And last night I went to the Yankees game, so I’m operating on two cylinders. But blog I must. I have continued with my baking, though not as often. I was in Utah for a quick trip to see the family and I decided to bake for them, so I brought my book with me (all 10 pounds of it) and made the apple and pear tarts, which were particular favorites of mine. I wanted to do éclairs, but I ran out of time, preferring to run, jump, blow bubbles, and watch “Cars” and bits of “Marley and Me” with the nephew instead.My big baking project in Utah was a “Panamanian Roulade cake,” which I made for my dad’s birthday party. It was ambitious, it was grand, it was time-consuming, it was difficult. (It was delicious.) It was a chocolate cake that had layers, but they were vertical rather than horizontal.I started this cake around 7 pm and turned on my laptop to watch the rerun of the earlier Yankees game. (I like a good distraction while I’m baking. Yes, it has proven dangerous at times.) I ground my own almonds to substitute for pricey almond flour, which isn’t readily available in Utah anyway (and realized that pricey almond flour is nothing besides finely ground almonds, so I don’t have to buy it again!). I baked the cake itself, a big flat layer in a jelly roll pan. It was very difficult to remove from the pan, so I had my dad help and thoroughly annoyed him with my barking directions. “No! Stop stop stop! Okay, go!” I made the frosting and tasted it and it was delicious, but there wasn’t nearly enough to make the cake with. I stared at the directions, hoping for divine guidance, and got it: the directions said to chill and whip the frosting if it wasn’t “fluffy enough.” My frosting wasn’t fluffy at all, so I did that. Lo and behold, fluffy frosting at double the volume! Whoa! I spread the frosting n the layer. I cut the layer into four strips, and then rolled the strips into one big roll that got set on its side. Now, these long strips were extremely fragile and hard to work with, so I had to cut them in half and oh-so-delicately place them against the roll. My fingers and hands were a gooey mess, which I actually hate. I know, it’s unavoidable in baking. But come on, I don’t want to turn on the faucet and get frosting on it because I’ll forget to wipe it down and then the next time I turn on the faucet, with relatively clean hands (even though I’m going to wash them) I’ll get frosting on them again! And forget to wipe it down again! Do you see my problem(s) here?So seriously, they were bad and it was driving me a little nuts. I also hate having anything under my fingernails, which are long, and dealing with a fragile cake layer and frosting, you have to put the utensils aside and dig in, and you’re guaranteed to get all kinds of crap under your fingernails. I dealt, but it was gross.Okay, cake rolled. Picture looking down from above at the plate and seeing what amounts to a spiral of cake, held together by frosting. This is what made the vertical layers. It was supremely fragile; the now-fluffy frosting was loaded with room-temperature butter, which we all know (or the dairy-tolerant among us, anyway) is not structurally sturdy. So I gently frosted the rest of the cake with the frosting, and then swirled the top into a lovely pattern. I filled in the dents with more frosting. Usually my cakes are delicious but ugly, but I actually made this one look nice. It was so fragile, but I knew once the butter frosting got into the fridge it would firm up and we would be fine.So I picked up the plate and walked to the fridge. My parents have a new fridge these days, the two-door kind. But both doors are for the fridge itself; the freezer is the bottom drawer. So I was holding the plate and fragile cake in my left hand, opening both doors with my right. The fridge was packed. I don’t know i[...]



fooled you!

2010-04-20T13:50:57.849-07:00

Ah ha, I'm not a Bad Blogger after all -- I just decided to blog on Tuesday instead of Monday. Or so I tell myself. I got back to work from a small break that was not a vacation and had a lot to do. And I was exhausted, because my break was not a vacation and I did a lot of work (some of it fun, yes) and no writing and I have a big deadline this Friday and I did NOTHING to prepare for it...etc. But it's Tuesday, and here we are!So I'm going to follow up a little on what I wrote last week. After finishing the spectacular book, The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, I was on a high. And I was terribly excited because I had brought three, count 'em, three other books with me on my break that was not a vacation and even though I was not on vacation I did get to read. And two of the books were very small and by noted author Ian McEwen and I was psyched. Psyched, I tell you, dear Reader.Reader, I was disappointed. Oh, so disappointed. The first one, The Comfort of Strangers, had these great blurbs on the back. I quote: From The NY Times Book Review, "Convincing and clinging as a nightmare...[McEwan is] an alluringly gifted writer." From the Chicago Tribune, "An exquisite miniature gothic." This sounded good.Plot: Mary and Colin are on vacation. They've grown tired of each other. They go out wandering (they may be in Venice, but McEwan never says) and meet a man named Robert, who takes them to his house. He's creepy, as is his wife, Caroline--so creepy that (a) colin and Mary wake up naked, and Caroline says, 'oh, I'm just washing your clothes, and no, you can't have them back until I say' and (b) they realize Robert has a FRAMED PHOTO OF COLIN on the balcony of the hotel and (c) at one point, unprovoked, Robert PUNCHES COLIN IN THE STOMACH and levels him. Colin and Mary leave, have a lot of sex at their hotel, go swimming, and then GO BACK TO ROBERT'S HOUSE where Caroline drugs Mary and Robert kills Colin. The end.Oops. Spoiler.Okay, now really: you didn't see that coming, Colin and Mary? Really?Here's my beef. Well, there are many. Here's my first: The NY Times Book Review called it CONVINCING. Really? On what planet does someone return to that house? What, did Colin leave his wallet? Some lifesaving medication? No. Even then, if he had, wouldn't he say, "I'll cancel the credit cards and figure out the ID later" or "I'll phone my doctor and get a new prescription"--either way, "No way am I going back there" ??? Please. Second, people, this is Ian McEwen! The writing was fluid and smooth, and maybe I'd even go with the back jacket copy that calls it "masterly precision," but...this is the man who wrote Atonement! Yikes. Did not like the plot, did not believe the plot, did not feel anything in this story was "inevitable" or a tale of "erotic menace"...hmph. Having just finished The Book Thief, when I finished The Comfort of Strangers I threw it on the floor. Bleah.and then I went to another Ian McEwan book, Enduring Love. Plot (with spoilers, yes): a man named Joe and his wife Clarissa are on a picnic and see a child about to be carried away in a hot air balloon, so he runs to save the kid. He arrives at the same time as several others and they all jump onto the basket, but a gust of wind takes it up and everybody drops off safely to the ground to save himself--all except one man, who holds on way past the time of safety and then falls to his death. Joe rushes to the body and arrives at the same time as Jed Parry, who instantly and insanely falls in love with him. Jed begins harassing Joe with letters and phone calls. Joe erases the messages and the handwriting looks like his, so no one believes him. His wife Clarissa instantly decides he's nuts and she is going to take some time away from him. They go to a restaurant and an anonymous man walks to another table and shoots a second anonymous man; Jed rushes to[...]



