Saturday, January 9, 2010

Cold Running

I haven't been very enchanted by this city in the year that I've lived here. Perhaps that's because I haven't seen as much of it as I would like to; my own fault, of course. I was spoiled by living across from Humboldt Park for four years, which I found far more lovely with its little streams and paths and fishing docks than Hefner Lake (a mile from my home), although Hefner's 9.4 mile running/biking path isn't to be taken lightly. And of course neither can hold a candle to the backwoods of the house in South Dakota, with the acres of trees and grasses and hilly roads. How I miss the Black Hills.

It was another unusually cold day here, 20 degrees, bright and sunny, but fortunately easy on the wind, which is also unusual. I wanted soup, and to bake warm, comforting loaves of bread. And although John was keen on the bread idea, he's a little souped out. I'm a little breaded out - my body is cranky with it. Too much gluten, not enough green leafy vegetables.

So instead of staying indoors and baking bread (and probably eating it), I opted to do my 4 mile run - must work the mileage back up slowly - outdoors. Seven other runners out there, too, the trail all to ourselves. Usually we're outnumbered by hardcore bikers, but not today. The cold was almost unnoticeable under the clarity of the blue sky, the bright sunlight, the shadows of frozen aspens striping the running path.

Kitty's watching me type. He's wearing his happy face.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

A quick rising

A recipe for quick rising French bread, tonight: yeast, flour, salt, sugar, water, thyme, Herbs de Province. Not the prettiest loaves, but the herbs made them deliciously savory, and it's hard to beat fresh bread. It was too cold today to not have soup - I even caved on the noodles for homemade chicken soup.

So close, but not enough

I'm establishing connections in the writing world. It's taken five years, although I suppose that's not that long if you think about it. But now I have a lovely writing partner, the Italian-born and Grammar-fiend Gio who lives in Paris, and together we have created two fantastic stories, which will hopefully find homes very soon, as there are more on the back burner of our collaborative stovetop. Then there is Fantasy Magazine, where I read slush submissions and yay or nay the hopes and dreams of young and established writers alike. At least that's how it felt initially - five months later, it's not so difficult anymore. After all, I've had 37 rejections total on my nine short stories, two of which have now been accepted, and two of which will never again see the light of day again - and five to rewrite. (I won't get started on the hundreds of rejections on my three books.

I have always loved short stories. The first collections I can remember reading were the L.M. Montgomery ones: Chronicles of Avonlea, Furthur Chronicles of Avonlea, but my favorites were Along the Shore and Among the Shadows - which perhaps foreshadowed my eventual love for the eclectic world of genre writing. In the former, strange sea creatures turned into dangerous woman, pulling the man below turbulent waters. In the latter, lonely, translucent women caused men to fall more deeply entranced than ever before. Oh, common themes. But like I wrote a few days back, short stories require less of a committment from a reader. I never had a problem with committing to a book, but you can cram more short stories - ie: more life-changing and unique experiences - in the same amount of time as a few potentially dull (non-life changing) chapters of a book (that may overall be a satisfying read). It's like sitting down with a song-cycle, instead of an entire opera. Not necessarily more bang for your buck, but bang for your shorter buck, or more tiny bangs for the same larger buck.


In the last few years, I have collected nearly every SF & Fantasy anthology that was published, at least the reputable ones compiled by the reputable editors. I prefer anthologies over subscribing to the genre magazines (where most stories originally appear) because magazines can be hit or miss. Anthologies have to compile the best, or the book won't sell. Simple.

A paragraph like that, along with a few examples of whose editing I preferred and why, along with a few authors that I greatly admired, got me the slush job at Fantasy Magazine, and as of yesterday, another slush reading job at LightSpeed, the new SF imprint of FM. Best of all, LightSpeed is edited by John Joseph Adams, whose anthologies I greatly admire more than any others out there. Of course I put that in my original application email to FM, which was forwarded to Mr. Adams, so now he knows how I feel about his anthologies. :) Maybe that's why he gave me the job.

