Category Archives: Uncategorized

Creative Process: Becalmed

Been awhile since I posted here. That’s because it’s been awhile since I’ve written any creative work worth mentioning.

Lots of clients’ papers and books: good. Lots of socializing: fine. Lots of goofing off: hmmm…

So I’d gotten several chapters into the current novel — let’s call it the Varnis Book, after the name of the fanciful planet where it takes place — but suddenly…just came to a dead stop.

I’d turn on the computer, stare at the screen, and…could not write a word.

Open a notebook, pick up a luxurious fountain pen, stare at the paper, and…could not write a word.

Huh. I knew what the characters intended to do. I knew (at least vaguely) what awaits them. But NOTHING that I tried to do would make the words flow.

This led to quite a lot of idle time. And quite a lot of pointless self-distraction (which also did not work). And finally to a general sense of frustration.

At one point as I was daydreaming while driving through the city’s homicidal traffic (I distract myself from the pain and terror of driving by dreaming up plotlines), it occurred to me that the character who was occupying most of my attention — the one I seemed to be finding most attractive — was one who was not central to the main story. She was not a main character; she was not even a central character in her sub-plot.

But for some reason, she was more interesting than any of the characters I probably should have been working on.

After I had wasted (so I thought) more than enough time dreaming up this woman, Ella, and imagining her life story, a radical thought coalesced in the Magic 8-Ball that is my mind:

What if the story is really not Rysha’s story? What if the story is really Ella’s story?

Hm. Not to say whoa! What would happen if I tried to write the narrative from Ella’s point of view? Or…since I seem to find Ella so fascinating, what if I simply wrote Ella’s backstory, just to get that out of my system?

If I took the time to put the story of Ella’s life in little glowing letters on a computer screen, what would I have then?

Nothing?

A chapter or three for the novel?

A short story that might stand on its own?

A highly developed set of notes that could be used to inform the novel’s progress, if I could ever get the novel to progress again?

Well… “Nothing” was what I had at the moment. None of the other three options looked any worse than that.

So, thought I, let’s send Ella to the moon, and then let’s have her tell us what happened to her after that. Opened a new file, saved it as “Ella’s Backstory.docx,” and started typing.

And…

and…

and KEPT ON TYPING.

Amazingly, it worked.

Yes. Apparently I’m far more interested in the subplots than I am in the main plot of this proposed novel.

At 5,025 words, I’m ready to launch Ella into a new scene and from there to tell the reader a whole lot more about her.

Might the new scene be a new chapter? Or might we be looking at something that is NOT a novel? Could we be looking at a series of short stories or novelettes that occur around the ongoing action of a place and a period in the planet’s history?

Maybe this is not really any one character’s novel, but several stories of several characters?

Whatever…that remains to be seen.

Where Is the Grass Greener?

So, in the grass-is-greener department, here’s the question of the day: Can you earn more money cleaning house than you can editing copy?

Well, the lady who came to my house during the Year of the Surgery charged $80 a hit. But apparently she undercharged. Women I talk to at choir say they expect to pay $100. I had her come in every two weeks, but more affluent types will have them once a week. And one lady I talked to, who was working for a woman who farmed her out to others, discovered the woman was charging $120 for her services.

So let’s say you cleaned one house a day for the supposed going rate of $100 a hit: you’d be earning $500 a week. I’m not earning $500 a week.

My co-editor and I have never calculated how much per hour we’re getting paid to put together an issue of the journal we contract to. I spent most of the day on an article that looked like it had never been through the peer review process—but it’s hard to tell exactly how many hours I racked up, because I work on-again, off-again, with a lot of interruptions. But…22 pages of really difficult stuff? Let’s suppose you can get through a page in 10 minutes, on average: that’s 220 minutes, or 3.6 hours.

I’m sure I spent more than 3½ hours on that thing. But suppose each of us allowed it to absorb that much of our time: it’s an entire day of time wasted on producing a piece that in a rational world would never see print. Did we each earn $100 on that effort? Or even $50?