Bad blogger, part deux

2010-04-12T17:46:27.595-07:00

I am inching back toward my Bad Blogger ways. Last week I forgot to blog until about 4:30, and by that time I am usually in full-swing “I’m going home soon” mode and useless for anything besides something I’m already doing. I told myself I would blog on Tuesday, but let’s face it, once you’ve failed at something (my Monday blog promise) it’s quite easy to keep failing. Tuesday became Wednesday, and then I said, “I’ll just wait until next Monday.” So even though it is kind of late to be doing a Monday blog—my New York readers have probably left their desks by now—I am trying to be faithful where I can be faithful.I am on vacation this week, officially. I am in Utah to help out the fam with various crises (I’m only being semi-blasé right now) but the crises don’t seem to be at any peak right now, so I have time to do other things. I am trying to download iTunes on my parents’ ancient laptop upstairs. I had downloaded version 8 about 15 months ago, but my mom bought herself a nano (planning on my setting it up for her—this blind faith may or may not be rewarded) and this new nano doesn’t work on 8, and requires 9. So I downloaded 9 (which took 45 minutes on previously mentioned Ancient Laptop) and then I had to hit “Install” which took another 45 minutes and didn’t work, so I hit Install again and that’s where we stand with that. Whew.So the real purpose of today’s entry is to tell you to run, don’t walk, either to your local bookstore or library to read The Book Thief, a 2005 YA novel by Markus Zusak. I checked it out from the library last Thursday and finished it (500-plus pages) on Saturday. I could not put it down. It’s a fairly easy read, being YA, but the speed with which I got through it was more because of the author’s skill in drawing me in. I could not put it down. When I did put it down I was disappointed and found myself thinking about it and wanting to pick it up again. I spent all Thursday after work on the couch, reading it, and telling myself that I am actually doing work when I’m reading, because after all I’m a writer and you’ve got to research others’ styles/see what’s out there/fill your creative well, right?And it was educational. The Book Thief has an omniscient narrator, which is something I’ve been struggling with. I am about halfway through a draft of a new novel, but I’m struggling. I have stopped the forward momentum in order to revise what I have, and one thing that I’m having a hard time figuring out is the voice. For a while I tried to write it in Close Third, because we have 5 different characters whose perspectives will be given. So when I write a passage with the 10-year-old girl, it should sound a lot different than the passages of the grizzled veteran detective who has seen it all, even though they’re not first-person narratives. The passages of the 10-year-old girl are more energetic, generally happy, because the narrator is kind of “sitting on her shoulder” and seeing what she sees. But I don’t want it to be exclusively Close Third. When you’re doing true Close Third, the voice always has to be that character’s voice; you can’t state anything the character wouldn’t know herself, which is really limiting. I decided for a while that I would write in Omniscient Third, and in a fit of learning frenzy I got Anna Karenina, a well-known Omnisicent Third book, to see how they handled it. As I suspected, the different passages tell us what everyone is thinking; there’s one voice throughout (the anonymous narrator). So I tried that, and it didn’t work; it came across as “head hopping,” which is annoying. In another learning frenzy, I ordered a bunch of How To Write books. They are surprisingly helpful. (They are also helpful for making yourself feel like you’re pr[...]



Can't...stop...baking....

2010-03-29T11:21:30.102-07:00

So I was in a “fruity” mood for this next project. I didn’t want to spend quite as much time in the kitchen, so I looked for a couple of not-as-difficult/time consuming recipes. I settled on a lemon cake (simple) and a pear tart (because I already had half a crust recipe). One was amazing. The other was blah.I’ve come across a couple of problems with this cookbook. Sometimes, um, it’s not edited so well. Pictures are there that are only tangentially related to the recipes. (I mentioned the multicolored/flavored maracons whose recipes aren’t provided.) Equipment gets put in the Ingredients column. Or ingredients…get left out.I looked at some of the reviews people have left on Amazon. Someone mentioned, in her review, that in a recipe for a genoise cake, they omitted the flour entirely. I checked in the recipe. Yes, sure enough, there’s no flour mentioned in the ingredients column. Bizarre. Over on the next page, there’s a section at the end of the recipe that says, for a 6” cake, use x grams of flour; for a 9” cake, use y grams, etc. But…I don’t know, shouldn’t that be, maybe, AT THE TOP OF THE RECIPE? Or, if not at top, shouldn’t there be a directive that says, “Flour…for exact amount, see page z”? Hmm.I ran into a similar problem with the lemon cake. It was a cake in a similar vein to a genoise, wherein you beat egg whites separately (not to stiff peaks, happily, given my last experience with that) and then fold the rest of the ingredients into that. It makes for a light and fluffy cake. I was excited. I did everything they said to do, until it said, “Fold dry ingredients—flour, sugar, baking soda—into the egg white mixture.” Um, problem: in the ingredients list, it mentions sugar only once, and then it says that this sugar is to be beaten into the egg whites. So I stared. Do I divide up the sugar? Do I add more? The body of the recipe says to add sugar twice, but it’s only listed once. What to do? I don’t want to risk a sickeningly sweet cake (one other problem with the macarons that I made was they were way too sweet)…hmm.I ended up only putting in as much sugar as the ingredients list called for. I beat most of it in with the whites and some of it in with the dry ingredients. And then I baked the cake. And it was drab.Now, the texture was amazing. It was fluffy as a cloud. I couldn’t have asked for a better texture. But a good texture doesn’t make a great cake, obvs. I made a lemon glaze whose recipe I stole from my roommate, and forked the cake and drizzled it over. Then the part of the cake that was glazed was very tasty. And the rest was a fluffy, boring cloud. I was eating a piece and I said, “You know, this would be a great base for something. Like berries and cream.” The roommate agreed. If I had had berries and cream in the house I would’ve gotten them out immediately. But I didn’t, and I never bothered to go buy them. Instead I brought the cake to work on Monday, where “drab” isn’t a big problem; the issue is “free food” and everyone is happy to eat free food, particularly when it’s homemade. I’ve sloughed off some pretty crappy dishes here. Ssssh.Item number two: the pear tart. This recipe also did not say to use half a recipe of the pate sucree, but since I had half left over from the apple tart I only used half and it was perfect (and, dare I say it?, probably what was intended). There was an almond filling that was easy to make: almond flour (again the pricey almond flour! Good thing I have that specialty baking shop), sugar, butter, an egg. Maybe something else, I can’t remember. But I mixed that up and then spread it in the crust. Easy.I poached the pears in a mixture of white wine ($8.50 for the cheapest bottle! It’s a good thing I don’t drink. I [...]