Here's my point: I started reading some of the submissions yesterday. The first was a beautifully written story, the lyrical tone reminding me of (my) John's narrative style, by a well-known Australian SF author with 4 books under his belt. But the story wasn't enough. It was too slow to start; nothing happened until page 5. There was too much meandering, too much fat and gristle around the lovely sculpted curves of dialogue. I believe it might have been another writing pal, Steve Chapman, who told me that one of my shorts, maybe "Children Dumpling Soup," was too long for what it was. Not a life-changing epic story. Fun, maybe, but for what it was, what it claimed to be, it was 1,000 words + too long. So was this submission I was reading - only it was maybe 2k words too long, which left it tasting like watery soup, although somewhat savory. And then the ending - no big deal. Nothing that moving, nothing that made me want to look up this man's books, nothing that made any sort of imprint on my mind. I gave it a 6.5 out of 10, since JJA likes a scale. I was nice. It was really a 4 out of 10, the scale being comprised of writing that's not only nit-free, but written coherently.

Then today, I read another submission by a woman with no credits, although she's attended a few writing seminars. Clever, hooky, so much so that I was desperate to figure out where she was going with it all. The world faded away as I read. But after eight pages or so, she didn't do anything with the hooks she'd created. She didn't wedge them in deeper, she didn't unfold layer after layer of detail around the meaty points, she didn't insert turning points that would jerk the character around - and the reader - like a hooked fish. Instead, she let them fall to the wayside, and the main character brushed off potential drama-filled moments with passivity. 'She felt ____'. She hated that ___ made her feel ____.' That's when I started to skim, which we have the leeway to do when the story drags.

I wrote up my summary. One of the best things about writing SF is that sometimes you get to create your own world, and your own rules for the world. Granted, it's a lot of work, as Gio and I have experienced with "A Rose for the Nomad." There's no shortage of loose ends. But I don't get to tell this author not to give up on this short, not to take the rejection personally. She achieved something that the established author of the previous story didn't - she captivated me. The story set such high goals that she didn't follow through on, not in this draft. But with a lot of work, she could make it sellable, publishable, thrillable. I want her to make it work, because I'd love to read it at its full potential - it would surely be one of those eyes-glazed-over reads.

But instead, I can only click 'reject,' and hope that she will see that eventually. In the meantime, I'll brainstorm how to make those five of mine work.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Delicious Discovery of the Day

Double Chocolate Clementine Cake? Gluten-free and dairy-free? I must go to the store for clementines, and more almond flour. I wonder if the pieces would freeze at all, since John won't want to finish off the cake, and I'd also like to avoid the cup of powdered sugar on the glaze. Although then it would be Single Chocolate Clementine Cake.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010


Egads, I overseasoned the kale. I think it was the normal sodium chicken broth, combined with too much sea salt. I was embarrassed, but oh well. Lesson learned. It was still tasty, with the paprika and garlic.

Malia has always been savvy with her seasonings, which wore off on me over the years of living with her at 1350 N. Kedzie (pre-John, naturally). We went from...okay, my cooking went from a terrific amounts of butter and parmesan and cream (organic, if possible) to chicken broth (from happy chickens!) and olive oil and whole grains (still organic) to eventually no carbs (salad! which I once hated), but still a healthy dose of flavor, although occasionally, like last night's kale, I lean on the too-much side. I'd rather err on that than too little.

In those early days right after I'd moved in, Malia and I would go to the German/Puerto Ricanville bakery (Roeser's? I'm forgetting names already, which saddens me) right at the ghetto central of North & Kedzie and buy baguettes. We'd then pile it with low-fat (why did we bother?) salami and thick wedges of butter and sit at the butcher block in the non-air-conditioned apartment and eat it all. That was just in the afternoon. And then Charlie would start creating some stupendous meal (maybe an elaborate pasta and unusual salad, or a nut-crusted fish with fennel and roasted root vegetables), and I'd throw booze in the shaker - a staple, like vodka, combined with a splash of organic mango juice or acai nectar, raspberry or cranberry liqueor, lime vodka, and maybe whatever unusual we had that was on sale from Sam's, like passion fruit vodka. Malia would drag Kitty around on the rug, and then we'd sit on the kitchen stools and drink and talk for hours while Charlie cooked. Eventually, we'd eat and watch whatever Netflix we were on then (Charlie's subscription, so it was either a Marilyn Monroe movie or a season of 6 Feet Under), then force Malia to make us her chocolate chip cookies. This was a year or so before Malia discovered chocolate martinis, which opened a wealth of new mixing opportunities. Then both of us, and soon Daniel, discovered dirty martinis with stuffed bleu cheese olives (and Daniel and I would eat all the bleu cheese with our fingers when Malia wasn't looking).

