Baring My Writer’s Soul – Part 22

I am making a transition in my writing life.  The reason for this is the complete derailment I experienced in the earlier part of this year.  I know that isn’t much of an explanation, but this short version is free of negativity and the temptation to succumb to it.  I could go on and on telling you what went wrong and how I allowed it to happen, but I do not want to contaminate anyone’s thought process with my own difficulties.  We’re writers; we’ll manufacture plenty of woes on our own without someone spoon feeding suggestions to us.

The good news for me is that my writing passion is starting to return.  The stories are creeping back into my head like deer tentatively stepping from the security of the forest into the wide-open unknown of the meadow.  It was my own fault they were driven away in the first place, and I must and am taking responsibility for this.

For a short time I did nothing positive toward my writing life.  The only connection I maintained to writing was reading.  I hid out in books, believing what I did was helpful, but I was living in denial.  One piece of writing advice that actually saved me was to do something different altogether.  I was struggling anyhow, so why force something that wasn’t coming to me naturally?  Instead, I walked.

My husband and I began hiking familiar trails close to home.  I welcomed the exercise and fresh air like old friends.  We kept at it, and now we look forward to seeking new places to walk.  I took pictures with my cellphone during our hikes, playing at the most amateur form of photography.  The simple act of creativity spurred my mind.  I began to mentally describe what I saw and fashioned one or two-line stories.

My efforts probably don’t sound very constructive to the writing life except for the simple fact that they placed my focus squarely back on writing.  I felt like an adult who had successfully recaptured the magical thrill of Christmas morning.  All the superfluous baggage that people will try to tell you (or you’ll convince yourself of) is part of the writing life simply disappeared.

Again, I’m avoiding detailing exactly what those bad things were for me so that my followers won’t latch on to them.  I’m also cautious in supplying instruction on how to overcome them because too many times we grasp a particular piece of advice as a hard and fast solution to our problems.  When it doesn’t work, we become more despondent and depressed than we were at the beginning.  In short, you must proceed fearlessly on your own to discover and apply what works for you.  Fellow writers can cheer you from the sidelines, but they cannot prop you up nor do the work for you.

With a deep sigh of relief and contentment, I am single-mindedly focused on writing.  The scales have fallen away from my eyes, the chains from my hands, and I am free to write.

Write Happy!

Have a Holly, Jelly Christmas

Christmas morning of 1917 was a time of excitement for Johnny Welles and his three older siblings.  In addition to celebrating the special day, a secret was brewing behind the scenes that would add to the festive holiday season and bring joy to the entire family.  In a passage leading up to the discovery of this secret, I wrote a portion for my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles, that included the special treat of apple jelly on pound cake served for Christmas breakfast.  The following recipe is the one I had in mind when writing the above-mentioned scene.

Collie’s Apple Jelly

3 lbs. tart apples (¼ underripe and ¾ ripe)

3 c water

2 T lemon juice, strained

3 c white sugar

This recipe doesn’t require an outside source of pectin because it uses tart apples which are higher in pectin.  Also, the slightly underripe apples further ensure a natural source of pectin.

Sort and wash the apples.  Remove the stems and blossom ends.  Do not pare or core the apples.  Cut them into small pieces.  Add the water, cover, and bring to a boil on high heat.  Stir occasionally to prevent scorching.  Reduce the heat and simmer the mixture for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the apple pieces are soft.  Do not over boil or you’ll destroy the pectin, flavor, and color in the fruit.

Dampen a jelly bag and suspend over a clean bowl.  Ladle the cooked apples and liquid into the jelly bag and allow the juices to drip through on their own.  Pressing out the juice will result in cloudy jelly.  If a fruit press is used, pass the juice through a jelly bag to reduce cloudiness.

Pour the apple juice into a flat-bottomed pot.  Add the lemon juice and sugar.  Stir thoroughly.  Boil the mixture over high heat to eight degrees above the boiling point of water (this temperature depends on where you live in regards to sea level) or until the jelly sheets from a spoon.  Remove the jelly from the heat and quickly skim off the foam.