An awesome post...(not mine)

2010-03-26T07:56:52.003-07:00

For all writers out there, check this out.

http://www.hankstuever.com/blog/?p=1541

My stuff looks like that half the time (I also print out on hard copy and make edits with pen), and they're my own marks!



More baking trickery

2010-03-22T11:48:04.232-07:00

So the adventures in baking continue. For Week Two I decided to do an apple tart and a brioche loaf. Even though there was some consternation with the recipes themselves, the final product, to quote one obnoxious Food Network personality, was Yum-O.So I did the brioche first. Brioche are usually baked as individual rolls, in this cute little scalloped muffin-sized cup. I chose not to buy the cute little muffin-sized cups because I’m already spending plenty on ingredients (and a kitchen scale, lest we forget) and there was a variation in the book where you could just roll them and put them in a loaf pan and bake that way. The dough itself was incredibly stiff and difficult to work with, and I was honestly worried about my Kitchen-Aid there for a while. It couldn’t mix the dough completely; it kept bumping up and down and making straining noises. I didn’t lock it, because I wanted it to be able to bump if it needed to bump, but it was still unnerving. My roommate came in and, knowing my concern for my kitchen items, kept saying, “Kathy? Kathy?” I didn’t answer—not because I was concentrating so hard on the brioche dough, but because I didn’t know how to answer. She told me I ought to stop and not break my Kitchen-Aid, but I soldiered on. And it didn’t break the Kitchen-Aid, thank heaven (I truly would have been heartbroken). And the brioche was goooooooood. So it wasn’t complicated, it was just worrisome. I let the dough “proof” in the fridge for four hours, then rolled it into the rolls and let it rise for an hour, and then baked. I burned myself a couple of times getting the rolls out, because I was hungry and impatient and I am a big bread fan. I pulled apart the rolls and stuffed one in my mouth and I just can’t tell you how good it was. Transcendent, really…light and fluffy and buttery and had a wonderful melt-in-your-mouth crust…mmmm. I baked half of the recipe into one loaf, and I was glad because after they cooled down they were still nice, but really just dinner rolls. I rolled them out two or three at a time for the rest of the week to eat them hot. It worked for three days, and then the last day they were heavy and didn’t rise. Sigh. Good eating takes work.I also did an apple tart, which was delish as well. And it made for a terrific breakfast the next day. I made the pate sucree dough, a whole recipe, just like the tart recipe said to do. It also said to use the whole recipe. The pate sucree recipe itself said it made enough for two 9-inch crusts, but one would think that the apple tart would say, “use half a recipe for pate sucree” rather than “make a recipe for pate sucree.” Ah well. I rolled out the whole recipe and tried to put it in the 9” tart pan and realized the whole recipe would take up the entire pan. Fortunately the pate sucree recipe did say that it freezes well for up to a week, so I cut it in half and stuck half in the freezer.The apple tart itself was amazing. Very simple: an apple compote with diced apples on bottom, sliced apples on top. The apple compote had apples, water, sugar and vanilla bean and I just boiled them until the apples were soft; then sliced several apples into thin slices and decorated the top. Baked it, then brushed it with apricot jam. Easy. And wonderful.The bigger concern this week was that my foot started giving me problems. I am assuming it was plantar fasciitis, which is an irritation of the bottom of the foot that makes standing and running painful. This is a problem because I am now consuming huge quantities of fatty desserts. If consuming huge quantities of fatty desserts, one must be able to exercise if one wants to continue to fit into one’s pants. And I do. So I bought an ankle brace that was a[...]



Mmmm...coooookies...

2010-03-31T15:03:40.719-07:00

My apologies, faithful readers, for missing last week. I wasn’t up to the task, the challenge, the desafío. I wasn’t up to the blog.My reason has nothing to do with writing and everything to do with the kitchen. Strange, yes? Well, maybe not so much. I’m a pretty decent cook, and people have, at various times, given me the very impractical suggestions that I should be a caterer or a chef or open a bakery. [When my life and career were in a particularly noxious stall, my dad once suggested that he would buy a Krispy Kremes franchise in Utah (it would have been the first, back then) and I could run it. I never was able to say an outright “no,” because I felt I would be crushing his dreams, but…how shall I say it?... there was no way in bloody hell I was going to be running anybody’s Krispy Kreme store. I stonewalled and the idea went away (not that he ever pursued it) and for a while, I believe, he silently blamed me for not helping him bring his dream to fruition. Later he found out that in order to buy a franchise, according to official Krispy Kreme rules, you must *already* own and operate a food joint (negative) and demonstrate a net worth of two million dollars (double negative).] These suggestions are impractical for several reasons:1) While I love baking and cooking, I love writing more.2) Baking and cooking are an ANTIDOTE to writing. You have an immediate finished product, and people want it!3) when you make a hobby into a wanna-be career, it’s really easy to leach the joy out of it. And4) It is HARD WORK, y’all. Have you ever stood in a kitchen for several hours to make one big meal? Are you exhausted by the end of it? Imagine doing that all day, all night, all the next day too…all week…every day…this has got to be a hard-core passion, something where you don’t even notice your aching feet or the passing hours or the sweat running down your chin. Though maybe you should notice that last one, lest it drip in the food.So. Last weekend I started a little cooking project, which I did continue this past weekend. I got a cookbook, the French Culinary Institute’s new gigantic manual to the pastry arts. !!! Holy cow. It’s immense, it’s got full-color pictures, it’s got how-to sections on everything from the definitions of autolyze and proofing and the difference between pâte sucrée and pâte brisée (and I now know them!) to kitchen first aid. Must say, I’m grateful for two years of college French.So I wanted to test out my book. It seems to have everything from super-easy to super-hard (and when I say super-hard, I mean, this is going to take seven or eight hours and a lot of precision) recipes.Now, first things first. The recipes are measured in ounces and grams. I looked at this and said, “Huh? Now what?” Well, now we get a digital kitchen scale. ($40). And it calls for ingredients like almond flour ($5 for 4 ounces) and pastry cream powder ($6 for about ¾ cup) and uses equipment like brioche cups and cake molds. Yikes. Well, in for a penny, in for a pound.So last week’s first experiment was ginger snap cookies. I have a Williams Sonoma set of 11 glass bowls, the smallest being only a couple of tablespoons. I got it for Christmas about 10 years ago, and miraculously, all 11 bowls survive. And suddenly they’ve discovered their purpose! Each recipe begins, “Prepare your mise en place,” which means, “measure your ingredients because you can’t just scoop the flour out of the canister in the measuring cup.” So you get a one-cup-size bowl, weigh it, tare it, and pour the sugar (say 250 grams?) into it. Then the two-tablespoon bowl for the one egg yolk. Then the second-largest bowl for the three-plus (again, measured in grams) cups of flour. (It [...]



