The Bitter Truth

Horseradish and GraterWhen I first chose the meal my protagonist, John Welles, would enjoy with Reuben and Hannah Wise, I flinched at including horseradish sauce. A website on authentic Jewish cooking suggested the pungent condiment as a topping for the salmon patties I had Hannah serving.

I hate horseradish. My earliest memory of it involves cocktail sauce served at a seafood restaurant called Arthur Treacher’s that went out of business in our area years ago. My aunt was pumping the sauce out of a dispenser into little paper cups when one hefty pump spewed the offending sauce all over my shirt. I was mortified, and I guess my face showed as much because my aunt busted up laughing even as she wiped me off with paper napkins.

To this day I can sniff out horseradish in any meal even as someone is setting the plate down in front of me. I was sure I wouldn’t include it in my Edible Fiction posts featuring food from my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles. Until my mom made fresh horseradish sauce.

Homemade horseradish sauce is a whole different creature. The key, as I discovered, was to grate the horseradish fresh instead of using the jarredHorseradish Grated stuff. Freshly grated horseradish is zesty like radishes; it actually has flavor. Unlike the jarred stuff, which is bitter without much flavor at all, fresh horseradish tastes like peppery herbs.

As for recipes, there are thousands to be found for homemade horseradish sauce. I imagine Hannah would have mixed her freshly grated horseradish into a quality mayonnaise with a little salt and pepper to taste. Sour cream or crème fraiche is another suggestion as is the inclusion of white wine vinegar, chives, and Dijon mustard. You really can’t mess up the recipe; it’s just a matter of tasting as you create until you achieve the flavor you’re looking for.

The following is a basic recipe that provides a great jumping off point.

Horseradish Sauce

4 ounces of freshly grated horseradish root

1 ½ cups of mayonnaise

Salt and pepper to taste

Peel and grate the horseradish root. Stir into the mayonnaise and season with salt and pepper.

Baring My Writer’s Soul – Part 8

What do you do when you’re write blocked? You quit. It’s okay; I absolve you and give you permission to stop. In fact, I offer this advice to anyone who is creatively stumped.

Here’s the key to getting yourself past the place of frustration so bad it hurts: Quitting and giving up are NOT the same thing. When you quit something, you have stopped for a set amount of time that is up to you to determine. For example, when you quit smoking, hopefully you’ve chosen to do so forever. But, when you quit writing, you’ve done it with the understanding that you’ll return some day when the mood strikes you, the muse returns, the distractions are handled, etc., etc.

Giving up is more dangerous. To give up is to abandon all hope, and the journey back is a much more difficult struggle. It’s not impossible, but it takes a lot of soul searching and the right sort of people in your life to encourage you in the way you need to be encouraged. Giving up usually means you’ve hit rock bottom.

165083-425x283-writing-promptsNow, I don’t mean to scare you with this, because even when you’ve hit rock bottom, the rock at the bottom makes a fabulous foundation from which to plant your feet, bend your knees, and spring upward toward the light again.

The point of this explanation is to keep you from reaching Giving Up by enjoying the freedom of Quitting. Recognizing the signs that you’re struggling in your creative life is the first step to keeping you from nose diving into the despair.

I know this because I’ve been there, and if I can keep one person from experiencing the awful feeling of “I have nothing left to give,” then with tears in my eyes I can say what I went through was worth it. (SIDE NOTE: I’ll probably be embarrassed beyond words when this post publishes because I’m not the opening up type, and this is my deepest secret revealed in my Writer’s Soul series so far!)

The first thing I would suggest based on what I’ve learned from Heather Seller’s book, Page After Page, is to simplify. In my case, all I need to write is a pen or pencil and some paper. I have fought the simplicity of this suggestion, which is what landed me in a heap of trouble, by lamenting everything I don’t have. Mrs. Sellers kindly pointed out what I do have: Pen or pencil, paper, the desire to write, knowledge of the things I want to write about.

You’ve probably heard it said, “Write what you know,” which is countered by, “Write what you want to know about.” Mrs. Sellers goes one better and says, “Write what other people want to know about you.” (Paraphrased from several paragraphs in Chapter Four of Page After Page.)

My goodness, how liberating. This means that you have an interesting tale to tell, and it should be written in detail as only you can tell it. Stop believing that it’s boring or won’t measure up to some arbitrary standard and, to borrow a line from Nike, Just Do It! Write what you want to write. Write what you want to read. Do it now without over analyzing.

Write Happy!

Baring My Writer’s Soul – Part 7

I’ve really been off my game for the past three weeks. Instead of being a sweetheart and manifesting itself as the lover in the center or the lover on the side, my writing became the school yard bully. (See Page After Page, Heather Sellers.) I could explain that sentence, but it would take way too long. Again, for your own benefit, read the book!

Facepalm GirlI want to write. I want to be published. So why did I let the process of writing terrify me into a near-catatonic state? Good question. The answer is that I treated my writing and/or writing time like an obligation rather than a reward. I ignored the clues that writing can be a scary and lonely process, I let it intimidate and frighten me, and I pushed it aside where it grew into a monster. Bad move on my part.