Immediately pour the jelly into hot, sterile jars.  Be sure to leave ¼ inch headspace.  Wipe the rims with a clean, damp paper towel.  Fit a canning lid into a ring and place on the jars of jelly.  Take care to level and tighten them properly.  Process the jars in a water bath canner.  The time required will depend on the altitude at which you live:

0 – 1000 ft. for five minutes

1001 – 6000 ft. for 10 minutes

Above 6000 ft. for 15 minutes

Remove the processed jars using canning tongs.  Allow the jars to cool on several layers of towels.  During this time, you’ll hear the lids pop indicating successful canning.  You can remove the rings for reuse once the lids pop and the jars cool.  Any lid that does not pop has not sealed properly.  These jars should be cooled and refrigerated for immediate use.  This recipe yields about four to five half-pint jars of golden sweet deliciousness.

Now it’s time for the confession portion of this post.  Thinking like a modern woman, I had Collie making the apple jelly a few days before she served it for Christmas.  In my world, one would simply go to the store for apples or pull them from the refrigerator where they waited patiently to be eaten or made into something delicious.  Refrigerators for home use weren’t invented until 1913, and I seriously doubt the Welles family would have had one by 1917.  They could have had a cellar, but I never mentioned this in the description of the house, and to do so for the sake of one scene would feel contrived.

Apples will last for six to eight weeks with refrigeration, but left on a counter, they will ripen ten times faster because enzymes are much more active at room temperature, and they will only last for a week or two.  More likely, Collie would have made the jelly during the months when apples were in season.  So while I made a small culinary mistake in my novel, fortunately I discovered it prior to publication.  As I’ve always said, the research begins with the author.  It will be easy to edit this scene by having Collie say she held back one jar to use on Christmas morning.

Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt

I recently read Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt.  If you follow me on Goodreads and you’ve read the book, you might think I’m rather rigid in my assessment of the memoir.  I’ve read other fiction and non-fiction accounts of the Great Depression in America as well as extremely poor people in Ireland, Appalachia, and other such places, and I must say that for a Pulitzer Prize winning memoir, Angela’s Ashes did not strike me as exceptional in any way.

I’m not sure why the book is titled as it is when the story is predominantly about McCourt’s experiences as a child.  His parents’ courtship and marriage prior to his arrival was necessary to set the stage for what the entire family would endure due to his father’s alcoholism and eventual abandonment, but again, the bulk of what one reads focuses on young Frank.

The prose is pleasant (riddled with Irish slang, sayings, and swear words galore), but nothing poetic or beautifully descriptive.  Sometimes dialog is properly placed between quotes and employs commas, periods, or question marks where necessary, and other times it’s buried in long paragraphs of run-on sentences.

One saving grace from all the depressing tales McCourt relays is the hilarity of the situations he’s writing about.  The thing is, the humor is derived from circumstances that are simultaneously horrific.  Yet the reader has to laugh because the truth is almost unbelievable.  Sadly, some of these dreadful circumstances include the way adults in the story treat McCourt, his siblings, and friends.

It’s unacceptable when adults express the depth of frustration, prejudice, and ignorance-born hatred toward each other that McCourt conveys, but children should never have to suffer at this level.  Educators, employers, priests, nuns, relatives, and hospital administration inflict verbal and physical damage on par with child abuse.  It’s a wonder any child living in these conditions turned out normal.

Near the end of the book, Angela McCourt finally takes the self-sacrificing initiative to do something for her children’s welfare.  Prior to that she tolerates her alcoholic husband’s actions to the extreme detriment of her family by keeping her abuser front and center in her life.  Perhaps it was the era in which the story takes place, perhaps it’s that divorce still carried the stigma of shame back then, perhaps it’s that Angela suffered from some type of battered-woman syndrome (hers being in the form of neglect beyond all reason), but because she refused to rid their lives of her worthless husband’s presence, they underwent shame to an equal degree anyhow.