new theme?

2010-03-01T13:39:46.494-08:00

Musings...

I've had three four-day weeks in a row, and I'm now officially spoiled. I have long been a proponent of four-day weeks, and now it's official. All jobs should change so that the workweek is Monday through Thursday. And no, not ten-hour days. Just regular 9-5 days, and then Friday you do your errands, Saturday you do some work and Sunday you can actually relax. Just my two cents. I wish I were governor.

This particular three-day weekend was unexpected, brought on by the Snowmageddon that actually did (kind of) materialize. I'm sure I could have gotten to work if I'd had to, given that subways are UNDERGROUND and were running, but the office announced they were closed and I was not going to question that. I wish the Mayor had announced it the night before, so I wouldn't have had to set my alarm. But I went right back to bed. And it was nice to watch the snow swirl outside my window. I enjoyed the day very much.

And I was productive, which is better. I finished two projects, two! One is a screenplay I started long, long ago--before the Madame Curie project--and hadn't been able to get to until now. Friday I got it out and started outlining the end, and Saturday I wrote it. About 40 pages -- not too shabby. And then I finished another project, one I had thought up about three weeks ago. When I work that quickly, and it actually comes and it's actually decent, I deem it Meant to Be. What exactly it is Meant to Be is still to-be-determined, but...I still feel pretty good.

And Spring Training season is now upon us. This past year was the first that I really, really got into baseball, and it was surprising how long the offseason felt. I yearn to buy season tickets this year. We will see.

Not much for a post today. I detailed all my awful day jobs already. I'll have to think of a new theme. Until next week....



Quatre

2010-02-22T09:59:27.568-08:00

All right, even though I’ve had many more day jobs than three, I’ve been spotlighting only those that deserved a spotlight. And by “deserved a spotlight,” I mean, “scarred me so badly that even now, all these years later, I feel a need to vent.” I also had some good jobs and good bosses; I’ve mentioned those before. But those make for boring blogs.So, the worst of all my day jobs gets highlighted today. It was short-lived. I only went out twice for this particular day job. It was during my time at NYU. I needed some income that I wouldn’t have to pay back; I was living off my loans. I had classes during the day and needed something flexible, at night, and hopefully something that wouldn’t keep me sitting any more than I already was, with classes and the writing. I decided to think out of the box, be creative, try something new and unusual and fun.I went into catering.I’m not sure what I thought this job would be; but it really did sound fun. I didn’t think of the practical side: carrying plates, glasses, serving people, cleaning up. I don’t know, I guess I just thought of parties and food.I signed up with a temp agency that staffed catered affairs. They gave me instructions: call in when you’re available for work, it’ll be evening positions, and you have to buy a tuxedo.Seriously. A tuxedo.I went to the uniforms place to pick up my tuxedo. It was the kind of place that has an outfit for every occasion; great for Halloween. They had bellboy outfits, maid uniforms (none sexy, though), doorman uniforms. Tuxedos. For men and women.It wasn’t expensive: the pants, jacket, bowtie (bowtie! I had to wear a bowtie! In anything other than a real tuxedo, worn for a formal occasion, they can be pulled off only by the most extraordinary man; women should not be subjected to them! A bowtie!!), and two shirts—one with fancy black buttons, one with regular white ones—cost about $60. I was promised I would pay for the tuxedo with one gig. I tried this thing on, looked in the mirror, and flushed red. I looked stupid. Oh, so stupid. I had fairly short hair at the time—not man-short, but collar-length—and somehow the whole combination just did not work. I looked so stupid. Have I mentioned, I looked stupid? And yet I thought this job might be fun, might be some good extra money, so I bought the tuxedo and took it home in a blue plastic bag, still feeling a faint tinge of embarrassment.My first gig was at a Lehman Brothers (RIP) Christmas party. It was a gigantic open dining area that overlooked the Hudson, quite a nice space. We were instructed to wear the tux pants and shirt, but no jacket. Mercifully, at the venue, they gave us blue smocks to put over the dumb tux. I was relieved. I wore silver hoop earrings, which somehow made the ensemble a little nicer, and was told I had to remove them. “Earrings can’t extend below the earlobe.” Okay.We were told not to speak to anyone unless spoken to. We were not to speak to each other, even if we were standing next to each other. Even if we were manning the same station, serving roast beef and chicken. Even if we were bussing the same tables. Unless we were speaking about portion sizes or cleanup, we were not to speak to each other. “You will be sent home immediately and not paid for your time,” they said. Somehow the image of two lowly catering personnel CHATTING ABOUT SOMETHING was so awful to them, so unprofessional—speaking about something other than food, while serving people!!—it was a firable offense. Okay. (Now, I do shop at Fairway, where the checkers are so busy chatting to each other in Spanish that they can’t even bother to tell th[...]