We get a thousand bucks per issue… Each issue has several full-length articles, some creative pieces, a long-winded editorial statement, and a set of self-aggrandizing authors’ bios. Many of the authors are ESL writers or people who grew up in homes where another language was spoken, and so the copy has language challenges as well as the usual academic ones. If we were to work on only that, full-time, we could probably turn it out in a week. Maybe less: but say five to seven days.

So let’s say you had five women, for whose services you charged $120 to clean five McMansions, each woman taking one house. You’d have to ride herd on them, but most of the time you wouldn’t be doing much cleaning yourself. So each of these women brings in $120/day; you pay them $60 (the lady who told me this story was being grossly underpaid), so you pocket $60 — less the amount you have to pay in your share of the FICA taxes, assuming you report the income. $60 x 5 is $300 per day for your crew. Now, $300 x 5 days a week is $1500 a week, or $6,000 a month. And you’d never have to read another plagiarized student paper or another polemical “research study” whose author insists on replacing every third letter with “x.”

You would have to hustle: marketing would be the key. And managing these women would be a challenge. You’d be riding herd constantly. To field a crew of five people five days a week, you’d need to have more than five on the string. You’d have to do a fair amount of training, too, since many cleaning ladies don’t know how to clean.

Check this out, bearing in mind that one of our mentors thinks we should be getting $60/hour for our time: http://www.homeadvisor.com/cost/cleaning-services/

We most certainly do not earn $1500 a week, either individually or between the two of us. Nor do we earn $120 x 5, $600 a week: the amount one of us could earn cleaning house five days a week.

On the other hand, we don’t work 8 hours a day (regularly) on editorial. My cohort teaches full-time at the University of Phoenix, which just now entails juggling twenty-eight sections of 35 students apiece. You could not get me to do that if the only other choice were starvation. I earn some cash blogging, and rather more reading math, business, and biosciences papers by Chinese scientists. Editing, like teaching, is not what you’d call handsomely paid.

if I’m teaching the largest number of sections the community colleges will farm out to adjuncts, I earn all of $1100 a month. On average. Some months, of course, I earn nothing.

When a profession that requires at least one advanced degree (preferably two) and substantial experience makes cleaning house look good…Houston, we’ve got a problem.

Mysteries of the Creative Process

This week has been one long nightmare, what with my son’s dreadful experience on the road, way, way out in rural Arizona with his dog:

Day One
Update
Homeward Bound
Back in Town
Home at Last

While my poor son has been wrestling with what may yet have a sad outcome, I’ve been virtually catatonic with worry: unable to go up to help him in the small town where he’s been stuck, because two people could not drive two vehicles and nurse the desperately damaged and sick Charley all the way down the Mogollon Rim.

I’ve found myself unable to work. Fortunately no paying jobs were in house. But I had planned to scribble another chapter in the time-killing entertainment that is the current novel. Instead, every time I sat down to work on it, I found myself killing time, all right: on Internet games!

🙄

But nevertheless I also passed a fair amount of time — mostly while driving around — imagining what my characters were getting up to and how they would interact and react.

And once again these people — these wholly imaginary people (where do they come from?) — surprise me.

Our heroine Rysha and her friends, all young and restless aristocrats of an interplanetary empire far far away and (etc.), are planning some mischief. To pull it off, they have to weasel Rysha out of the control of the team of bodyguards whose job is to keep an eye on her every living, breathing moment. In specific, they must evade the attention of the redoubtable Merren, who did not get to be head of her father’s security team by putting up with any shenanigans.

She schemes:

Parked before the mirror while Dita arranged her hair in one of the less elaborate configurations that marked a high-born woman’s status, Rysha did a quiet calculation.