There comes a point in the book when, in my opinion, McCourt rushes through years thirteen to nineteen because to tell it in any more detail would read as more of the same depressing ground already covered over and over and over.  Things turn around for young Frank ever so slightly; he hops a boat to America, end of story.

I’d like to say that Angela’s Ashes is one of those books that just shouldn’t be missed, but I can’t.  I’m not sorry I read it, but if asked whether or not it is a worthy read, I’ll probably shrug my shoulders, suggest the reader try it, and make up his or her own mind.

Just a Titch

No, this is not me!

I am on a roll with The Weight of Words this week.  Microsoft Word keeps telling me that titch isn’t really a word.  Every time I type it, the red squiggles instantly appear beneath it.  Since I used it in yesterday’s blog post, I feel obliged to pay homage to tiny, little titch.

I first heard titch as a teenager while trying to explain to the stylist about to perm my hair into a mass of curls that would make any teen of the ‘80s green with envy exactly how little hair I wanted removed prior to perming.  She assured me that any hairdresser would understand I wanted nothing more than the dead ends cut off if I simply told him or her to cut just a titch.  Lo and behold, to this day, her advice holds true.

Titch is informal British for a small person.  The slang originated in the 1930s from Little Tich, the stage name of Harry Relph, an English music-hall comedian of small stature.  Apparently, Relph earned the nickname because he resembled Arthur Orton, the Tichborne claimant.

Somewhere along the way, it came to mean a small amount, to tut-tut someone in disapproval, or a small child.

I’ll have a titch of coffee before I go.

Titch—you ate all the cake and didn’t save me any?

He’s just a titch of a thing who hasn’t grown much in the past year.

Fortunately, you will not need to expend several cans of Aqua Net to employ the word titch.

Using Vulgar Language

I’m not bragging when I say I read voraciously.  Ever since I discovered reading as a child, it has been one of my absolute favorite pastimes.  My personal library attests to this as does my activity on Goodreads.  Reading has added a few words to my vocabulary that I didn’t think were all that unusual, but apparently they are.  One such word is unbeknownst.  I don’t use it all the time and I’m certainly not trying to sound haughty when I do.  It appears a few commentators do not agree with me.

Today’s The Weight of Words is in honor of unbeknownst, a humble adjective usually used with ‘to’ that simply means happening or existing without the knowledge of a specified person or persons.

Unbeknownst to my mother, my brother and I are planning a surprise birthday party for her seventy-fifth birthday complete with a cruise to Hawaii as a present.

According to one site I checked, the first known use of unbeknownst was in 1626, so yes, it probably does sound a little archaic.  But that doesn’t render the word useless or worthy of exclusion from the English language.  I used it recently in a blog post which prompted this post in turn!

Unbeknownst derives from beknown, an obsolete synonym of knownUnbeknownst has widespread usage, including appearances in the works of Charles Dickens, A.E. Housman, and E.B. White, yet despite its candid history, unbeknownst has caused a ruckus among usage commentators.  It has been called everything from “obsolete” to “vulgar.”

I’ll continue to use the word, especially since it still crops up in new writing, and unbeknownst to those who have no idea what it means, I shall talk over their lazy, empty heads.  Okay, now that did sound a titch haughty.

 

Triple Play on Words

Today’s The Weight of Words arose from a conversation I had with a Facebook friend regarding which flavor of MoonPie appealed to my palate.  I paused over what I had typed, and since I’m a writer (and it would look bad to post a typo) and a perfectionist, I took a moment to double check myself.

Turns out I used the correct spelling of palate which refers to the taste of something, one’s preference in taste, and the top of your mouth.

Her discerning palate detected the flavor of oak, apples, and honey in the chardonnay.

Banana MoonPies reign supreme on my palate!

Touch your tongue to the roof of your mouth to feel the hard and soft palate.