Trois

2010-02-16T09:36:53.683-08:00

And the series continues! I’ve had a few of them, you see. Day jobs, I mean. Some of them have been great. I probably won’t write about those here.After I quit working for Jane, I had a long, hard summer. I have always referred to it as the “Summer of Unemployment,” because I’m literal-minded like that. And it was…hard.The weather was lovely. For anyone who has experienced a New York summer, you know what a crazy statement that is. What? No, New York summer is like walking through warm pudding! Summer in New York is humid and stinky, and no matter how freshly showered you are, the moment you walk out the door you begin to sweat. It’s that not-so-fresh feeling…everywhere, for three months on, men and women alike.I get what you’re saying, I do. I’ve lived through a lot of them, which is where the above hypothetical comes from. But for bulk of the summer of 2001, the temperatures remained mild and the humidity relatively low. (This comes from an accustomed New Yorker; “relatively low” means anything under 70%. Contrast this to the Utah weather man who announces, with 30% humidity, “It…is…muggy!”) I do remember one solid, steamy week that August with temps in the low hundreds, but besides that, it was delightful. There were several nights that I would get off the subway and perk up at the fresh, beautiful night, and thank the powers that be for such a great summer. Weather-wise, I mean.So I would walk outside during the day and marvel at what a lovely summer that was. And then marvel at what a crappy situation I was in. I had quit my job with Jane, and I hadn’t saved much money. Seems to me I did get a nice (for me) tax refund that year, so I had that in my account. But the account—and this happens, when you’re taking out and not putting back in—was rapidly draining.I stayed in a lot. I ate a lot. I put on weight, I got depressed. I watched a lot of TV. I still had the “I want to write” idea in my head, but every time I tried to write something I marveled at my own lack of inspiration, lack of ideas, lack of talent. And I turned the computer off and went to do something incredibly uninspiring.I had signed up with three temp agencies. None was calling me. This was the end of the dot-com boom, and companies were in one of their many belt-tightening periods. “Wait—money doesn’t just fall from the sky? We can’t put a Foozball table in the lunch room and have all-day tournaments in our pajamas and still make money? What’s that about?” A period of renewed seriousness. And when companies have realized that they’re not making money in their pajamas playing Foozball, they’re not going to be hiring temps. In fact, they might just get rid of the Foozball table.This summer was such a time.And we all know what happened at the end of that summer. One beautiful Tuesday morning I awoke to a phone call—I had hoped it was a temp agency—with my friend telling me to turn on the television. I did, and it looked like our world was ending. My thoughts about unemployment went out the window; I knew there would be no temping in the near future. As far as New York was concerned, there may not have been a near future at all.Two months after that, I got a job.It was set up by a friend of a friend. I was at dinner one night, sitting by the window, and heard a knock. It was an old roommate whom I hadn’t seen in about five years. I dashed outside and the two of us chatted and exchanged emails. The former roommate, whom I’ll call Robin (I’m not sure why) had started dealing with a self-help group called the Landmark Forum. The Landmark Forum, she said, was revolutionary and I needed to[...]



Real post coming Tuesday

2010-02-14T20:04:41.965-08:00

I'm observing President's day by not typing.

In the meantime, I will say this: Do not invite someone in if you are not ABSOLUTELY CERTAIN everything in your apartment is clean.



Day Jobs: part Deux

2010-02-08T11:54:25.450-08:00

Ah, day jobs. I’ve gotten a few comments addressing my last one. Yes, Veronica, there is more to be said about this particular job. As I mentioned last week, I only endured this job for one year – maybe a month shy of a year, in fact. On my pathetically small part-time salary, I finally worked out a budget (my net was $317 a week, after taxes) and deducted out rent, groceries, pharmaceuticals (depressingly mild ones), etc., and realized that I had $60 a week left over for food, entertainment, and transportation. Now, we don’t need cars in New York, which was good; it was also good that I was able to walk to work. The office was across Central Park and 12 blocks down from my apartment, which meant that a brisk 25-minute walk got me door to door. The brisk walk was lovely when the weather was lovely; when it was freezing cold, not so much. And I was working afternoons, so when I finished at 5 pm in the dead of winter, it was dark and it’s just not the best idea to traipse through Central Park alone in the dark. The paths are well lit, but still. I solved this problem by walking in the street, pretty much. There are a few cross-streets that traverse the Park, and one of them has a sidewalk running along its side. Was this safe? Probably not. But with $60 a week for food, entertainment, and transportation, this “not so safe” was still safer than the going-through-the-dark Park “not so safe,” and the rest didn’t necessarily enter into my computations. So. Jane. I was young, just out of college, and pretty naïve about money. But this was nothing compared to Jane. She was incredibly extravagant and incredibly cheap at the same time. This was the woman who was withdrawing $1000 to $2000 in cash, daily, and making credit card charges on top; since she had sold her apartment, she was staying for weeks on end (six weeks was the longest) at a high-end hotel, for a bill of more than $15,000 at a shot; she was the woman who promised $35,000 to the Met Opera, on top of buying high-end seats for the season, for an additional $35,000. (She had a box, you see, and back then each seat in the eight-seat box was $250. And she was out of town most of the time! I got about $8000 of free opera seats that season, and it was terrific. The only actual perk of that job. Now when I go and have to sit in the nosebleed “Family Circle” I remember the box and sigh.) Am I getting too specific, and therefore indiscreet? I hope not. I’ll just sum up this part and say, I always had an image of someone standing on top of a building and throwing money into the air. Once we helped hold a big charitable event—we cohosted it with her favorite charity. After it was over, the charity had to store things from the event in our office. Somehow we ended up with fistfuls of pens. Jane looked at these pens like they were gold. A rep of the charity came to our office to pick up the larger items, and Jane mouthed to me, “Hide the pens!” I didn’t—I wouldn’t even have stolen them for myself, on $317 a week—but the charity woman still left without them. Afterward Jane laughed: “I was so worried she was going to take the pens!” Best guess as to the total cost of these pens: $3. These “cheap” moments are actually pretty few and far between. I think it’s because she hadn’t figured out how actually to be cheap. I was pretty good at it then (and I’m an expert, now), so I would give the occasional tip. She got an enormous tax refund after I had been there a few months—enormous, as in twice my current gross salary—and needed to figure o[...]



Day Jobs!