This evening Merren would be standing guard outside her father’s suite. The Snowman, as Treykhan had dubbed the Michaian creature, would be with him. So: two of them out of her face. Bis was assigned to the front gate, leaving Essio and Nehdo to watch her or to take a few hours off, at Merren’s pleasure. She had asked for Nehdo and, to her mild surprise, gotten her wish. Merren had his own ideas about what the guard would do, and about half the time he’d gainsay her.

Nehdo was a good choice for this evening’s get-together. Pliable and a shade on the lazy side, he was easy to deflect.

“Ouch! Dita!” Her scalp stung where Dita’s comb snagged on a braid.

“I’m sorry, my lady.”

“Be a little more careful, will you, please?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

They would need to dispense with Nehdo for the evening if they were to lay plans for the Great Night on the Town. Of the five members of the Kai’s guard, Neddy would be the simplest to dispense with. If any part of the plan got back to Merren or—Goddesses forfend!—to Ella, she’d never hear the end of it. And if her father found out, none of the young lordlings and ladies would ever escape the dog house.

Ella, grandmother to the world. It had become a standing joke: almost nothing got past the woman.

A whisper of a smile crossed her face as she thought of Ella and watched the ebony hair sculpture take shape. It was good that Ella had been there after her mother passed. Though she surely was no aristocrat and had little understanding of the challenges Rysha would face in preparing to step in as kaïna, Ella had done a lot of mothering for her over the past few years. It wasn’t until recently that Rysha learned Ella, like Dorin, was trained in psychology and social work. That seemed obvious to her now, given their position as overseers. Even though it wasn’t advertised, she wondered why she’d not known it sooner.

Whatever. If it had helped her deal with a motherless girl, so much the better.

Dita applied a layer of shining lacquer to the last coil of braid and pinned it in place.

“That looks very good, dear,” Rysha said.

Dita glanced up at her in the mirror. “Thank you, madame.” She smiled modestly.

“You don’t need to wait up for me tonight. It’ll likely be late by the time we get back. And I’m sure I can get this down enough to sleep on.”

Dita looked pleased to be relieved of after-hours duty. “Yes, ma’am,” she replied. “There’s just three clips you need to undo.” She tapped each of the hidden snaps with a fingernail to show where they were. “I’ll take the braids apart and wash your hair in the morning, as you please.”

“Good,” Rysha replied with some finality. “If you’ll hand me my tunic, you can go for the rest of the evening. And tell Merren to have Nehdo meet me downstairs, if you will.”

“I will, madame.” She bowed her head briefly at the dismissal. “Have a good time tonight.”

“Thank you, sweet.” Tonight’s get-together would be routine enough. But the next time the friends met, she expected, would be fun.

§ next scene is really draftig §

PachiLu’s doorman showed Rysha into his lord’s sitting room, where a half-dozen friends were chatting and drinking. Those who weren’t already standing rose to their feet when the young kaïna entered.

Well, here’s our lady,” the young lord Pachi exclaimed. Emarr’, heiress-in-waiting to the title of Lady [name], embraced Rysha in a welcoming hug, and Lord Naretal’s son Treykhan offered her a favorite drink.

Cheerfully lit, between the ubiquitous glowalls and bright though redundant sconces perched between night-black windows, the clubbish room with its deep burgundy flooring and vast hide chairs and ottomans always seemed dark and heavy to Rysha. Some of the tables, she knew, had been built by one of her father’s people, the carpenter woman whose woodwork graced rooms at Skyhill, too. Others were pieces that had been in Pachi’s family for a time, some for a long time. It was hard to guess which were new, which were old, and which were older.

None of the company was old, though. The cherub-faced PachiLu; Treykhan, blocky as her father but barely a year older than Rysha; smokey-eyed [name], beautiful with a panache beyond her years. Here, too, was [name], a honey-haired thing rather too obviously intoxicated by a crush on Pachi. Ghemmeh and Tand, brother and sister handsome in the classic dark Varn manner, had in tow Eestom and Dade…were those two attached to the siblings or to each other? In her secret heart, Rysha wondered.