Writing should be enjoyable. I made the mistake of trying to force my writing life into an unrealistic schedule, treating it like a job. I don’t know about you, but I hate having to go to work. On the other hand, I love to sneak away with a friend to idle away the hours producing fun. It’s not that I don’t want to write; I don’t want my writing to feel like work.

Then I bored myself with writing projects that weren’t actual writing, and I put busy work first. Now don’t get me wrong; I balance my priorities, but I’m learning to do it in a way that allows them to walk hand and hand with my dreams. This way, everybody is happy including me.

There will be days when my writing takes front and center place in my life, but there will also be days when it sits patiently on the side waiting for me to return. And that’s okay because absence makes the heart grow fonder and the muse grow productive. Understanding this has returned me to the pleasure of writing.

Write Happy!

Recycling Before Recycling Was Cool

25bcf1fd2283ff81a59233bb01a448faDetails, details. They really can make or break a piece of writing. Too many and the passage is bogged down, too few and the reader will visualize what they choose, too gaudy and you’ll be accused of purple prose. But if you can capture a scene with the right amount of description formed by carefully chosen words, you will achieve Olympic writing gold. We’ve all experienced that moment when we sit back in open-mouthed awe of a perfectly crafted sentence that conveys exactly what we meant to say.

I recently experienced this during my fifth round of editing on my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles. I needed to show the quaint but tidy lifestyle Lyla Welles maintained in her home. Her husband, John, is a farmer, and while the family does well enough, there isn’t money for frivolous luxuries such as lace curtains.

When I described what I wanted for the scene, my mother suggested feed sack curtains. Images of stained, coarse fabric crudely stitched togetherfeedsack-dress came to mind. Mother informed me that they were quite pretty and, in fact, feed sack was used to make dresses for little girls, tea towels, and aprons. I had to go in search of the fabric that could be used for such items while baring a name more plain than homespun. What I found prompted this post.

Ingenious women of low income reused the fabric from feed sacks for undergarments, curtains, pillowcases, etc. Initially, the fabric was white and without pattern. A company logo, which had to be scrubbed out or strategically placed on the homemade item, was the only ornamentation. These plain white feed sacks were probably what Lyla Welles would have used during the time period for the above-mentioned scene. I imagine her hand lovingly embroidering a simple pattern or trimming the edges.

It wasn’t until the 1920s that patterned feed sack became popular as a marketing tool. Women chose the products they purchased depending on the pattern on the feed sack fabric. Contests were held to design prints and artists were consulted to make them more appealing.untitled (5)

The following link from the Buchanan County, Iowa Historical Society provides a complete history on the evolution, popularity, and history of feed sack fabric. I recommend utilizing Google to see a myriad of garments and household items made from the repurposed fabric. There are even Pinterest boards and quilting forums dedicated to the humble feed sack.

The Homesman – Movie Review

images (3)One of the best movies I have seen in a long time is The Homesman, directed by Tommy Lee Jones. Mr. Jones stars as George Briggs, a claim jumper saved by pious spinster, Mary Bee Cuddy, played by Hilary Swank. The performance of these two Oscar-winning actors is brilliant as they draw you in to the stark reality of life in the 1850s American West.

In return for sparing his life from hanging, Briggs is pressed into service as a homesman by Mary Bee. A homesman is someone who accompanies people back home when they become too ill to survive life on the plains. In the case of three women who have experienced hardships beyond their endurance, severe mental illness necessitates removal from their families.

There are harsh and disturbing images in the movie, but in the hands of a director like Tommy Lee Jones, they don’t come across as cheap, shock value scenes. Factor in an all-star cast of characters in fabulous cameos, an unexpected mid-movie twist, and visually appealing cinematography and The Homesman presents the makings of a classic film.

I don’t want to start a firestorm debate on book versus movie; however, I’m anxious to see if the novel lives up to the quality of the movie. I researched the novel and author and was pleasantly surprised to find that Glendon Swarthout is also the author of the novel, The Shootist, which inspired the 1976 movie and is best known for being John Wayne’s last film. Admittedly, I’ve never read a western, but I am interested to give Mr. Swarthout’s The Homesman a try if for no other reason than to see how closely the movie follows the storyline.

Let us not forget Marco Beltrami’s beautiful yet haunting musical score which perfectly matches the scenes from the movie. If movie music allows you to recall and relive the scenes as if you were watching them all over again, I believe the score deserves the mark of excellence. Marco Beltrami achieves this with a score that is powerfully subtle, always blending with the scenes rather than jarring you out of them, and certainly memorable.

Whether or not you are a fan of the western, I believe you will find The Homesman an enjoyable movie not to be missed.

Baring My Writer’s Soul – Part 6

untitled (8)I struggled a bit with chapter two of Page After Page because I couldn’t relate to the exact experiences Heather Sellers presented, and her advice seemed to contradict other things I’ve been told, most specifically regarding social media. While she didn’t address social media directly, what she proposed would require a noticeable change in how I handled the various aspects of my author platform.

Rather than allow my resistance to flare, I decided to go forward with closing the gap between my writing life and the rest of my life because I am a writer, plain and simple, whether or not I’m published, all the time, period. I’ll do this by drawing on all the positive writing and reading experiences, thus quelling my fears and doubts. This will be an ongoing process for me. At least I know how to seek out and find quality input.