Palette can be the board upon which artists place dollops of paint or a range of colors.

She mixed cerulean and cobalt blue on her palette to create a most beautiful shade for clouds.

The sunset was a palette of subtle pinks and smoky purples dashed with mandarin orange rays.

Pallet is a platform used for moving things.  It can also refer to a small bed or straw mattress.

The warehouse workers loaded the pallets with dry goods before shrink-wrapping them.

Mother made a small pallet of blankets on the porch during summer for us to sleep on.

Sidebar:  Did you know that MoonPie has a website where you can buy the delicious treats and other cool stuff!

Brilliant In Its Simplicity

In continuation of providing support to my fellow writers, today’s blog post offers further assistance with the publication of your short story.  I touched on how to format your short story for submission, but now I’ll address the query letter.  I don’t know about you, but those two simple words often strike fear in my heart.  After working so hard on your piece of writing, now you have to craft a brilliant letter to entice your chosen agent or editor in the hopes of receiving publication of your short work or a request to see more of your longer pieces.

The good news is that a query letter to accompany your short story is more like a cover letter.  You’ll probably spend more time researching magazines that are compatible with your work than you will crafting your submission cover letter.  In fact, I’m amazed I have this much to say about one of the shortest things you’ll ever write.  As an added bonus, this letter works for poetry, too.

Start you letter with your name and contact information at the top left-hand side of the document.  Immediately following is the name of the editor-in-chief or appropriate genre editor and the name of the magazine.  Next is the genre of the piece you are submitting.

Sidebar:  I must admit that I didn’t know short story was a genre especially since many people indicate that a piece is fantasy, horror, etc.  I double checked this because I always love to learn something new and pass it on.  It would appear to be true.  I suppose if one has written a piece in a more specific genre, such as those mentioned, you could state this.  I also suppose one would be smart enough not to send a short work of romance to a sci-fi journal.

The word count for the short story comes next, or if you’re submitting poems, indicate the number you have included.  A brief bio highlighting your previous publications should be included.  If you are well published, congratulations; however, resist the urge to mention every piece you’ve ever placed.  One or two of those placed with well-known magazines or journals will suffice.  If your education is relevant to your writing career or topic of choice, include that as well.  The same goes for your professional background.

Be sure to mention whether or not your submission is simultaneous.  There are a few places that will not accept a simultaneous submission, and I will withhold my opinion about them.  Some editors assume a submission has been sent to multiple magazines/journals, but they still want this noted.  Quite frankly, I can’t imagine why one wouldn’t be sending out simultaneous submissions especially if he or she is attempting to build reputation as a writer.  When your piece of short fiction has been accepted, immediately notify and/or withdraw it from other places to which you have submitted.

The good thing about cover letters for short fiction is that they do not require a synopsis of the written work.  Another unnecessary addition is your life story, so don’t be tempted to include it.  Only short works of non-fiction need this type of information, and even then, filter what you include.  Use good sense and don’t gush over the magazine/journal to which you are submitting.  Don’t tell how many times the piece has been rejected.

And that, fellow writers, is the long and short of it.

Short But Sweet Information

I love finding valuable resources for writing, but even more than finding them, I love sharing them.  One of my goals for my blog is to provide another place where fellow writers can find gems such as the two I’m featuring today.

In addition to writing novels, I churn out a short story from time to time.  Now that I have a few stacked up like firewood, I thought I might as well submit them.  Ah, but how to format a short story when I’ve been focusing on how to format entire manuscripts?  Turns out it’s not all that different, and it’s actually quite easy.

The first link I’m providing is How to Format a Short Story Manuscript for Submission: a Checklist by Joe Bunting.  Who doesn’t love a good checklist, right?  In addition to this is a wonderful visual resource called Proper Manuscript Format:  Short Story Format by William Shunn.  Mr. Shunn is brilliant when he not only tells us how to format our short fiction, but he shows us what it should look like as well.

I hope you find these helpful, and that you’ll pass on the useful information.

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