But she made no sign of it. She sipped the tart-sweet liquor and then raised the glass in greeting to her friends.

Nehdo discreetly took up a position by the door. Pachi’s valet passed a tray of finger foods and shortly retrieved from the dumbwaiter several bowls of snacks and sweets, which he placed on tables around the room. Then he took up a position next to Nehdo. [ADD music in the background!!]

“Thank you, [name].” Pachi didn’t make the man wait long. “You can go now. I’ll call you if we need you.”

[Name] bowed subtly and turned to leave.

“Nehdo, would you like to join him?” Pachi added.

Nehdo glanced hopefully at his mistress. Perfect: he hadn’t a clue. She shot a mildly surprised look at Pachi. “I think that would be all right,” she said, “as long as he doesn’t leave the house. Will you be in the kitchen or downstairs lounge?”

“My lady,” [name] nodded affirmatively.

“All right,” she said to Nehdo. “You’d better come back up here at curfew time.”

“Yes, ma’am.” Nehdo visibly tried not to look unduly enthusiastic.”

[more to come]

§

Getting rid of that one was pretty easy. Now to see what kind of trouble this bunch can cook up…

 

Duotrope?

So, here’s something interesting: a platform that helps you scope out something over 6100 markets for fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and photo essays. It’s called Duotrope.

The intriguing aspect of this resource is that it goes well beyond a simple Writer’s Markety listing of potential publishers for your golden words. It provides access to a database of statistics that can tell you, for example, the acceptance rate of given publications, markets most liked by Duotrope respondents, and search statistics showing what other people look for.

It also has a tool to help you keep track of submissions (you don’t have a calendar on your computer??), a collection of editor interviews (always useful for getting a sense of the readers targeted by a publication and how the editors try to reach them), and market listings showing what editors are looking for, acceptance rates, and pay rates.

Unfortunately, it has a paywall: a $5/month membership fee. But that’s not unreasonable: all you’d need is one paid article to more than cover that. In reviewing Duotrope over at Juggling Writer back in 2012, Bartleby Snopes founding editor Nathaniel Tower concludes that its statistics are reasonably accurate, and, if you intend to use the site seriously as a tool to locate markets for your literary maunderings, it’s worth the cost.

There are some free alternatives, BTW, but none seems to cover the number of publications listed by Duotrope.

New Pages Literary and alternative magazines
Ralan Speculative and humor
Every Writer Literary journals
Fiction Factor Wide range of genres; e-publishers & print

Me? I think I probably will subscribe to Duotrope, after taking advantage of their seven-day free trial. Funny about Money, my main blog, occasionally emits something that might interest a wider audience — this morning I found about a half-dozen posts that could be reworked and sent to various small journals. Why not?

Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Image: Depositphotos: © ginasanders

Hassle Central, reporting in…

It’s been awhile since I posted here, more out of laziness and general harassment than intent. “Upgrading” both my Macs to OS X El Capitan was a big mistake. It’s a buggy program and has almost disabled the little MacBook Pro — the machine I use most of the time because sitting at a desk makes the aged back hurt. A lot.

So bad is it that I’m seriously considering buying a PC to replace the laptop. Big step backward for me: I really, really don’t want to relearn Windows (ugh!), nor do I want to have to “upgrade” to Office 365 so as to work on a Windows machine.

Actually, though, getting a lightweight Windows laptop to use only for Word and Excel tasks would probably make sense. You can still buy a standalone copy of Office 2016, and it will run fairly trouble-free on Windows.

Not so much on a Mac. The reason I did not update to the latest operating system, Sierra (don’t those cutesy names aggravate you?), is that my version of Word will not run at all on Sierra. Neither will Office 2016, at least not without endless bugs.

And the reason I do not want to sign up for Office 365? How can I count the reasons?

Foremost are these three:

1. It’s a rip-off. Renting the damn program with a monthly payment will quickly cause the cost to add up — and up, and up, and up — to way more than the cost of a program resident in your own computer. I resent that more than I can say.