2010-02-01T13:45:34.770-08:00

It is a truth universally acknowledged that any person with talent and proclivity for the arts must be in search of a day job.Apologies to Jane Austen. But it’s true.Arts, you see, most often don’t pay the bills—at least not when you’re starting out. The singer needs to take years and years of singing lessons before she’s ready even to start auditioning. The lessons cost *money*, yo, and if she’s gotten a degree (undergrad or graduate) from a big-name musical institution, she has student loan payments to pay off too. A singer’s voice doesn’t start fully maturing until he/she’s at least into her late 20s; more often 30s. What to do during those years of training? Then there are actors, going to auditions. Most actors go to dozens, hundreds of auditions, and get five or ten jobs. And I’m not referring to the breakout “Friends” role that’s going to pave their way to fame and fortune; they’re “Third Dead Hooker” roles that require disfiguring makeup and a talent for lying still. Meanwhile the rent is due and really, it’s good to be able to eat.Writers are no exception. While writing doesn’t cost money, there’s a lot that goes into it. I like to study. I have a dozen-plus books on writing on my bookshelves, which I consult on and off; in fact, I just got into a frenzy and bought six more, which I’m making my way through as they come. (I am not an “intuitive” kind of person.) The books cost money. Getting a degree, as with singing, costs money. Not all writers decide to get writing degrees, but most of them have a Bachelor’s in something, and again, STUDENT LOANS rear their ugly heads. Writers’ groups don’t cost money—yay!—but there’s rent and heat and clothing and food, and all the caffeine you’ve gotta drink doesn’t drop out of the sky! And then there’s the small issue of health insurance, and trying to put money aside for retirement, to say nothing of the rainy days. Where does the money come from?I’ve had a series of day jobs through the years. Some were better than others. I’ve mentioned that I temped, and usually the temp jobs were surprisingly good. But some of my other jobs were horrendous. This is a description of my first true “Day Job.” Day Job Number One.I was a fresh graduate of Columbia University. Not as young as most fresh graduates, but still young enough to be naïve and optimistic. (Sigh.) A friend called me up, someone who knew I wanted to be a writer. She worked for one of the preeminent literary agents in New York. I shan’t give names, but anyone in the business would recognize this name. (Friend told me once that she had deposited her boss’s two-week paycheck, and it totaled more than my friend’s yearly income.) She said that her boss, the big agent, had a friend who ran a small publishing company and needed an editor/office manager; would I be interested? It was part time, so I‘d have time to write. Good Lord, I said, where do I sign up?I interviewed for this position and I was very excited; it was a tiny publishing company that mainly focused on republishing out-of-print titles. The woman I would be working for—let’s call her Jane, just because of the quote at the top of the page—said, “I’ll be abroad a lot of the time. I expect there will be days that you can just sit on the couch and write.”Two weeks later I had the job. Celebration. Part-time, so I could sleep in (a night owl needs that…or at least wants it), a lot of down time. Fantastic! As far as a part-time salary, well, I’d been living on th[...]



A non-Monday post

2010-01-28T09:34:05.180-08:00

In my last entry, I mentioned "The Rejectionist" as one of my faves. Today The Rejectionist (I'm not sure if it's he or she, since it is written in a mysterious "we") has an interview with Daniel Handler, aka Lemony Snicket. I'll let you read the whole interview here. But I will transcribe my two favorite questions (questions in quotes, his answers in italics, my responses in parentheses):

"Living as a broke fiction writer in New York: totally overrated, or deeply formative?"
Both, absolutely. I only survived those years by convincing myself that they would look glamorous and bohemian in retrospect. Sometimes they do but not often enough. (Definitely....not...often...enough...)

"Your first novel was rejected thirty-seven times, according to your Wikipedia entry (in retrospect, the idea that The Basic Eight is "too dark" seems almost quaint). We wouldn't have rejected it, because it's awesome. Anyway, what kept you going before your unexpected success as Lemony Snicket? Were you ever tempted to throw in the towel as a writer?"
I was sorely tempted but could not think up anything else to do. This is how it is for most writers I know - they soldiered on simply because there was no Plan B.
(how many times have I said to friends, "I just can't think of anything else I want to do"?? How many times????!! And I go to Craigslist or Monster or job search websites or headhunters--I have a Master's, for crying out loud--and think, but would I want to spend the rest of my life doing that? Is that better than writing? Would I like it? and inevitably, the answer...is NO. Sigh. It's commitment, baby, with a touch of narcissism and a soupcon of insanity. And it's good to know I'm not alone.)



Book blogs!

2010-01-25T11:28:30.277-08:00

A gray, rainy, windy day. I really prefer days like this to be Fridays; that way, it’s a depressing day but you can go home and take a nap and watch TV without that oppressive “school night” feeling—especially the “It’s a Monday and the whole week is ahead of me” school night feeling. Sigh.I need to amend my earlier resolution, that about blogging every week. I will hereby state that I will blog every Monday except holidays. If I’m off, I’m not online. I have dial-up on my home computer for the specific purpose of keeping me off the internet when I should be writing. I figure, I have Ethernet at work, and that’s plenty. Of course, when I need to email my manuscripts to people, it’s annoying. But it keeps me off the internet. Therefore I can find my distraction with magazines, recipes, staring out the window, deciding that I have to find my old glowing pen right now, and all kinds of cleaning that won’t get done otherwise.However, the internet has a whole lot of writing resources. I think today is going to be an ode to the best, the sites that I can’t live without, the sites that have taught me what it’s like to be a working writer and yet haven’t persuaded me to change my focus.Query Shark: http://queryshark.blogspot.com/ This is first because, once you’ve written the book, the query is the first step. Janet Reid is a literary agent for Fine Print Literary Management, and she knows her stuff. She also has a non-query-oriented blog, http://jetreidliterary.blogspot.com/ in which she discusses conferences and some of her clients. Both are definitely worth checking out.Nathan Bransford: http://blog.nathanbransford.com/A San Francisco-based agent who also gives a lot of inside scoops on the state of the industry. He’s a writer himself, with a YA book, JACOB WONDERBAR AND THE COSMIC SPACE KAPOW, due out in 2011. Unfailingly encouraging, not snarky (though I do love me some snark; I wouldn’t like Query Shark if I couldn’t handle snark), and, judging from his picture, rather handsome.Kristin Nelson: http://pubrants.blogspot.com/She blogs from (and works in) Denver. She has been very educational lately, posting *successful* query letters (and why they worked) and good opening pages from queries. She talks about the ins and outs of contracts, tiny details you might not think you need to worry about. But worry you should. She’ll tell you why.The Rejectionist: http://www.therejectionist.com/My current favorite. Sarcastic? Sure. Hilarious? Always.Editorial Anonymous: http://editorialanonymous.blogspot.com/On the marketing side: Market My Words, at http://faeriality.blogspot.com/ -- a writer and marketing consultant combines her two fields and blogs about them for your benefit!(even if she does give time and space to one of The Hills’ vacuous stars—I won’t say her name so she won’t get the Google Alert)Pimp My Novel: http://pimpmynovel.blogspot.com/ The same theme as Market My Words, but a different style altogether. Has a handy weekly roundup thing on Fridays if you can manage to check only once a week.These are my go-to sites; I check them early and often. It helps a lot to be well-versed not only in what publishing professionals like, but what they’re seeing, what they do. Reading blogs can be misinterpreted as a waste of time (fie! And that doesn’t apply to this one!) but, if you find your overly active conscience reprimanding you for that, try to internalize the idea that knowing about this industry is just as[...]