In honor of those days, which I miss dearly, I've taken the liberty of stealing these two pictures from Malia's facebook. The above shows our beautiful booze collection (which grew when we discovered Binny's Beverage Depot) and Charlie playing his accordian for the Wheaton party. In the second, Malia and I have obviously been consuming too many of my concoctions. It's probably a good thing life drew us apart, so Hubert & Nancy didn't have to roll us out of that apartment.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Out with the old, in with the...revisions on the old.

I forgot to write about my amazing sausage gravy from yesterday morning. John and I had had a little argument a few days ago about whether or not he liked poblano peppers - he wasn't certain (because he does not like green chiles, to my great sadness) - and I was determined to convince him that he did, since I remember Mom's chile rellenos fondly and have been longing for them for some time.

So I ordered John out of the kitchen, diced the poblano, sauteed the hell out of it, blended it with cream (it was the last day of unhealthy eating so I had to use the rest of the heavy cream) until it was a nice green mush, then put it with sausage (at least I bought the 'lite' sausage), lots of sage, more cream, butter, and flour. It was as lovely as it sounds. We had it over the malformed buchty from the other day, which had kept quite well, eggs on the side. John ate all of it (all of his portion - I wasn't giving up mine) and liked it. When I confessed to the poblano, he said he knew from the first bite, but that he wasn't going to say he knew. And he liked the dish.

I think I'll keep him.

I read more today in Jonathan Strahan's Eclipse 3, which is the best SFF anthology I've read since John Joseph Adam's Living Dead, in my opinion. The stories are brilliant, 4 out of the first 5 leaving me stunned after reading, eyes glazed over, world reduced to the thump of my heartbeat in my ears. Sounds dramatic, but that's what happens. That's why I wanted to be an amazing singer, why Malia and I would sit and listen to art songs for hours at Wheaton, and obsessively collect random repertoire that nobody but Anne Sophie von Otter would touch, probably dug up out of some dusty archive in a Scandinavian country. But that's what the music did to us. That's why I've wanted to be an amazing writer for years now, to have my words have that effect on the reader. It can happen with books, but more often with short stories since they're easier to digest, unless you're a voracious reader like me.

Today, it was Elizabeth Bear's "Swell," in this same anthology. She did for the mermaid what I wanted my own "Skinned" to do for selkies. But she was successful in a way I don't feel I was, but might have been had I a. known better, b. taken more time, c. resolved to find a paying market, which would have meant more revisions, d. fill in the blank. The good thing is that now I see what I can do with "Fish out of Water." I'm suddenly glad it's been rejected so many times, because it needs more depth, meat, color, far more than it already has - and now I'm capable of doing that, whereas last year, I wouldn't have been.

And then my mind churns over "Braeberry Street "- what if I made that a novelette? It's already long enough, but to extend the horror of the deaths, the infections, the could work. It's like working on that one Mozart aria that fits you so well, but you never really nail it until four years after you've been auditioning with it, or taken it from teacher to teacher. Maybe you grew into it, or it grew into you, or you grew together until you become something different altogether.

Singing and writing are eerily similar. I usually react first when it comes to writing (okay, fine, when it comes to anything), instead of processing the whys and hows of it all. But when I find the corresponding situation from my life as a singer, it suddenly makes sense. It's all about the words, anyway. I get words.

This revelation calls for a good round of kale tonight. John likes swiss chard better, but the kale was crisp and happy and $1.09.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Bay Leaves & Bread

The ham-butternut squash-asiago-bean soup was so good that John ate all of the bay leaves in it (even though I told him to remind me to take them out ahead of time), as well as half the loaf of cheese & onion bread. A success, I say, and one that leaves me open to taking chances more often.

Tomorrow, the diet begins anew. I'm dreading it.