2. Much of the work I do is proprietary. I do not want to be working on my clients’ projects in the flickin’ CLOUD! Indeed, sometimes I have to sign an agreement that I will not allow anyone else to see the client’s research or to put it at risk of being seen by anyone else. Sticking some scientist’s paper on a Microsoft server could put me at risk of liability. Even if I wanted to do that. Which I don’t.

3. Functionality of documents created or edited in non-365 versions may be limited. So it’s questionable whether I’d even be able to work on a document using more than one of my computers, even if one were a Windows machine.

Truly, this is a mess. I don’t know which way to jump and am truly furious that Apple has turned my computers from “it just works” to “it just doesn’t work.”

Meanwhile, in saner realms:

Delivered a presentation yesterday:Structure of Feature Articles.”

People in the audience wanted to buy the new book, The Complete Writer. It’s still in page proofs — I need to cut the back cover copy some and adjust the design accordingly, and need to check the second proofs AGAIN. But by the next meeting, I hope to have a carton of hard-copy paperbacks to tote out to the group.

Incoming paid work has…come in. Read about 17,000 words of academicese compiled by a pair of ESL co-authors.

These people hold me in awe. They’re required to publish in English-language journals. And they do it — with panache.

Can you imagine an American academic writing a dissertation or a scholarly paper in Chinese? Fat chance! It’s all we can manage just to stumble through a PhD program in English…and many US universities have quit requiring a second and third language for the PhD.

I could probably write a journal article in French and have it come out about on a par with what the Chinese authors produce in English. But folks…as an undergraduate I majored in French! Not in math, not in economics, not in communications, not in political science…. Criminey!

And as for the novel: ça va, lentement.

Weirdly, drafting scenes in ink with a real pen is one of the things that’s making me resent the computer hassles as passionately as I have come to do.

A pen and a piece of paper do not go offline. They do not crash and shut down everything you’re working on

Well, OK: the pen can run out of ink. But when it does, you do not lose any of the words you’ve just written. The two other documents you’re working on do not disappear into the ether. The spreadsheet you’ve been wrestling with does not lose an hours’ or a day’s worth of data.

You can carry a pen and a notebook around, and it will work anywhere you choose. You do not have to sign a pen and paper into a coffee house’s network, thereby rendering it and all your private information open to hackers.

Nobody is interested in stealing a pen and a notebook, so you do not have to lock up your draft behind a deadbolt or hide it under a pile of blankets when you put it in the back of the car.

You do not have to plug a pen and a notebook into anything. Their battery never runs out of juice.

They do not waste hour after hour of your time in techno-hassles.

And they never, ever, EVER need a new goddamn operating system!

So How’s That Pen & Ink Workin’ for Ya?

Very well, thank you!

As those of you who’ve been following my Facebook pages know, I’ve been wrestling with the start of a new magnum opus, yet another of those “other world” novels. Not the same world as Kaybrel and Tavio’s — quite a different one, indeed — but still, another time, another place, another culture.

“Wrestling” could be translated as “spinning my wheels.” The first few scenes will require some significant rewriting. However… 🙂 About eight scenes in, a new character entered, and she has taken over the whole enterprise.

Where the other figures have been tripping along like marionettes, Siji is dancing across the stage. And what a dancer she is! Athletic, we might say.

And I’ve come to really enjoy writing with a fountain pen and ink. You know those reminders of ideas that spring to mind as you’re writing? Since (thanks to a sampler set from  Iroshizuku) I have several colors at hand, I’ve started scribbling those with a different color from the draft narrative. So in the middle of a passage of dialogue, we have this:

What’s a construction manager called? Supervisor? Captain, chief, head? Look it up!

Just now the draft is in blue and the Notes to Self are in brown. All of this has reminded me of something I knew as a matter of course when I was a young thing and Steve Jobs was a twinkle in his dad’s eye:

About half the fun of writing is writing. The physical act of writing.