Small victories

2010-01-11T13:51:52.020-08:00

This is not me. In case you were wondering.It's a new year, as everyone knows. In fact, it's 11 days into the new year. What have you accomplished?? How many goals are you still adhering to?I'm still in the process of deciding mine. As I mentioned before, I don't necessarily like setting firm goals; I'd rather just decide I'd like to do smoething and do it. I'd like more to decide that in the middle of the year, instead of on January 1 and becoming one of the masses. Let me set my goals on a random day in April and be unusual. Or at least, someone who thinks of herself as unusual.January is not a good time at the gym. Every January since Ih ave been a member (10 years now!) January is inevitably SLAMMED. I don't like waiting for machines; I'm impatient by nature, I guess, and I don't want people waiting for me to get off and thus pressuring me to leave before I want to. Harrumph.Gymgoing is a pretty necessary party of writing. Writing, as you may have guessed, is SEDENTARY. Sit at a desk, working your wrists hard, unfortunately does nothing for toned muscles or a slim waist. And if you're genetically predisposed to, uh, girth...this is something you ought to take seriously. I joined my first gym in January 2000 (NOT as a New Year's resolution; I had awakened very late, like eleven, and wandered from my bed to the couch with a book, and I thought, "I'll be dead of inaction before I'm thirty" and marched to New York Sports Club and joined.) and, but for an eight-month period in 2005, have been a somewhat-regular goer since then. I am somewhat poor (I'm a writer!), and as a result of that, I'm cheap, and for me, paying a large sum of money to a gym every month, automatic withdrawal or not, pretty much ensures I will be at that gym, calculator in hand. New York gyms are expensive. when I joined NYSC, I think it was $67 a month, so I would say to myself, okay, if I go twice a week for four weeks, that makes it a little more than $8 each time I go. And I would picture handing over $8 every time I walked in that door. The idea was abhorrent. So, okay, if I go four times a week for four weeks, that's $4 each time I go. That was more palatable. Going five times a week was better, because that was $3. And yes, ladies and gentlemen, that was the the entirety of my motivation.I kept going regularly until 2003, when I started grad school. Then I was faced with a dilemma: go to NYU's (free) gym or keep my gym membership? And quickly that dilemma was subsumed with reality: I had no time! Argh. My membership fee had gone up to about $77 a month, and I made it to NYSC once a week, thereby bringing my per-visit total to just under $20. Ridiculous. And yet I continued. One of my prouder moments was wearing the same skirt to an end-of-program party that I wore to a beginning-of-program party. I will tell you why this is at all remarkable: I had only gone once a week, but that was once a week more than many of my classmates. I loved them, and I don't want to make fun, but...let's just say a lot of them were not wearing the same clothes at the end.Okay, so the program ended and my dreams of graduating and landing a primo writing gig were not realized. I was quite sure that I would sell something right away, however, so I decided just to temp for a while. Temping is not great fun. When it works well, it's great (a salary but no commitment) but there are huge down sides: no benefits, no stability, occasional involuntary dry spells. And the salary is [...]



Blizzards and security breaches

2010-01-05T12:24:39.255-08:00

Okay, my bad blogger thing continues. Last week I was on vacation; yesterday I was in transit. I did start an entry last week, and it was irredeemably boring. Consider last week’s inaction a “save” from a boring post.I am now back into the swing of things after my Christmas holiday. I always try to bank up my vacation days so that I can take a couple of weeks at the end of the year. Happily we have a fairly liberal vacation policy at the office, so that doesn’t mean I’m chained to my desk for the rest of the year; I can still take a few days off here and there. But the big trip is always at Christmas.Travel karma totally went my way this year. I was scheduled to fly out on a 5 pm flight on December 19. Now, I normally don’t book pm flights in the wintertime; I always try for the first flight out. However, there simply wasn’t one available this year, so I reluctantly took the 5 pm. I wanted it to be that Saturday, rather than wait for Monday, because the closer you get to Christmas the worse the travel conditions become. So, 5 pm the 18th it was. And everything looked completely fine until the Wednesday before, when they started hinting around about snow. I still wasn’t worried. “We may get a flurry or two,” they said. “It depends on how closely it hews to the coast.” Thursday: “Well, we’re probably going to get a bit of a snowstorm.” Friday: “Buy food and blankets and batteries! We’re in for a Nor’Easter!” I decided, at 1 am Saturday, to see if I could rebook. Delta had helpfully canceled my 5 pm flight and put me on a 1 pm. (though somehow the idea that SOMEHOW THEY SHOULD LET ME KNOW didn’t occur to them.) But the 1 pm went from Newark to Atlanta to Nashville to Salt Lake, which didn’t seem to be the most practical route. So I rebooked online to go, at 8 am, JFK to Chicago to Salt Lake, with a two-hour layover. It was the best we could do, and I was happy to take it. The thing is, by this time it was 2:30 am and I still had crap to do. And by “crap” I mean “pack.” (This does not mean I was procrastinating. Remember, I had thought I had until 5 pm. I was not procrastinating! I was doing other things! And by "other things" I mean "watching Mad Men.") I rushed around and finished everything by 3:30 and got to sleep around 4:15, with the alarm set for 6:00. Yah-hoo. I didn’t sleep much on the first flight (on which they booked me first class, for some reason) and I was just trashed in Chicago. (I expect that by this I join an illustrious list of people who have been trashed in Chicago.) There was a gate area they had cleared of seats, and a few people were flat on the floor there. I walked by a couple of times, staring longingly at prostrate (sleeping) people, and then said, “I have no pride” and joined them, and I slept for an hour and a half on the dirty floor of the Chicago airport. And I would do it again.I came back yesterday and flew into Newark. My boss was scheduled to return from his vacation, flying into Newark, on Sunday, but they didn’t arrive until 3 am Monday because of the crazy security breach. I had almost scheduled my return flight for Sunday, but didn’t; I figured that Sunday might be one of those awful “everyone’s coming back at the same time” days and Monday might be better. Now, the Good Worker part of me (whether it’s a big or small part of me, I haven’t yet determined) said, Monday is the first day of the [...]