As for conserving my energy to write, that’s going to require a step back from social media. What an unusual request when we live in an era that is all about social media. How can I build/grow/maintain my author platform if I’m not tweeting, posting, honking, and tooting my own horn, shouting, “Hey, look at me! See what I’m writing?” Whose advice do I take?

Let’s consider the point Ms. Sellers makes when she says that talking about writing all the time means you aren’t actually writing. That’s true. Then there are all the stats on social media to gauge how well we’re liked, or not, which can really make or break one’s confidence. I decided to trust Ms. Sellers and withdrew to a safe distance.

The first couple of days felt as if I didn’t have anything to do. I picked up my pen and wrote, and I listened to the voices of the characters in the book I’m reading, and I treated myself to two new writing books, and I read, and I wrote, and I scratched out what I had written, and I listened to the instruction presented in my new writing books, and I wrote some more.

The best part is I don’t have to tell you what I’m writing; that’s for me. What I will share with you is that Page After Page, Story Trumps Structure, and Fiction Writing Master Class have been phenomenal in breaking through my resistance and writer’s block.

The positive momentum kept me moving forward. In addition to my writing group, I joined a book group online and at the library, and I will be attending two “Meet Your Local Author” events. I know this is going to further enhance my writing because I’m all about the tactile experience.

Never fear, though. I shall not abandon my blog. I’m just tweaking the focus to build a community of reading, writing, interactive friends whose presence in my life goes far beyond that of just follower.

Write Happy!

Baring My Writer’s Soul – Part 5

untitled (5)Allow me to preface today’s post with a nod to Heather Sellers’ book, Page After Page. As I mentioned in an earlier Baring My Writer’s Soul post, this is about blogging my experience. I truly hope you find something here that appeals to you; however, I strongly suggest that you do yourself the favor of reading Ms. Sellers’ book. Believe me when I say that you don’t want to miss one word of her valuable insight.

With that being said, the following lists are a writing exercise from Page After Page. The simple task jumpstarted my writing when I stalled due to resistance and, I recently discovered, boredom. (Boredom and Burnout: What To Do When Artistic Work Stops Being Fun by David J. Rogers) Even if it’s just a blog post, at least I’m productively writing.

The qualities of my ideal writing guidebook (what is covered):

  • Large, easily referenced grammar and punctuation section with examples
  • Daily writing exercises
  • Visual writing prompts
  • “How to” quality to the book, instructional without being preachy or stringent with rules
  • Info packed, fast paced

The qualities of my ideal writing class (what I learn):

  • How to write a query letter
  • Order of items in an e-mail to an agent, what is attached, what goes in the body of the e-mail
  • Standards of punctuation, grammar, when to italicize, underline, quote
  • How to write in deep POV (my most evil nemesis)
  • The art of good story telling (which I’m currently exploring in Steven James’ book, Story Trumps Structure)
  • How to write in the present tense when something occurred in the past
  • Writing a great first chapter (Again, Story Trumps Structure)
  • The best way to conduct research
  • Answer the question, “Does every story written these days have to follow an outline with nine-point structure, character arcs, pinches, plot points, etc., etc.?”

My best student-like qualities (who am I when I’m learning, my attitudes when I’m loving the act of learning, what do I look like, what do I wear, what do I have in the palm of my hand):

  • Detail oriented
  • Takes fabulous notes
  • Studies diligently, thoroughly
  • Combines book learning/reading with a hands-on experience, admittedly a bit more on the bookish end
  • Listens well
  • Questions endlessly because I like to get things right the first time
  • Loves to learn when it’s interesting, must apply more effort when it’s not
  • Wears casual clothing
  • Writes information (usually on a McDonald’s napkin unless I’m in a formal setting) but will use my laptop if the info comes fast (I type well!)
  • Enthusiastic, passionate
  • Loves to be hooked from the first moment of instruction

As expected with me, the completion of this task prompted more self-analysis leading to admissions and questions:

  • I discovered that I’m afraid to tell people I’m a writer because I believe if I don’t produce quickly, I’ll be viewed as a failure.
  • I feel pressured to publish soon, but I don’t want to crank out garbage.
  • Certain people I’ve engaged in life resent when I do something that they perceive as getting ahead of them, being more successful, so I downplay my achievements.
  • Other than the occasional, “That’s nice,” I don’t feel as if anyone supports my writing.
  • Money factors in to my writing heavily. I make very little working as a substitute at the library, and I feel the pressure to bring in a paycheck especially with the economy the way it is.
  • Is my writing a selfish hobby or a real career?
  • I don’t really feel as if I have a writing ally, no connectivity in the writing world or to another writer.
  • Have I started too late in life to make a go at writing?
  • What do I do when there is no money for writing classes, retreats, programs, conferences?

These are the thoughts that usually accompany me as I sit down to write. Unfortunately, they influence my writing habits. I know that most of them are ridiculous self-doubts, so when they arise, I remember to acknowledge them quickly, and then press on with my writing.

Write Happy!

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