Now that my fingers have remembered how to write in longhand (it took awhile), I’m finding it really is fun to write this stuff in pen and ink. Since computers have been my work tool for more years than I can count, drafting on a keyboard is a great deal more like work than like fun.

Along the way, I discovered that the paper marketed for sketching is wonderful for writing with a fountain pen. You want to get a sketch book, not a drawing book or pad. Drawing paper, designed for use with pencils or charcoal, is too absorbent. With sketch paper, the pen fairly flies along, and the paper doesn’t soak up ink like some sort of flat white sponge. One load of ink in the pen seems to last, comparatively, forever when you use sketch paper. And the pen’s nib glides more smoothly and easily across the surface.

The brand called “Artist’s Loft” comes bound in a cool canvas cover that you can decorate with your own drawing (if you use colored pencils, as I do, you’ll want to spray with fixatif to keep it from wearing off during use). At Michael’s, a book of 110 sheets is relatively inexpensive; at Amazon, the same item’s price is exorbitant, so don’t buy it there. Look in artist supply stores for it.

So. If you’re writing your bookoids for fun and you would like not to feel like you’re slogging through a task or back on the job, try drafting them with a pen.

FaceBook Ads for Your Book? Think Again…

A friend of mine has decided FaceBook Ads is just about the best deal around for indie publishers to peddle their wares. He argues that FB targets its ads to highly specific demographics, allowing you to reach just the sort of folks who MUST HAVE your magnum opus.

Fire-Rider Book 7 The Battle of Loma Alda

See it on FB, hurry over to Amazon??

Persuaded, I hired a marketing agent who claimed to some expertise in Facebook Ads, and I spent a fair amount of money in mounting a campaign for the Fire-Rider books. Surely, the project cost nothing like a real Madison Avenue-style advertising campaign. It probably didn’t cost as much as putting a a half-dozen plugs in the New York Review of Books’ ads for small and independent publishers. But it still was more than I could afford.

The result? Nil.

We sold exactly NO copies of Fire-Rider during the entire time the FB Ads campaign ran.

The ad agent simply could not believe it. She thought I was putting her on after she asked me repeatedly how the Amazon sales stats looked and I repeatedly told her they were flat. Finally I had to send her screenshots and downloads of my Amazon reports to make her understand: FACEBOOK ADS DID NOT WORK. Despite a flurry of ads supposedly targeted at the kind of readers who like the book’s genre, we did not sell one, single copy.

Yes, I had seen the Veritasium report on YouTube, explaining in great detail why FB Ads amounts to a kind of scam. I figured it was probably sour grapes.

Same for this guy, and this guy, and this guy.

Over time, though experience suggested that all those puckery-lipped fellows might have been right.

Now comes this interesting article from The Economist, reporting that Facebook recently fessed up to inflating the amount of time viewers spend watching video ads. This, my friends, is likely just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. If the Big Guys are restive about Facebook advertising, what it means for the little guys and gals like you and me can not be good.

The Economist neatly summarizes the concerns:

One fear is practical: that they are paying for online ads that consumers don’t see, either because they are shown to robots, or tucked in obscure slots. Two underlying concerns are harder to address.

The first is that Facebook and Google have simply become too dominant. Last year the pair accounted for more than 75% of online-ad growth in America, according to Mary Meeker of Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, a venture-capital firm. “Google and Facebook have added a lot of value to our marketplace,” says Mr Liodice. “They also raise concerns.” Marketers are particularly worried by a lack of transparency. Facebook’s inflated numbers did not lead to overbilling, but may have prompted companies to advertise more on it. Google and Facebook have started to allow third parties to verify some data, but many metrics remain proprietary.

The second concern is that ad agencies are not acting in their clients’ interests. In Japan, “clients are sort of at the mercy of the ad agency,” says Jason Karlin, who studies the industry at the University of Tokyo. In America an investigation backed by the ANA found that agencies were buying ad space and reselling it to clients at markups of up to 90%. Some agencies were also collecting undisclosed rebates from media firms for buying ad space. The agencies’ trade group, the 4As, blasted the report as “one-sided”.