Writing Groups Part II (Two days late)

2009-12-23T12:03:22.482-08:00

Caught up in holiday madness. I knew I needed to post on Monday, to keep with my new goal, but I was occupied pretty much all day. I am home for the holidays (because I caught a flight early Saturday a.m. out of New York, thereby escaping the blizzard/travel insanity, thank heaven) but I spent Monday and Tuesday occupied with the nephew, who is almost two and can't be left alone for a second. Adorable, if exhausting. But, I owe you all a post this week, and a post you shall get.I said in my earlier post that writing groups are a tremendously valuable part of the writing process, and I meant it. For my first book, Did I Expect Angels? I know I wouldn't have finished the book without the group. Around Christmas of 2001, I had a general idea and theme in my head, and over that Christmas break from work I sat down at the family computer and wrote about 15 pages. And then I left it. (This was my habit in those days: starting projects and never seeing them through, all the while thinking, "I want to be a writer." Of course, writers have to write--and more than that, they have to finish things. I knew this, but couldn't quite get over that hurdle.) So I had 15 pages and a vague sense of dissatisfaction with my life. Fast forward to Memorial Day of 2002. I had lunch with a friend, who told me she was also working on some writing projects. We talked it over and agreed that we needed some extra help getting things done (in my case) and getting feedback (hers). So we each recruited a friend and set up an online writers' group. We set up a schedule where every Monday one of us would email the others a selection of pages, maybe 15 - 20 at a time, and the others would have a week to read and write a critique. We'd email our critiques to everyone the following Monday and the next person would email her pages.Suddenly I had a deadline! I sent out my 15 pages the first week, and I had 3 weeks more to produce 15 pages. And I actually did. I got going and wrote pages! For the first time I had an actual direction and motivation to finish something, and it was wonderful. And I discovered that I was not a great writer. I remember being told that it read like a short story, because I *talked about* things happening, rather than putting the reader in the moment and showing what happened. "Everything just kind of zooms past," was what they said, as well as I can remember. This was a revelation. I had had writing classes in college, but we'd done short stories, where it's more acceptable to sum (some) things up just to conserve space; with a 4000k word limit in many magazines, you know, some summation is in order. But this doesn't apply nearly as much in novels, which I was trying to write.Through this writers' group, I finished my book. I worked on it actively from that June through January of 2003. I am very grateful to this group.I cannot say that we were free of drama. There was one member whom I inadvertently offended. Several times. Consistently, weeks on end, it turns out. I have no idea when it began, but apparently it grew and grew until we hit the boiling point, and she sent out comments about my latest installation that ... well, they weren't constructive, they weren't helpful; they were just angry. "I don't like this...I've already read this so many times I don't care..." (yes, she had, but part of the writing group experience is reading revisions) "... I don't agree with this sentimen[...]



writing groups!

2009-12-14T13:56:14.994-08:00

Ever had this happen?

You have a great idea, you’re on a tear, you’re particular inspired by a tear-jerking movie, you’re drunk (ahem) or just delirious because this is the third day you’ve gotten less than 4 hours sleep. You go to your computer and write something at breakneck speed, and you’re convinced this is the greatest thing you have ever produced. You finish the piece, sigh happily and hit Print, then go (back) to bed to revel in that feeling, that joy, that knowledge: You Are A Great Writer.

Oh, the pain of the mornings.

Now imagine a slightly different scenario. You’ve labored on something for days/weeks/months/YEARS and you know it’s the best thing you can do. You’ve gone through it dozens of times, found typos, found inconsistencies, realized that perhaps this line where Kaylee screams “I’ll find that rare stolen coin if it’s the last thing I do!” (a) reads like she’s a psycho or (b) is perhaps a tad on the melodramatic side or (c) is a placeholder you wrote because that is in fact what she’s looking for but you planned to come back later and make it a little less like an infodump/less freakishly awful. And then you forgot about it and on the seventh re-read you found it.

And suddenly you think, “What else have I left in there that I forgot about?” If you have a long piece, you just can’t remember all the places you do something like that.

What to do?

Beta readers. Readers are incredibly important. And make sure it’s someone who won’t smile and say, “I loved it!” Because as good as that little ego stroking may feel, ultimately it doesn’t help. I assure you, agents and editors will not smile and say “I loved it!” when they come upon someone shrieking, “I’ll find that rare stolen coin if it’s the last thing I do!”

Now, it’s also a big favor to ask, having someone read a completed 100,000-word manuscript. Friends will often do it for several reasons: they’ve heard you talk about this piece for days/weeks/months/YEARS and they’re curious. They’d like to write, but never have. They’re good readers. Or perhaps they have nothing else to do. But nine times out of ten, their feedback isn’t going to be that great. Why? Simply because they don’t do this very often.
A better option is to have people reading what you’re writing as you go. It’s less painful to read six pages, rather than two hundred fifty. The reader can also pay closer attention to little things. It’s hard for your readers to get the big picture (actually, nigh on impossible) but…because you have also read their submissions as the weeks go by, they wn’t be as offended when you ask them to read the whole thing in a big gulp.

I will talk more about the writing groups I’ve been part of…later.