Thursday, August 18, 2011

Birthday Clafoutis and Book Proposals

See, I thought it was appropriate to make a cherry clafouti for my birthday because the word clafouti sounds like a party in and of itself.  Like confetti. It just tastes better.

I've been circling this recipe for a month or two, waiting for the opportune moment (i.e. a loving reunion with my KitchenAid and assorted bake-ware. Oh, and my sieve) to do something really special with a bag of cherries.

Life is a bowl of cherries. Preferably sans pits.
I could be wrong about this. All I know is:

A. There are a lot of cherries here.

B. There seem to be more cherries than back home.

C. Generally, like the dentist situation in Tri-Cities (*never* have I seen so many dentists' offices. Ever.), it means that there's simply more of them.

But I digress.

A few things about this recipe:

It looks great when you put it together, smells even better in the oven.

Also, it's like, *really* bland.

Fresh out of the oven.
I didn't use the kirsch the recipe called for, and my vanilla beans were about a year old and would have needed some TLC to be usable.  I used my good Mexican vanilla extract, and threw a bit of cardamom and ginger into the flan batter.

On the table, sunning itself.
What really needed to go in was another tablespoon of sugar (which is really something, coming from me - I don't like my sweets overly sweet) and a generous tablespoon of lemon zest.  And maybe an additional tablespoon of flour.

It's certainly not an ugly dessert.  Though I will say, once you cut into it, photogenic isn't a word I'd use.  And the cherries tasted really good. I have more left.  They may very well turn into these.

A note on book proposals: I chatted with my agent this morning.  I told her about how I'd gone to my first critique-group meeting here in Tri-Cities, and how I wanted to tweak the sample chapter in my current book proposal.  The group had pointed out some things about my transitions (mainly, there weren't any.  This is a fault of mine that I freely admit).  The chapter itself was written, mostly, three or so years ago, and I hadn't done a whole lot of heavy-duty editing to it.

My reasoning is that while the sample chapter you include with your proposal should be clean, they also shouldn't be over-thought.  Slaving away at that chapter is kind of like naming livestock - an editor may turn around and say, "Hey, we love it, but how do you feel about writing ______ instead?"

This has happened to me several times.  I've learned to put emotional distance between myself and these chapters.  I work on them, and then I move on.  It's a mental health thing.

Now, I want to work on the sample chapter because I want to like it more than I do. It's an easy fix.  But my agent did point out that editors can be wary of über-perfect sample chapters.  Kind of, when you think about it, like guys on first dates who say they love children, small dogs, and Jane Austen.

So don't kill yourself striving for abject perfection when you're including those sample chapters. Make sure they're really, really, good - and then move on with your life.  There are other things to pay attention to.

Like figuring out how to fix a bland clafouti.

Try saying that three times fast.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Reinvent Your Writing

Today's guest-poster, the lovely Lynne Gentry, knows a thing or two about reinvention.  Her debut novel, Reinventing Leona,  is all about making changes for the better.

Also red lipstick.  But I'll let you discover that for yourself.  Here's Lynne!

Writing good stories is like raising good kids, they never happen by accident. Someone has to invest a lot of time and effort in the project to achieve an award-winning result.

How many times have you thought you’d written the next bestseller only to take it to your critique group meeting and have them mop the floor with you? I’ve done it more times than I can count. Yet, every Tuesday night I print out a chapter and set off for another grueling round of iron-sharpening-iron.

Why do I put myself through this torture?

Because these trusted friends have only my best interest at heart. I’d rather hear what’s NOT working with my story in the comfort of someone’s cozy living room than have the flaws plastered all over an Amazon review.

True writing friends are not here to tell me I’m wonderful. They’re job is to make me a better writer. I’ll admit, crits can sting. But I’ve learned to consider their points and to think through why something tripped them up. Their suggestions challenge me to ratchet up the tension here or find a fresh way to drive my point home there.

Are you writing in secret?

Don’t do what I did. I wrote my first 400 page novel without letting anyone take a peek. When I finally summoned enough courage to submit the book to an editor, I received this terse response eight minutes later: I’m sorry, your writing does not measure up to the standards of our publishing house.


What did I learn? Don’t submit another thing until you get some help. I needed a group that would challenge, yet encourage a pleaser like me to continue in this often brutal and solitary calling.

Fortunately, I found a constructive writing group. And humbly submitting to the process reinvented my writing.

When I consider what each of the members of our writing group bring to the table, I’m reminded of how women used to gather around a well or quilting frame. Together, they helped each other raise their families, withstand the hard times, and make the world a better place.

What if writers did the same today? 

About Lynne's novel, Reinventing Leona:

Leona Harper loves being a pastor's wife. Her impressive resumé touts thirty years of coaxing hot water from rusty parsonage plumbing, planning church potlucks, and standing beside her husband while members take potshots at his sermons. Except for the little tiff with her grown children, Leona feels her life is right on track with the wishes of the Almighty...until her husband drops dead in the pulpit.

When the church board decides to fill the Reverend's vacated position Leona is forced to find a paying job, mend her fractured family, and tackle her fears. With life spiraling out of control, Leona might find the church members antics comical if she weren't so completely panicked. Can the faith of an overwhelmed widow withstand the added heartache of two resentful children and several underhanded church members?

If Leona can't trust God, how will she learn to trust herself?

Don't miss it! Full of warmth and wit, I recommend reading with a glass of iced tea.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Journey's End

And what a journey it's been.

We moved in November, spending the month in Portland, doing our best to stay dry.  We drank good coffee, dodged parked cars on narrow streets, and enjoyed living with family across the street from the Kennedy School.

We drove to Memphis in December.  We met some of Danny's extended family in the Little Rock Area, visited museums and restaurants in Little Rock, Memphis, and Nashville.  We got to meet Ree and Ladd Drummond at the now-closed Davis-Kidd Bookstore. We watched the Peabody Ducks swim in the hotel fountain and waddle down a red carpet to the elevator.

Also heard my first tornado siren.

Hoping it's the last.

We returned to the Pacific Northwest in early March and moved into a corporate apartment which, after living in a dark, smelly hotel room for three months, was particularly magical.  Throw in some sunshine, the ability to sit on a couch and have both an extra bedroom *and* bathroom, and we were in good shape.

We got a puppy, who turned out to be a teenage girl in disguise.  We also looked for a house, fell in love with one and watched as the deal fell through.  We began to build a second, which took...

...a while.

But it ended.

And we completed the sale.

And the bank did not laugh at us or throw rocks.

And we moved in.  Actually, not in that order.  We didn't actually fund before we moved in, which made me nervous that the bank would, at the last  minute, decide to laugh or throw rocks (not that they have reason to do so, but I'd had a *bit* of anxiety about the subject).

So now we have a house, our first house, and a garage and a KITCHEN and a yard and an actual dining room...

...Did I mention the kitchen?

It's good to be home.  I'm realistic enough to know that we'll probably move again, very possibly out of state again, but for right now it's nice to let some roots go deep.  And now that we're settled, life starts again. Work starts again.  There will be guest posts on this blog and more posts about writing, since I'll be back to full-time work.  Thanks for being patient through this unexpected hiatus, and don't worry - there will be more books!