Here's why you might want to think again if you're considering using Facebook ads for book marketing.The second issue, as a practical matter, doesn’t apply to small-potato types like indie publishers — none of us has tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars to spend on commercial ad agencies. But the first surely does: no matter what your marketing budget, it’s wasted if it buys ads that are hidden away at the bottom of sidebars, seen by people who don’t care or who work at ignoring ads, or viewed primarily by bots.

When it comes to paid advertising, I found that what sells books is ads placed on websites created for people who favor the genre in question. If you write cookbooks, buy ad space on a cooking site or a foodie site. If you write detective stories, buy ad space on a web site for people who love to read detective novels.

For a time, we marketed “erotic romances” — soft-core porn, to use le mot juste — at a site called Smart Bitches/Trashy Books. Highly entertaining, if you’re into racy romances. Those ads did sell books. No, sales revenue did not cover the cost of advertising, but at least there were some sales. Even one book sold is about a hundred percent better than the zero books sold through Facebook. If you’re going to advertise, you probably would do better to set aside a substantial amount to advertise assertively over a lengthy period — at least six months, probably a year — at a site whose sole readership consists of people interested in whatever you’re writing.

It may be possible to accomplish that with Facebook Ads. But I’ll believe that when I see it.

Fresh Citrus Juice without the Hassle

limeblossomThose of us who live in the Sun Belt always mourn the waste of the tons of lemons, limes, oranges, and grapefruits that fall off our trees and rot before anyone can use them. Well, I just discovered something that will save those wonderful, juicy lemons and limes for future use — without the PITA of standing in the kitchen for an hour or more squeezing citrus.

The secret? The freezer. You can freeze a lemon or a lime whole, as long as you don’t slice it open first and you don’t let it stand until it starts to dry up. Just toss the fruit into the freezer, let it freeze solid, and leave it there until you’re ready to use it.

When you need some lemon or lime juice to make a salad dressing, a marinade, a fancy cocktail, or just to squeeze over a piece of grilled fish or some corn on the cob, take out a frozen fruit and gently defrost it in the microwave (two minutes on low did the trick here), and squeeze away.

Freezing a lime seems to liberate the juice. My Key limes came out of the freezer even juicier than the were fresh off the tree — and that is very juicy, indeed.

You need to use the defrosted lime quickly. If you leave it standing for a few hours, it’s apt to turn to mush. And the sliced fruit probably wouldn’t work for a cocktail garnish, because freezing does change its character slightly.

I don’t know if it will work with an orange or grapefruit: my oranges aren’t ripe yet. But nothing ventured: try it out.

If you enjoy cooking with fresh lemon or lime juice year-round and you hate seeing your fruit go to waste, this trick is the business.

Image: By Prosthetic Head – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Lime_Blossom.jpg, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3080803

Poets & Writers: A scribbler’s treasure trove

A useful organization for people who hope to become professional writers — especially if you think you want to be a literary writer — is Poets & Writers, Inc.. Now the largest organization for poets, fiction writers, and creative nonfiction writers, the nonprofit Poets & Writers has been around since 1970 and publishes Poets & Writers Magazine, a useful resource available at libraries, by subscription, and online.

One of the richest troves of resources for poets and prose writers that you’ll ever find.Although P&W’s overall tack is somewhat elitist — it caters to the MFA set, and genre writers seem to rank pretty low on its totem pole (possibly in the grass?) — the organization provides leads to a wide variety of resources for anyone who’s serious about building a career as a writer. And it has begun to take print-on-demand and e-book self-publishing into the fold, as reflected in the magazine’s department, “The Savvy Self-Publisher.”

The website’s “Tools for Writers” page is a good place to start. It’s one of the few places to find a list of legitimate agents who are actively looking for new writers.

Here you also can find a jobs list (mostly academic and publishing ), a treasure trove of writing contests, grants, and awards, a valuable informational page called “Top Topics,” and databases of MFA programs , of small presses, of conferences and residencies, of literary magazines, and of “literary places.” They even include a passel of writing prompts!

These are only a few of P&W’s blandishments. All in all, it’s one of the richest troves of resources for poets and prose writers  that you’ll ever find.

Poached Salmon & Veggies: In One Pan

Great free recipe for poached salmon with veggies!Last night I met one of my former students, now an audio engineer with videography training, to discuss making a video for a grant Plain & Simple Press will apply for next month. As a lagniappe, I gave him a copy of the 40 Pounds/3 Months cookbook, which happened to reside in the back of the car. 🙂 He was tickled.

Here’s a little something I cooked up the other day that does not appear in the famed cookbook: a one-pan meal of salmon and asparagus, served over (uh-oh: optional second pan!) a bed of noodles. The poached salmon is based on a Julia Child recipe but uses wine instead of water.

You Need:

One or more pieces of salmon (one serving per diner)
A bottle of inexpensive but drinkable white wine
One or two cloves of garlic, finely chopped or minced
Some herbs to your taste (I used fines herbes, but about anything you like will do)
One to three teaspoons balsamic vinegar, wine vinegar, or lemon juice (amount depends on amount of asparagus needed)
About the same amount of olive oil
Salt & pepper to taste
Canned or boxed Italian tomatoes, chopped or strained (not whole)
Wide noodles or fettuccine (some cooked rice could substitute)
A handful of asparagus (enough for all diner
A spaghetti pot
A sieve or small colander that will fit inside the pot
A skillet or shallow pan large enough to accommodate the salmon in one layer (the spaghetti pot might do, if it’s wide enough), with a cover
A pair of tongs

First, cook the noodles and parboil the asparagus: Fill the spaghetti pot with water and heat to boiling. Wash the asparagus and clip off enough of the ends so the spears will fit in the sieve or colander. Place the asparagus inside said sieve/colander and when the water comes to a boil, gently set the thing into the pan. When the asparagus turns bright green, use the tongs to lift the sieve — carefully! — out of the pan and set it in the sink. Run cold tap water over the asparagus to stop the cooking process.

To the boiling water, add enough noodles to serve your diners. Allow these to cook. Meanwhile, pour a little balsamic vinegar (or wine vinegar, or lemon juice) and some olive oil onto a dinner plate or into a bowl that will accommodate the asparagus in a flat layer. Add a little salt and pepper, as desired. Cook the pasta al dente and drain into the colander.

Salmon poaching in wineInto the skillet (or, after the noodles are cooked, into the wide spaghetti pot), pour enough white wine to pretty well cover the fish. Add the chopped garlic and enough dried herbs to cover the palm of your hand. Bring the wine to a simmer.

Set the salmon slices into the simmering wine. Cover and allow to cook for a couple of minutes — if the fish is defrosted, this should not take long.

Shortly, take the blanched asparagus and set it neatly into the pan with the poaching fish. Recover.

Delicious poached salmon with veggies & noodlesIn another three to five minutes, check the pan. The fish should be almost cooked. Remove the asparagus and place it into the vinegar/olive oil mix you prepared. Roll the spears around to coat them with the dressing.

Into a bowl, pour out enough of the canned tomatoes to make enough sauce for as many pieces of fish as you will serve. Set aside.

If necessary, gently turn the salmon over to complete cooking. The fish should be cooked through but not overcooked. Place the pasta on the plates and arrange the salmon slices over it, with a serving of asparagus on the side.

Add a few tablespoonsful of the cooking wine to the tomatoes. Mix them together and dress the salmon and pasta with this mixture.

Et voilà! A very tasty, very easy meal, prepared with a minimum of pots and pans!

30 Pounds 4 Months - Diet Advice and Over 100 Delicious Recipes

Salmon and pasta image: DepositPhotos, © ilolab